Day 22 to 25: School system in Jamaica

Although there are some aspect of Jamaica that is changing like wildfire- in particular the homosexual culture, there are other things that haven’t change- prayers in school. It almost seem odd to watch these boys clasp their hands and repeat a prayer, something they have been doing since they entered the school system, before being dismissed for lunch. They say another prayer after lunch and still another to be dismissed from school. Although I do not arrive early in the morning to watch them stand in lines at the front of the school for devotion, I know they do not go a day without doing this. Let’s just believe in the name of Jesus Christ, that these prayers will be immovable.

On Wednesday this week, I had an appointment to visit one of the primary schools in Portmore. One of the ladies working there, unlocked the large gate to let my cousin and me in. After sometime, the guidance counsellor greeted us and took us to her office. I explained my line of work in Canada and what my studies entail, then she began to spill the issues they have been struggling with. A few of those issues are: Boys kissing each other, two seven-year-old boys attempted to rape a little girl, boys ‘exhorting’. Many of the issues they were having had to do with boys. And although they seem so huge, she alerted me that these are the minorities. Overall, the school has been doing well; in particular, they did exceptionally well at the primary school champs (track and field events). For the coming school year, she said, they have space for 164 children, but over 200 have already registered, “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the extra children” she said.

Male mentors are needed, I told her. Parenting is becoming an issue. It’s not only in Jamaica, Canada too, but at least schools and churches here realize that that’s where the issues lie. Children are being abused in every way (physically, verbally, sexually)…sometimes there are no parents. On my first day volunteering, one student disclosed to me that his grandmother had beaten him with a broomstick which prevented him from doing his school work that day. He did not inform the teacher. Thus, you can imagine her frustration as he stared into space the entire morning without as much as  to remove his backpack. I pulled up a chair next to his desk to inquire the reasons. Tears ran down his cheeks but no words came. I had to coax him into going to buy lunch, that way I would be able to get him to divulge whatever was on his mind. It was on this walk to the tuckshop that he shared the details. So when we returned to the class, I suggested that he take out his book and hold it in his lap since the desk was unreasonably higher than where his hand could reach. The school in general could do well with new furniture and more space. To think one teacher is in charge of up to 18 of these children, who are functioning at such a lower level. The children would do better with more individualized attention. I suggested it to one teacher. It would be useful to make good use of their volunteers, seeing that tons of us go in and out. Yet there is no set program for us. A volunteer coordinator probably would have been useful. But who has money to fund this position.

To be honest, I was thinking about how effective I would be if I found people in Canada who would be willing to volunteer- at this point, I can see that schools are in dire need of help. Let’s see how it goes…

Monday and Tuesday I spent at YMCA and facilitated a presentation for the class I had been working with. In general I think I had their attention. This Thursday I decided to go to the soup kitchen a little earlier, causing me to skip YMCA. I had to help package groceries. There were large bags of flour, sugar, cornmeal, and rice everywhere. The other ladies and I had a bag each. Some were moving considerably faster than others. I used a cup to pour 1 1/2 cup of sugar into a clear bag. I made 118 bags in total which took me roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes. By 12pm, I prepared myself to serve. There were two other ladies who prepared the large pots of rice and peas and stew turkey neck in the meantime. They are the cooks. And today they used the leftover soup from Tuesday. While another lady shared the soup in styrofoam cups, I neatly arranged them on a tray to serve the men and women sitting around tables.

When all was done, we had to clean up, I was in charge of rinsing, another person did the washing and drying.  It was a good day and another excellent week. Looking forward to the weekend!

Day Fifteen and Sixteen: Volunteer week starts

The moment I have been waiting for arrived this week. I woke up early Monday morning to get ready for my first day volunteering at the YMCA. I was not sure what to expect. Ok I started to feel a little nervous, but remembered that this was volunteer work. I arrived just past nine in the morning, I signed in as I was told to do and inquired about the coordinator, the woman I had spoken to last Thursday, Mrs. Taylor. I met her and she took me to my first class where I was introduced to the form teacher and explained to the class that I am a volunteer. I sat at the back of the class on a wooden chair being held up on four metal legs. I crossed my legs and opened a book to glimpse through. “The great controversy by Ellen G. White” of all the books to take from the teacher’s room, this is one I grabbed. It was the title that drew my attention. But then learnt that it’s a book written for Seventh Day Adventists, though I’m sure it’s a book that anyone can read. I carried the book around with me throughout the day as I was going from class to class to observe; while reading bits and pieces. I felt I had met her when I was consistently attending the Adventist church on Saturdays back in 2009, just because. I had made some friends during that period of time and I was curious about their beliefs. I did not have an issue attending the services, though I found the issue rest in attending Sunday….oops Saturday School. I was annoyed by the continuous references to this Ms Ellen G. White. She was continuously used as reference to how one ought to live. In any event, there I was sitting at the back of the class observing these young boys, while attempting to read parts of the book to which I had no interest in the content.

These boys attend school at the YMCA because they are not able to function well in regular high school. Some are as young as 12 while others are as old as 17. Yet every age group could be found in this second class I was observing, it’s called form #1 and in this form they all function at a grade three level. My first day and I had to speak to this 17 year old who was walking in and out of the class as he saw fit. The teacher looked like she had already given up on him, but who to blame her. I know the nature of that work. Everyone  experiences a little burnout. He threw another child’s shoes inside a hole in the roof of the class.

In the third class, the students were not as difficult but they had trouble focusing on their school work. She maintained a little more order than the first, but then, I wouldn’t exactly call someone who has to redirect children every  minute, order. By two o’clock I was glad when school was dismissed.

The following day was different. I sat inside the first period upon arriving after nine in the morning. This time the class I supervised was much better than the day before.The students actually completed all the work the teacher assigned them and were eager to show the work to the teacher. I helped with the marking of the assignments which made for a more productive day.

Speaking of productive, at 12pm I left the YMCA to work at a soup kitchen held at the Webster Memorial United Church located on Halfway tree Rd. Tears came to my eyes when I saw the amount of homeless people that were standing around neatly organized tables, hands clasped in prayer upon completing devotion.  When they were done praying, I walked out with a tray with dishes of soup on it to be served to the men and women. Isn’t this what Christ wanted us to do?

An attendance was taken while soups were going down people’s stomach. Water was handed out in plastic cups to quench thirst, and sincere “thank yous” were heard. I’m not sure if I had ever done anything so touching before. But when I thought this was all I needed to fulfil my day, there was the homework club which was held an hour later. Students, as young as six arrived to get help with homework.I sat there the entire time making myself useful. The children began to grow on me even during that short two hour span. I can’t wait to see them again on Thursday. Thursday I hear, the Soup Kitchen is even busier than on Tuesdays. Rice and Peas is preferred over the soup, so they anticipate at least 100 persons.

All in all, this week–volunteer week, started on an excellent note and I hope the rest of the days will go as well as the past couple days have been.