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Abigail Pearse - Human Rights in Jamaica

Community day

During the build up to my trip, my nerves inevitably kicked in. I had never travelled so far from home and despite being 19 years old, I was still terrified to leave my family. On the long flight, I imagined all sorts of scenarios in my head and this only worsened my anxiety. However, as soon as I arrived in Jamaica I was welcomed by friendly smiles from all corners. I immediately felt welcome and relaxed due to the friendly nature of the staff, locals and other volunteers.

My host family

I arrived in Mandeville on a Saturday evening and so the other volunteers I was living with were travelling. This gave me a chance to familiarise myself with my host family. My host family were happy people who welcomed me with open arms. I am a vegetarian and something that worried me about Jamaica is the love of meat and fish – but my host mother ensured that I always had a filling dinner and tried her best to accommodate to my dietary requirements.

I lived with three other volunteers and getting to know them over the month was really nice, we became very good friends. We went out together in the evenings and met up after work and it was really comforting to always have someone around to talk to. When you are in unfamiliar surroundings, having friends is essential to make you feel more comfortable. It became like living in a little family, we would eat all our meals together, often travelled together at weekends and shared our day-to-day work tales with each other. Therefore, whenever I felt unwell or homesick, my host family or housemates would offer support.

For example, when I came back from Negril, horribly sunburnt because I misjudged how much sun cream I would require – my host mother had medicine for me and comfort came from all corners of the house!

Why Jamaica?

As a Law student, I really wanted to do something that would be relevant to my future career and therefore I decided that the Human Rights project was the one for me. I chose to do the project in Jamaica because I had heard such great things about the culture and the people – it did not disappoint. Everyone I met was happy and keen to share their culture with me. It was lovely just walking to the taxi park after work and having half of the community say good afternoon to you. One love really does fit Jamaica!

The Human Rights placement

Jamaica

Despite the fact that the project was not as legal as I would have liked, I thoroughly enjoyed my work nonetheless. My supervisor, Katrice was supportive, kind and a pleasure to work for. She ensured we were always comfortable with what we were doing whilst also sharing with us traditions and stories. She really made the project special and I thank her for her support during my trip.

The work on the project varied which made it stimulating, as you never knew what you would get to do in the next week. One week we were conducting presentations at local schools teaching the children about types of abuse and providing them with safety tips. The next week we were drawing a map of a local community ready to set up a parent patrol system.

The Human Rights project is a new project that is still in its early stages; therefore, each volunteer passes their work onto the next. Jamaica is clearly suffering a crisis with children going missing frequently and I find it commendable that efforts are being made on this project to try and aid the crisis. We might not have prevented children going missing, through our work, but I like to think the work that I did helped add a piece to a much larger puzzle. If the project continues in the way it is, more pieces can be added to the puzzle.

As a future lawyer, confidence is a skill I must have. However, before I came to Jamaica I suffered with awful stage fright that prevented me from conducting effective presentations. On the project I was put in new situations and thrown in the deep end being told to conduct a presentation on this or that and I am so so thankful for this. I am now much more confident in my abilities and I know this will aid me massively within my future career. I have never before had a job where I enjoy getting up early in the morning to go to, this again changed. I loved going to volunteer on the project and knew that everyday I would face a new insightful and interesting challenge.

Outside of the Human Rights project, I got involved with workshops run by Projects Abroad and a community day. The workshops were culture based where we had patois (the language of Jamaica) lessons and also a food tasting session where we snacked on local delicacies such as coconut drops and plantain crisps. On community day, all volunteers from all of the projects came together at a local primary school to paint the toilets and outside of the building, whilst also planting a garden.

Weekend exploring

Volunteer community

We had the weekends free to travel and I went to some amazing places. I visited Negril where the beaches were beautiful and the definition of paradise. This was a relaxing weekend where we just absorbed the scenery and the atmosphere. In my second weekend, I visited Falmouth. This is where I went on the ghost tour at the great house, Rose Hall. I was told the story about the white witch, Annie Palmer. The ghost tour was my first true experience of Jamaica’s history and I found it extremely interesting to explore the house.

However, the boat ride to the Glistening Waters, known as the luminous lagoon, in Falmouth was my favourite experience of my whole trip in Jamaica. We took a boat ride to the waters in the middle of the night and I did not know what to expect. The lagoon contains bioluminescent algae, which glows when disturbed by boats, fish and swimmers. The fresh water from the Martha Brae River meets the salt water from the ocean to create this effect. It is hard to describe how mesmerising it is to swim in water that lights you up like a Christmas tree as you move. My whole body, including my life jacket, glittered and glowed as I swam. It was amazing and I would highly recommend it. I spent my last weekend in Ocho Rios where we climbed Dunns’ River Falls and swam in the blue hole.

The weekends gave all of us a chance to relax and see new parts of Jamaica. However, we did exciting stuff after we finished work too. For example, I visited the YS Falls and also went on a tour at a local coffee factory in the afternoons when I had finished my work for the day. The volunteers would often all have lunch together and hang out which allowed us to share our stories about our experiences thus far together.

This will be a trip that I hold in my memory for a very, very long time. I look forward to keeping up to date with my supervisor who will continue to work with other volunteers on the project, to hear how the work that I conducted has contributed to the overall project, including the parent patrol systems that will hopefully be successful in the future.

I have made international friends who shared with me their experiences and stories, who I know I will continue to communicate and be friends with for a very long time. Further, I am proud of my confidence boost, which I know will be invaluable throughout my future career. Thank you Projects Abroad for the trip of a lifetime!

Read more about Human Rights in Jamaica.

Abigail Pearse

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