Welcome to Island Time: Negril, Jamaica

Siena Stands with...Jamaica on Negril Beach
SIENA…StandsWith in Negril, Jamaica

A few weeks ago I had the fortunate opportunity to travel to the island of Jamaica with my college Center for Advocacy and Service. Through this program, we partnered with a local Church in order to immerse ourselves in all parts of life on the island.

While our group of 15 split up into small groups throughout the course of the week, my first stop was at the local St. Julies church. With our time we managed to revamp the schoolyard of the connecting early childhood education center, as well as the outside of the church itself.

The following day we had the unique experience to be allowed as guests at Sunday mass at the same church. Though I am not a frequent attendee of the church this visit had me on the verge of changing that. The first difference I noticed about this mass was the color. Still decorated from Christmas time, this ordinary rural church managed to be still decorated thoroughly in red and green for the season. The second difference was the music. From the moment we walked in there were women and man singing and playing instruments in effortless harmony. This fluidity continued throughout the entirety of the service mind you and only added to the consistent air of joy that could be felt throughout the service.

In addition, our particular mass also included a baptism that day, with seven new souls being welcomed into the church. This was a sight to behold mind you, for to know the background of the family dynamic of Jamacia, is to know that a typical “nuclear family” where everyone is involved is hard to come by. Yet on this day, one could see that everyone was in attendance for these children, from mothers and fathers to grandparent and even godparents alike. It was a testament to the true sense of life that filled the church that day.

Through the rest of the week, the group split our time between visiting several local primary schools, volunteering at the soup kitchen and discovering the unique tourist opportunities that the island had to offer.

My own personal time was split between visiting Mount Airy Primary School and Little Bay Primary school. Coming from a primary education background myself it was an eye-opening experience to be able to enter these schools and see the seemingly alternate reality that exists for these children and their teachers.

From minimal resources, a desperate lack of funding and clearly not updated. It was amazing to see these students learning despite these conditions. It was equally inspiring to realize that they were happy with it too. One of the most important observations I had on this trip is that the Jamaican people, from the old to the very young, are completely and utterly unbothered by the things that they do not have in life. Instead, they focused very much instead on the things that they do. It was amazing to see this idea transcend to the actions of the children that we worked with throughout the week. For despite broken backpacks and not enough chairs for each child, despite the broken toys and ill-equipped schoolyards, and despite a million other little things, these children were still happy. They still laughed and played and teased each other just like I have seen the children at my well to do childcare center do every single time I go to work. It went to show that life is not about what do not have, but instead of what you do.

On the Final Day of our trip, we had the chance to relax and unwind and find the true meaning of “island time”. In the morning our crew took a chance on snorkeling, finding a boat straight off the beach and piling all in. While the snorkeling in Jamaica is a bit smaller than some of the other places that my travels have lead me to, it is not be dismissed. I found that it was the kind of place where the longer you are still the more you noticed. The closer you looked the more color, clusters of fish and new species you see. What was even more exciting however was to see the faces of some of my fellow trip members who had never been snorkeling before. It was almost as you could feel the happiness radiating off of them as they took it all in.

Our second adventure of the day occurred at the world-renowned Ricks Cafe. I have to say that it is well worth it to visit this tourist spot, for the thrills of jumping or even just watching others jump off the cliffs, is akin to little other.

All In all this trip is one that I will remember for a lifetime. From it, I have been rewarded with a perspective of the other side of the island life that I so regularly see on my personal trips to the Caribbean. I also have met people whose impact will last a lifetime and I can only hope that my time there had some sort of influence as well, no matter how small it might have been.

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