Community Sports in Jamaica by Bob and Jenny Wells
At last, touching down at Montego Bay International Airport, all the feelings of excitement and expectation of what lay ahead suddenly hit us. We were met at the airport by our driver, and what a great ambassador he is for both Jamaica and Projects Abroad. Our 3 hour journey to Mandeville was filled with laughter, stories, and of course, Bob quickly made an instant friend, a well versed cricket devotee, who lived and breathed the finer points of cricket ….. so it made for a lively and fun start to our Jamaican adventure, and also provided us with an introductory first-hand experience of the road conditions we were to endure during our time in Jamaica!
Meeting our host family, the Stewarts, and their fellow guests, now completed the picture! All that remained was to meet all of the wonderful Projects Abroad staff who we had dealt with by email, leading up to our departure.
It did not take us long to find out feet and to get out and start exploring. It was a bonus that we were able to share our Jamaican experiences with each other at the end of each day.
Following our orientation with the Projects Abroad staff, we had a good feel for Mandeville and all that it provided, and quickly learnt where to catch the route taxis back to our host family and which ones to catch for our respective placements, as we would be traveling in different directions each day. The taxis were an experience all of their own! Sometimes sharing with 7 to 8 people (the most we experienced were 11 people in the one small taxi) but after a day or two, we felt familiar with them and the routes we took. Road rules were a little scarce at times, but we survived, arriving and returning safely each day. One of the more memorable route taxi rides Bob endured was sharing his taxi with 8 adults plus one additional adult and 3 goats hanging out in the boot of the car!
We were quickly exposed to the Jamaican food and culture. We both loved so many of the traditional dishes, such as ackee and salt fish, rice and beans, pumpkin rice, jerk chicken and jerk pork, yam, sweet potatoes, plantain, potato pudding and curried goat, Red Stripe beer, and of course, not to forget, the rum punch! It goes without saying, that you must have reggae and rum punch together, so in our time spent with our host family, there was no shortage of both ingredients – which has left us both with many fun filled memories of our reggae nights.
Bob’s placement was assisting with Sports Coaching at Bethabara School.
Bethabara School was about 15 minutes by taxi south of Mandeville. The school had very limited resources and facilities, but the students were keen on PE (although not too keen on discipline!). The timetable seemed to be very flexible, and sometimes two classes would turn up at once.
However, it was cricket season which suited me down to the ground so the first two weeks were spent focusing on cricket in Physical Education lessons. The third week involved preparing classes for the annual Sports Day at the end of February with various ball games and athletic events. The fourth week was the most enjoyable as it consisted largely of an inter-house cricket competition for both senior and junior sections of the school. The boy’s teams demonstrated quite a deal of natural talent and competitive spirit so perhaps one day the West Indies will return to the top of world cricket once again. Another highlight was a visit to Kendal School for a motivational session on goal setting and time management with the boys and girls in the senior classes.
Jenny’s placement was in Care at Hanbury Children’s Home
A brisk walk each morning down the hill saw me starting at 9.00am and finishing the day at 1.00pm with a little slower trek back up the hill to catch a route taxi. During my time at the Home, my days were filled with the laughter of the children, sometimes tears and certainly always lots of noise and activity. It was lovely to see them all lined up for devotion, singing their songs with great gusto! It did not take long before you knew the children and they in turn sought you out – so each day was filled with many, many hugs.
I assisted the teachers in the small classes and would sometimes find myself helping in a one-on-one capacity with those children with special needs, who needed additional support – this was extremely rewarding for me at the end of each day! During the days, I also helped out with supervising and playing with the children during their break times and helping with their feeding during the lunch breaks. No two days were ever the same, and that in itself made each day enjoyable for me.
The children were all beautiful and welcomed me into their world …… as the days passed by, I knew that it would be very difficult to leave them behind – but the easiest way was to immerse myself into their day for the time I was fortunate to be there. It was also very rewarding to spend time with the teachers and to get to know them a little, and perhaps lighten their load at times throughout the day.
Each day I looked forward to, and was met by these 2 beautiful boys as I walked down the hill to start the day …. their hugs, smiles and warmth were a wonderful start to my day.
I was also lucky with my placement in that there were other Projects Abroad volunteers also helping at the Hanbury Home, so we were able to share experiences with each other.
We were lucky to get in a couple of visits on the weekends whilst there. We took in the sights of Treasure Beach and Montego Bay and another weekend we spent with our host family visiting the real Jamaica, experiencing its culture, colorful people and the sights. I was also able to join with the family and experience a Sunday morning at Church in Mandeville.
Projects Abroad staff also ensured that we enjoyed our time in their beautiful country and we were lucky enough to visit the Bob Marley Museum with the other volunteers, just a couple of days before his birthday. This was a real treat! Reggae practice followed – although coordination for that seemed to be somewhat of a problem – although a lot of laughs were had by all!
Another highlight of placement was that we were able to be part of the overall volunteer group to get down and dirty and help in the painting of the Meadow Grey Basic School – with my team mates painting the outside, whilst Bob and his team mates painted the kitchen. The overall result was fantastic, and already experiencing the delight on the teacher’s faces, meant that for the children, it would be very exciting for them when they arrived at school on the Monday morning. A fun day was had by all.
Our month’s placement went by so quickly and before we knew it, we were preparing for our last days and our goodbyes. The hardest of all, was saying the silent goodbyes to the children at Hanbury, who I had come to love and who gave me so much joy each day! The numerous photos taken during my time with them serve as indelible memories which will stay with me forever.
The month we were able to share together in Jamaica provided us with an increased knowledge of the country, an even greater appreciation for all that the amazing Project Abroad team do to ensure the volunteers are comfortable, that they get the most out of their adventure, and the warmth and kindness that they show to each of the volunteers is fantastic. There are so many memories and experiences to take away from this adventure – and sharing this journey together as a couple, means that we will forever be able to relive special moments from our time in Jamaica.
We are both richer within ourselves for being able to not only have this wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Jamaican culture, but also to be able to give our time as a volunteer with Projects Abroad.