The beginning of our journey started in Treasure Beach. We stayed at the most precious resort that was owned by the sweetest little lady, Mrs. Whinny. Herself and her staff of three people run all of the operations at Taino Cove; they were the kindest, most remarkable women. From washing our laundry by hand to making us homemade meals, the love and warmth they exuded was contagious.
Our first project was at a school called Epping Forest Primary School. Their building sat at the top of the hill, looking down over the city and vast blue ocean. The first day we spent there was the Saturday after we arrived, and the students were still on break. We were tasked with pulling weeds and digging up rock, so when we came back the following day we could start mixing concrete. It was a beautiful sunny Jamaican day, but pulling weeds in 90 degree weather with nearly 80 percent humidity is no glorified task. I remember when we sat down for lunch, that peanut butter and jelly sandwich was the tastiest, most fulfilling lunch I thought I had ever had. The heat and work of this day absolutely drained me. It was in this moment I realized I should not be a labor worker, and I gained a lot of respect for the Jamaican men that were out there doing this work with us like it was no big deal.
When we went to work at Epping Forest the following Monday, Mrs. Malcom the school’s principal came out to greet us. She was so kind and welcoming as she said her hello’s and gave her introduction. Something I will never forget is when she talked about Boise State specifically, and the impact it has had on Epping Forest Primary School. She was so genuine and grateful for all of the work we had done over the past few years. Mrs. Malcom expressed that we are the reason her students have a field to play in and soon a small stadium to host track meets for schools all across their region. I would have never thought that a small concrete structure would mean so much to the school and its students. However, hearing the need and appreciation Mrs. Malcom had for our work reminded me how important these small victories are, and I am so proud that Boise State could be a part of that.
This was the first day students were back from their holiday break. They were so energetic. I was shocked the teachers could even get the students to stay in the classrooms! For their morning break, all of the students came outside and ran around as we mixed concrete to lay the foundation. Now, I will tell you that mixing concrete by hand with a shovel is no easy task, and it definitely isn’t pretty! I never expected that I would learn to truly appreciate cement mixers, but I can genuinely say this trip demonstrated the value those mixers have. As we worked with a few of the Jamaican workers we had helping us, they would continually yell “Bust a sweat, man!” This became our motto for the entirety of our time in Jamaica, and boy did we learn how to bust a sweat! A lot of the students stood around us just watching. I assumed their thoughts were along the lines of what the heck are all these wackos doing here? The students played soccer for a little while and went back inside. We continue to mix cement by hand and lay the foundation, brick by brick.
We were doing the same work both days we were at the school: mixing cement, laying brick, and even pouring the cement to create a stage area for their stadium. The first day we were there for lunch, the little boys came out and played soccer with a small, softball sized, somewhat deflated ball. Between the grins on their faces and the Patois phrases they were yelling, I could tell they were loving the game racing back and forth to their goal (which was just an area between two trees seen below). Other students either wanted to race us or get donkey rides, what we would call piggy-back rides. What the students loved the most was the polaroid cameras that some of us brought on the trip. They were absolutely loving the pictures they could capture of one another and then keep! I will never forget this one little boy named Ty who sat in the field and wouldn’t go back inside even though he was missing class. He had his legs criss crossed and his arms crossed tightly to his stomach with his head down. One of our sweet members Kassi went up to him and asked him if he was okay. He was so upset that he didn’t get his picture taken because he had never had one before to see what he looked like. The one thing he wanted so badly was just a small 2 x 3 inch image of himself. Could you imagine what it would have been like when you were in fourth grade to have never seen a picture of yourself?
When we came back to the school the following day, the students were so excited to see us. We brought a bunch of donation items this day since it was our final day serving at Epping Forest. A few of these items were soccer balls. The students were so utterly thrilled to have these. They were using a small deflated, ball for their soccer games, so having these new, filled soccer balls made them so excited they had three different games going on at once! I was playing with some of the boys, and I was on a team with one (in the green jersey pictured to the left). He wasn’t very lucky getting me on his team, I can tell you that much right now. I am no asset in the soccer realm, but at one point he pulled me to the side and wrote “16” on the palm of his hand with a fat, yellow marker he had grabbed from his pocket. He said, “Miss, this is how many points we have right now.” I can assure you we had only scored twice, but if that’s what he wanted to believe, I thought that was a much better number!
I remember when the bell rang for lunch to be over so vividly because all of the children were tugging on our arms asking us if we really weren’t coming back the next day and wondering why. This broke my heart to pieces because all I wanted to do was stay for a few more days and give those little ones a beautiful stadium for them to use for track meets and graduations no matter how much cement that meant we had to mix. After we finished our work at this site, I was so strongly trying to hold back tears from running down my face. We weren’t able to finish their stadium while we were there, but we got so darn close. It took me a while to understand why I was feeling so sad that I had to leave a worksite that caused me an abundance of back pain, sweat, and cement stains. I started to realize that a small little structure like this would mean so little to us here in the United States, and that understanding the kids and all the small things they thought were so beautiful and special, truly became so important to me - I didn’t want to leave that.
The next school we worked at was in Negril on the other side of the island. I was so excited to come to this school because it was little ones ranging up to pre-school. I’m saddened to tell you there was no cement-mixing at this location, but we were moving gravel and sand all day for their playground as well as painting the side of a building. It was so much fun to tour this school and see all of the adorable, little children as we walk through the colorful classrooms and see them wave from their tiny benches.
After we had seen the school and said our hellos, we got right to work! On this trip we quickly learned the importance of bucket lines; I mean this was the foundation of our operations. Whether we lined up to transport cement down the line or buckets of pebbles, this is how we got the job done! The team formed a bucket line, and we started moving the small rocks onto the playground from the back of the school. All of the children would yell at us or watch us through the barred in snack area. Some of them called one of the ladies on the trip with us Annabella. Her name is Taylor, but it was precious, so we let it slide.
We had been moving the rock and sand all morning with buckets and one wheelbarrow. I was tasked with the duty to shovel and spread out the sand once it had been dumped into that area of the playground. I remember thinking to myself it was so interesting that they called it sand because I was spreading mounds of what we would call dirt.
When the students came out for lunch they were running around so excited to play on their new playground. We literally had come and changed nothing other than covered up lumps of concrete and hard gravel with small pebbles and sand. That is all we had done throughout the morning. The children were so excited to run around in the pebbles and sand. They were jumping off tires into the small rock and squishing their feet back and forth dancing in the sand. The children were so excited and found so much joy in tiny pebbles and sand, and it just made me think about how often we overlook the small things in our daily life. We often don’t see the fun and beauty in mundane tasks, but kids find so much joy in everything they have.
At the end of this trip as we reflected on the week and discussed the life-changing, unparalleled experience we just had, we walked down onto the edge of the beach and let off sky lanterns. I was overflowing with gratitude and admiration as I watched our lanterns float up over the beach and ocean. In this moment, I felt that I had truly gained an understanding of just how small we are and how much love God has for us. On this trip, I felt so humbled and happy that I had the opportunity to serve these communities, even if all it meant was mixing cement and dumping rocks for them. God will do anything for our love and affection because he just wants to be in relationship with us. His love is never ending and so abundant for every child of his, and I felt a small snippet of that serving all these children in Jamaica throughout this week. I cannot put my gratitude into words for this trip and the people I met throughout it. I will cherish the memories for the rest of my life and bring all that the Lord taught me about serving others and exuding his love with me in everything I do. Many people made this trip so meaningful, but our leader, Kaye, taught me what it meant to serve and love others in a way I had never seen before. I have never met someone who gives so much love to the world around her. I aspire to be like her. Below are just a few faces and people that brought my heart so much joy, showed me true servitude and taught me to find beauty in every small aspect of life.
ASBSU Vice President
Boise State University