To be writing this is definitely two things for me… One of the biggest pleasures of my life to date, as I get to re live my Jamaican experience all over again and the other, one of the hardest things I have had to do .. as how do you possibly sum up the greatest and most life changing time of my life and put it into words?
I hope that the weight of my words appeal to your heart and that, if like so many people reading this, you have never had the opportunity nor probably will ever get the opportunity to experience Volunteering, allow my experience to be yours too. Please let me share what an experience like mine does for your soul and I hope in some way that you gain a little insight, a lot of understanding and a whole world of magic from my time spent with the most beautiful Orphaned children in Jamaica.
To Volunteer with the underprivileged had been a lifelong dream of mine since I was a young woman. I already know for a fact that I am not alone in this dream as the vast majority of people I have spoken with also share this dream, although a very small minority actually achieve it due to the complexities of every day life… Having a family, a mortgage, a Job, commitments, people who rely on you, a partner and then there is just that general day to day rat race that we exist within.
I can honestly say I do not think my smile had ever reached it's full potential until I came to Jamaica. It is truly incredible at just how at home and 'right' it felt for me to be in Jamaica and I hope that with each and every trip it never changes. I returned three times last year to visit the people that I now consider my 'Family' and I will forever return to my Jamaican home as often as I can in my lifetime.
I was placed at Hanbury Children's Home with the Salvation Army working in a special class of children with learning disabilities but its not as severe as it sounds, the children were either slower or mis behaving in other classes to have arrived into this class and there were also two gorgeous brothers with mild down syndrome.
There were 12 Kids in the class ranging from 7 years up to 15 years so it was a constant struggle to correctly address across all the range of ages and I often took the younger ones off for more one on one teaching so they did not lose their focus.
Children were placed into Hanbury for a range of reasons… Their families just could not afford to properly care for them, one or both parents had died, they had been taken out of their homes because of abuse and in all of these cases no other family members could afford or wanted to take them in. The youngest child at the Orphanage was nine months old and the children would remain at Hanbury until they are 18 years of age when their schooling is complete and they can attempt to get a job or enter the 'real world'.
Remember the sports cupboards when we were at School? They were packed in no uncertain terms with sports equipment, bibs, lost socks, shoes and various items of clothing… Well that is the extent of what these children have to their name.. and even then its not necessary their own, dependent on whether someone else decides on any certain day that they want to wear those particular shoes and so you will have to fight for another pair to wear.
These children wake up every day of their lives in a dormitory they share with about twelve other same sex children.. each child has a good eight stuffed animals or teddy Bears donated to them that live on their own individual bunk bed. This is seriously the only items in their little lives that truly belong to them or have any real ownership of.
Any child around the world will be entertained by little things when they are young.. but nothing compares to these kids. The smallest bitten off part of a rubber will keep them entertained for hours.. The contents of the classroom rubbish bin provides them with a plethora of items with which to amuse themselves with.
These children do not get woken in the mornings by the loving touch of a parents kiss or voice, they do not have the luxury of the loving guidance and discipline that accompanies a normal child and parent relationship, if they misbehave too badly they are sent to the major where the only form of discipline is found at the end of a ruler and contact with a part of the child's body dependent on the severity of the behavior.
What I had to remember with regard to a situation like this one is that these children do not have parents present with them, so the staff at the Orphanage automatically step into this role and the staff have a massive task with children out numbering the staff around thirteen to one.
A scattering of woman among 78 children are held with the responsibility of being in some form a sole parent figure to these wonderful little human beings. Their behavior naturally is going to escalate when you do not have the consistency of someone watching over you during your childhood as parents do.
To see children as young as two with black rotting teeth is deeply saddening as there are no mothers and fathers here to ensure daily hygiene is enforced and maintained.
To be able to volunteer the best you can and contribute the maximum possible I believe that you have to always remain strong and consistent with giving the Children as much of yourself as you can in the time you have to give it. If you focus on other areas you are not doing what you came to do, and that in my humble opinion is to give this children as much of me emotionally, mentally and physically as I can possibly give!
At first glance these children look like well kept, respectably dressed school children. Move in closer and you will see rips, tears, missing buttons, all sorts of stains and marks on their school uniforms of which they only have one. The washed bed linen hanging out to dry at the Orphanage looks like it should have been thrown away a good three years ago, some of the youngest children could fit through the holes evident.
The smell releasing itself from the boys outdoor toilet which houses four toilets is not possible to stand for more than the first acknowledging intake of breath,. It really is unlike anything I have ever smelt and completely unacceptable that young children are forced to live in such disgusting conditions.. for me hygiene is a basic human right that everyone deserves.
Ticks and fleas roam free at the Orphanage, they are visibly traveling around all outside ground areas and its more than a daily occurrence to check the children's hair and skin for evident infestations. The children have tick marks all over their bodies combined with cuts and grazes picked up from the fights that exist on a daily basis among all the children.
In the shower one morning before School I ran my hand down my back and felt what I thought was a big spot. when upon further inspection was a black tick happily feeding on my blood! Having never experienced a tick before I rapidly covered myself with a towel and ran rather alarmingly to my host brother to ask his assistance with appropriate removal techniques! Thinking it would involve an implement of some description I was surprised when Leon simply took it out between two fingers and then proceeded to kill it the same way! (Cue the bloody sucky noises!!)
Light coloured clothing is certainly not the colour to wear as a Volunteer as it more closely resembles brown by the time you reached home after school! Whenever we had breaks or Lunch the time was spent throwing the kids around, piggy backs, spinning them around so much I nearly fall over myself, running races (of which I Never won!) or teaching them new games such as British Bulldog or Musical Statues which they love!
These Children are just simply incredible with hearts as big as their heads! The welcome I receive when walking down the hill to School each morning is something I cold quite happily carry on doing for the rest of my life! Its just SO rewarding! The kids see me and come charging up the hill to meet me with cuddles, fighting for one or both of my hands or just simply any single part of me that is free to grab! I can honestly say that I have never felt so special in my life.
Despite seeing so much that is extremely hard to swallow and accept on a daily basis, I think it is important to always concentrate on the positives, otherwise it would not have been possible to continue doing the job I had set out to do.
The children are always so truly grateful for what little they have and feel blessed to be at the Orphanage.
It made me want to spend every cent I had on clothing them, feeding them and educating them but as this is a truly unrealistic goal for just one person such as myself, I gave them the second best thing that I could.. as much of my physical and emotional strength as was humanly possible for me to give!
I would stay on most school days an hour and half over what I am meant to be working as I could not leave those kids, they really were something else!! Time spent in their company just flew by.
I was frightened that with each and every day I would grow even more attached than I already was to these truly spectacular little Jamaicans and the more I would seriously not be able to leave them.
Jamaicans are such warm and friendly people and for me their hearts are surely laced with gold!! They truly live off the land and the children's home was no different with hundreds of pigs, Cows and chickens kept as well as fields of Vegetables growing. if I was bordering on being a Vegetarian before I arrived you should see me now!! OH MY!! I quite literally stumbled across two pigs being slaughtered one morning while waiting for school to commence, brutally hit over the head with a large stick, then stabbed in the throat with a knife, Blood and other parts where everywhere.. Quite an education I received that morning and the smell is something that will stay with me forever and truly makes my stomach turn whenever I think of it! Needless to say that I have not touched meat since and probably never will! But I found out that these two pigs were capable of feeding all 78 children plus staff for at least four meals.. which is quite simply incredible.
My Host family, the amazing Volunteers and friends I made in Jamaica were more wonderful than I could have ever expected and I could not believe how much I felt like part of the family from the moment I arrived.. These people are such a huge part of my life and that will never change.
The kids of Jamaica have lit and still continue to light up my life on a scale that I have never experienced before and I knew my biggest fear was that I would never feel as alive or worthwhile ever again and a year on I do not think I ever will. On the odd occasion you do not feel like getting out of bed in the morning, its the simple thought of their beaming smiling faces, launching hugs when they see you each day and amazing ability to laugh consistently, that makes the effort of getting out of bed, a moment that melts in a second.
You look at these amazing little people and wonder how on earth we allow ourselves the constant complaining, the misery, the minor and trivial issues and the general negative attitude and mind set of our western way of life, when we really do not deserve to express such emotions when we already have so much. These kids have nothing and they complain about nothing.
I know how life gets for most people… everything is relative to your own life and I am not saying that there is anything wrong without that, however how many times a day do you actually stop to appreciate everything that you have in your own life? The home you live in… the food you can afford to buy, cook and eat…. the family and friends in your life and the unconditional love and support that they give you… these are just the very basics.
So from Jamaica with so much love.. there is only one love in Jamaica and for me that was the children.. it was the absolute time of my life that has enriched my life more than the words here could ever speak.
Jamaica.. your the best thing that I have have ever done and have you have changed my life forever…
ONE LOVE Xxxxxxxx
If your considering Volunteering.. I could not recommend it more highly..no matter what age, walk or stage of life.. it will change your life forever.. I promise you that.
Love Zerin xxx