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Stephen Forrester - General Building Projects in Jamaica

Improving the building

The building project in Jamaica was a really great experience for me. I went to Jamaica on my own and didn’t really know what to expect on arrival. I have done some building work before in Thailand and a little in England so I was prepared to work hard and had with me the appropriate footwear. I arrived on a Friday and on my first day I went to the Projects Abroad office and they took me on a short orientation of the area and went to get me a mobile phone. I then got taken to meet all the other volunteers in Jamaica at the time before we all went away to Kingston for a weekend by the beach.

By Monday morning I was easily settled in and although I had only spent one night with my host family I was really comfortable there and felt like I knew the other volunteers really well. I turned up to the Projects Abroad office at about 8am and they handed me over to the ADRA team. ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) is a church run organisation that works to promote development in Jamaica and relief after any particular earthquake or hurricane.

They particularly target the poorer people in Jamaica that struggle to get themselves out of poverty for any particular reason. I was working with the Development side of the agency for most of my time. This mainly involved building and repairing of homes of people that were unable to repair them themselves. I was introduced to the team and we left to get to work.

Island view

It was a short journey into the countryside when we came across a small broken down house in which an elderly gentleman lived. His name was Mr Williams, he was about 75 and lived alone. His home had been destroyed by hurricane Ivan in 2004 and he had built a makeshift home which he had been living in since then. On closer inspection I realised that the house was made of rusty corrugated zinc, it was about 5m square and had three walls (all with holes in big enough to walk through) and no roof.

The house had one room with his bed in the corner and an open fire in the middle for warmth and cooking. He had no water except for a well to draw from about 100m walk from his house. He slept on a few bits of old foam that he had found. And under another piece of zinc sheeting. We were building him a house of concrete blocks and cement still with one room but solid walls, two closable windows and a solid hurricane proof roof. Obviously this was a massive step up for him. I came onto the scene when about ¾ of the walls had been built. Over the next 2 weeks we worked hard to build up the walls and put the roof on correctly.

When the first job was finished we travelled to another location to a house that needed a new roof and doors. We also ended up putting in a few steps to the front door and concreting underneath the house as it had been washed away by the rain we only worked a few days in that place. One of my jobs was to put on the roof, this involved taking off the old zinc and the rafters and putting in new rafters before hammering down the new zinc. Because of the quality of the walls this house roof would not be hurricane proof, I suggested bending the nails underneath the rafters but they said that if we did that it would just pull the rafters off the house.

The third project that we worked on was another completely new house, for this project we were quite far away from Mandeville (where my host family lived) so I stayed with another family for a week. This house was made from wood and we were building it due to the lady’s old house being destroyed in an earthquake. We put the initial structure of the walls up then laid the floor. Most of the first days were spent concreting and moving heavy materials for the floor. The latter part of the week I helped to make the walls secure and put in the windows. Then the lady moved in.

Shack and new house

The last project that I did involved me travelling to Portland on the other side of the island. We left early in the morning and travelled in a pickup, it was a long journey but well worth it. The reason for our trip was that 63 Haitians had made the journey from Haiti to Jamaica in a canoe to escape the situation in Haiti following the earthquake in January 2010. They had all come in a single canoe and had travelled about 100 miles across the Caribbean Sea. There were men, women and small children on the journey and they had travelled with nothing. On arrival to Jamaica they were taken to a building and locked inside to prevent any trouble from Haitians or Jamaicans. They were suffering from malnutrition and had been exposed to all the elements on a long journey.

We joined with the Relief side of ADRA and took them water, rice, clothes and bags. We stayed there all day helping out and working with the Police force and other agencies. Finally it was decided that supplies were to be given to them and then they should leave and head back to Haiti, a decision that many of us were not too happy with. We took them to the Port and loaded their stuff onto a military boat before they left. The situation became quite tense as there was much hard feeling from some of the Haitians and many Jamaicans that were in need of the supplies given to the Haitians themselves. As a result the trip to the port was quite tense and the send-off rapid.

Shack where man lived

Overall I was involved with four separate projects. The work never became monotonous and every experience was valuable. Throughout the whole trip I made friends with so many people including every weekend when I would join up with the other volunteers and travel to a holiday destination somewhere on the island. It was a great change from the work and I got to see so many beautiful places.

Honestly if I got to choose between having a holiday in Jamaica and working with the ADRA team as I got to do through Projects Abroad I would chose the work as it was so rewarding and we were able to do so much good in the time I was there. Since coming home I have stayed in contact with some of the people out there. Both volunteers that have come back to England and Jamaicans that I worked with. I hope to go back and see them again sometime.

Stephen Forrester

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