It has taken me a while to come on here and write my review as I wanted to gain some perspective after the experience I had in Jamaica. I want my review to help other people, not to use this as a form of complaint as that is not my aim. The background to my trip, I am a qualified nurse in England who has wanted to volunteer from as long as I can remember. I started my search on where to go & I found Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions online. From the beginning was impressed with their website, fast responses, Skype call to introduce themselves so was very excited to embark on my trip. I decided to go for 5 weeks from 21st February - 28th March 2015. Unfortunately I did cut my trip short due to some of the problems I experienced whilst I was there. And ended up leaving on Weds 25th March.
As I am a nurse I stuck with that field and volunteered in an elderly care home, I also volunteered in a children's orphanage on an afternoon. In the middle of my stay I was invited to join a school group to visit the Blue Mountains and helped planting a tree in the national park.
I honestly think if you are going into the experience with your eyes open & are made aware exactly what service this company and also his mothers company Jamaica Volunteer Programs provides then you won't have any problems, however I wasn't. This is a company... For profit... And the word "voluntourism" would be more appropriate. I was also told on a number of occasions this is a "lucrative business" and "we are running a business here".
Things you should be aware of:
- NONE of the money you pay the company goes towards helping the projects you are volunteering with which is the part I found most difficult & upsetting. The thing these places need more than anything is money.
- There is no structure or goal with regards to the volunteering... There was no plan, no aim, I was literally there as a spare pair of hands. Particularly the orphanage I felt as though the children actually experienced more emotional trauma from these people coming in & out of there lives just to come and visit them, play with them for a few days, then leave. They had become accustomed to this & were asking if we'd brought toys because it was now expected that that's what happens. These children have all experienced more in their lives than they should have had to have done from witnessing domestic abuse to actually experiencing abuse in all forms. And now lead a lifestyle where tourists pull up (albeit with the best intentions) on a bus to come and see them & how they live (I hate to use this phrase but it's the only way to describe it... Like animals in a zoo). And on reflection it was quite upsetting.
- The elderly care home was run by Catholics and its biggest problem was financial... I helped and advised as best I could with the experience & skills I have from home but there was a limit to how I could help. I left feeling disheartened that I couldn't do more. The lady who runs the place is a saint... She has worked there for 25 years, 7 days a week with no pay. And still doesn't receive any financial backing from the company that provides these "voluntourists".
Accommodation & Social Aspect
- I stayed at Smokey Manor which is owned and run by Jamaica
Volunteer Programs NOT Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions so experienced complications and conflicts with regards to my accommodation transport excursions etc. as they are very closely linked as they are all family but do run as separate businesses.
- If you do stay at Smokey Manor then you are located up in the hills, no public transport or access to taxis, therefore if on a weekend or evening you want to leave to explore you are charged USD$20 (per person so a car full would be $80!!), this I had not factored into my budgeting and bearing in mind it is a 5-10 min car journey to the bottom of the hill (if that!!). I was also constantly reminded of the high cost of living in Jamaica which they used to justify a lot of their costs.
- Basically you are confined to the guest house unless you are going to your projects or you pay to leave either by transport or on an excursion.
- Lunch is not included (or wasn't with my package) so I arrived on a Saturday and went from breakfast Sunday to evening without another meal, or I would have had to pay the transport fee ($20) just to go the supermarket to get some food.
- Whilst I was there they had overbooked the accommodation and therefore wanted me to move into a house further up the hill & over the road. The house was a building site in the process of being finished, although the inside was beautifully decorated the outside was unfinished, I would have been very isolated, with no access to the facilities I had paid for... E.g. Wifi & meals, I would have had to walk back to the main house for meals on an evening alone. I therefore chose to leave early as the time fell at the end of my stay.
Positives (Yes there were a few)
- Louise the housekeeper cannot be praised enough, she works extremely long hours & cooks the best food!! She was so warm & friendly and genuinely happy to see you!! She is a wonderful woman!!
- I met some of the most amazing people from around the world, mainly from the U.S. who I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet had I not gone and still keep in regular contact with now and also from the projects.
- Jamaica is a beautiful country & has some beautiful places to visit.
If you are looking for a voluntourism kind of trip and are going into it with your eyes open with regards to what it entails, the financial costs, location etc. then these are good companies to go with. I felt 100% safe throughout my trip.
If you are looking for a true volunteering experience where the projects have a goal and an aim and are genuinely helping the community then I would not recommend this company. I would suggest looking at non-profit organisations who are genuinely there to help the local community and are not running as a business.
I have selected the option for potential volunteers to contact me about this project if they wish too.