On the drive from the airport in Montego Bay, one of my fellow students yelled, “We’re driving on the wrong side of the road!” Yes, we were. But the acknowledgement of being in a different culture does not hit until being rocked out of your norm, or at least out of your normal lane. Jamaica, a former English colony, still holds many traditions of its past. My classmates and I were able to see many of those traditions first hand while we served with the Association of Clubs and learned about International Educational Issues in Jamaica over Spring Break.
First, we arrived at the Association of Clubs in Petersfield, our bus kicking up dust. Introductions between students and their host families were made, hugs were warm, and the food was perfect. The next day, we met at a Basic School for children between the ages of two and five. Our task was to help begin the construction of a new classroom. The school became over-crowded after the recent addition of a new playground and now has a student-to teacher ratio of forty-two to one. Our group – comprised of six 20-something students and our professor (who was a philosopher in every sense of the word) – was ready to try our best even though none of us had any construction experience. By the end of the day, we were bending rebar and swining pickaxes like pros. We even had opportunities during break times with the kids at recess to play tag and see how many people could fit in one photo.
Later in the week, we visited Petersfield High School and tutored a group of freshmen. It was great to make progress with high school students we had just met. During our own class time,we discussed the connections we felt to the students and analyzed the success of activities we had planned. We also talked about the heavy influence of sugar cane on the culture, especially on education. At the Basic School for example, parents picked up their children anywhere from one to five in the afternoon. Similarly, high school students leave school to work in the fields or only anticipate working in a trade career fueled by the sugar cane industry that does not require higher education.
These practices, shaped by dominating economic forces, are hard to overcome. Nonetheless, the Association of Clubs has focused on education and empowerment. Education is a central pillar to both Amizade and the Association of Clubs. It was great to participate with these organizations during Spring Break in their projects that promote and support the development of education in Jamaica.
Amizade offers individual placements, service-learning courses, and group programming to Jamaica.