Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Makin' Jamaica Magic

Yesterday I went to the airport at Montego Bay to meet 15 students from West Virginia University who arrived to begin a weeklong program at the Amizade site in rural Petersfield, Jamaica. For me this is the fourth location where I am lucky enough to immerse myself in a different culture and also am priveleged to watch young American students participate in a worthy project benefitting the world's disadvantaged.

The top picture, snapped early this morning, shows a handful of the volunteers at the Galloway Basic School. Over the next week these WVers will help a mason and carpenter work on building a new classroom. Today though, it was time to meet the children. For some of the volunteers, this is their first trip outside of America and, for others, it is their first time living amidst third world people. Any stiffness, that may appear in their postures as the group is introduced to some first graders, quickly melted away.

The second photo shows one of many similar scenes I witnessed this morning. Hidden in the circle of lovely children is an Amizade volunteer, whose hair is being braided. Every American student could be seen playing with or tutoring these children and thereby becoming more comfortable in this new environment. These children are, for the most part, from families of the working poor, that spend long hours in the sugarcane fields or factories. They were so appreciative of the attention given them by these "strangers.".

The third photo shows the underpinnings of a new classroom on which the Amizade students will provide labor. Through the relentless lobbying effort of our host, the Community of Clubs, the Jamaican Education Ministery provided the initial funds for new classrooms for this school. Yet this space quickly became immediately insufficient and overcrowded. This exceptionally impoverished community, like other sites I have witnessed throughout the world, depends entirely on the resources of its own community in the form of money, materials and volunteers to provide its children with quality education.

By the way, in the background, is an amazing tree. It is the Silk Cotton or Ceiba Tree and is one of the largest trees in the Carribean. Myths abound regarding these trees, as our Jamaican host explained. The silken fibers which hang freely when the fruit ripens catch the souls of the dead. To fell one of these behemoths may precipitate your untimely demise.

My mind is so full of thoughts and impressions formed by the people I meet, I could write all night, but I'll spare you. Suffice to say, this part of my adventure has again such rich moments.
My blog gives me an opportunity to preserve some these moments, to share them, and to remind me later on that this trip was not a dream.


  1. What a wonderful adventure/experience this has been for you, Lee! I am so thrilled for you each day when I read your latest post! I remember the first time you told me that it could happen and how excited I was for you then, but it has been an even better experience than I ever dreamed! Eagerly looking forward to the next installment!


    1. It is so nice to find people like you out there! I am actually advising a group at Castleton State College in Vermont. We are traveling to Petersfield on the 30th to work with Amizade and the AOC in the hopes of having a great service experience! Will you be there when we arrive? It is so great to see the interactions through your blog, thank you. Jessica

  2. Thanks once again Lee. It is great to see through your adventures, the number of people that take the time and effort to help. Listening to any local music?

  3. This looks like a perfect selection of photos to give us an idea of what's going on, although I'm sure you had many to choose from. I especially love the little girls with the green and white things in their hair, and the expression of the volunteer getting her hair braided. Beautiful shot! You can tell they are bonding and having fun.

  4. Mahn, it's much better with photos! These are very joyful and therefore contrast with quite a few of the sterner ones.

    Be careful with your soul.

  5. When I first looked at these pictures last night I focused immediately on the tree, wondering whether or not it's one I'm familiar with. Mostly what threw me off is the name you used, Ceiba tree. I would have called it a Chorisia speciosa, or silk floss tree, or kapok tree. They are very common in SoCal. They have conical thorns on the trunks, which I couldn't see in your picture. That's another thing that confused me.

    So I did a quick search on "Ceiba tree" and discovered that sure enough, somebody went and changed the botanical name of one of my favorite tropical trees from "Chorisia" to "Ceiba" while I had my back turned! I learned a few more things about it too. Most important is that it's the Mayan Tree of Life or World Tree, and therefore often left standing when land is cleared for agriculture. That must explain the legends you heard about it, and no doubt there are many more.