The two weeks I spent volunteering at Garlogie Primary and Junior High School in Banana Ground Jamaica opened my eyes to the poverty and struggle for education that children and their families face everyday in rural Jamaica. The sentiment of the expression “I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school,” which American parents tell their children to quell complaints about school, applies to the children who attend Garlogie. However, instead of walking a few blocks in inclement weather, these students, many with tattered shoes, walk miles over rocky, unpaved, mountainous roads to arrive at school. Despite their hardships each day at school the children greeted me with an eager smiles that lit up their entire face.
For many of the students, the simple rice and meat lunch prepared by the school comprised their only meal of the day. Additionally, Jamaican children lack the most basic school supplies that many people take for granted in America are desperately needed there. When I had a box of pencils to hand out to the children as rewards for individually reading a passage from a tattered textbook, the entire class of about twenty-five fifth graders all clamored around me, eagerly asking, “Miss, may I have a pencil, please?” Witnessing the genuine enthusiasm that these children had for learning and their joy over things we often take for granted touched me.
The memory of reading with the children in the library stands out in my mind. The second graders selected care-worn picture books from the shelves and climbed in my lap to read with me. The students were so eager for a new person’s attention that in a chorus we would read from each book. Students had such enthusiasm that they stood across the table and still joined in while reading the words upside down. The wise words of Dr. Seuss from Oh the Places You’ll Go, one of the many books we read, “kid you’ll move mountains,” applies to these students. Even though their school is nestled on a mountain-top in an isolated area they have the potential to achieve their dreams.
The purpose of this trip was for me to help teach the students, but the lessons I learned from them will last a lifetime for me. I admire the children’s hopeful spirit because despite these conditions, they came to school each day with shining smiles on their faces. In between the lessons they quickly gained an appreciation for Lady Gaga, but not so much for the calming cello concertos that popped up while the iPod was on shuffle. The students sang traditional folk songs in their native dialect, Patwois, and urged me to sing along with them. They laughed at my attempts and then kindly helped correct my pronunciation. For some people a trip like this would be a once in a lifetime experience, but for me this is just the beginning; I will go back to help again.
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