The Words of the Salmon Family

Religious Youth Service Gives Jamaica School a Facelift

Dennis Salmon
August 16, 2012
Religious Youth Service -- Jamaica

Portland, Jamaica -- Seventeen young people from six nations assembled on August 3 for 13 days of service-learning on Jamaica's northeast coast, organized by Religious Youth Service.

After travelling through the mountains from Kingston, the capital, 22 inter-religious and intercultural youths from Guyana, St. Lucia, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA as well as Jamaica arrived at the work site, an elementary school with 250 students in the community of Buff Bay in Portland Parish. The 17 participants and five staff met, and sleeping areas were assigned to males and females at the work site; participants then enjoyed a home cooked meal. Later, the participants met in a common area for registration and introductions. Ice-breakers exercises were introduced by staff, and participants began to be comfortable with each other by lights out.

The next morning began with a Unificationist morning meditation led by Jonathon Doroski and Mario Glasgow. After a healthy breakfast, Georgia Pearson started the orientation with two videos, one about RYS and one about the parent organization, UPF. Participants responded positively. Then the history of RYS was presented and participants worked on the "Vision 20/20" activity, finishing before lunch. The Vision Posters they made left an indelible mark in the hearts of participants.

RYS celebrated Sunday Service at the Buff Bay Independent Baptist Church, where the group was specially welcomed by Pastor Vernon Allen, a friend of the RYS club in Portland Parish. Although the service was long, it was far from boring, and participants commented how patriotic Jamaicans are; all the songs sung were national songs, and the gathering closed with the national anthem. After lunch, orientation continued; the "Lion, Fox, and St. Bernard" exercise helped participants understand their leadership styles.

Although Monday, August 6, was scheduled to be the first work day, it was also the celebration of Jamaica's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain; hence the work was postponed and participants joined the celebration, which began with a flag-raising ceremony and continued with a concert in the street.

The following day, Mario Glasgow, the work site manager, assigned work tasks to the various teams: cleaning classrooms, repairing and replacing a picket fence, and landscaping. No repairs had been made for the previous five years, and a face lift was much needed. Participants worked tirelessly to complete the day's task, despite the heavy rains and threats of a hurricane.

After the second work day, the participants enjoyed a trip to Dunn's River Falls, where they climbed a mile and a half to the waterfalls. About 180 feet (55 m) high and 600 feet (180 m) long, the waterfalls are terraced like giant stair steps of which some are man-made improvements. Several small lagoons are interspersed among the vertical sections of the falls. The hike was an opportunity for participants to bond and establish trust.

A group of campers from the International Volunteer Academy assisted with painting the school as well as the netball and volleyball courts; it was the longest work day because participants were full of energy and didn't want to stop with tasks undone. Later that afternoon, Ambassador for Peace Ivan Coore gave a lecture on the history of Jamaica, and Dennis Salmon, Secretary General of UPF-Jamaica, talked about character development.

On Saturday, participants and staff completed the service project. The school looks renewed and is ready for teachers and students. The principal and her assistant were inspired by the transformation and invited Religious Youth Service to return next year.

An exercise called "Strengths I See/Strengths Others See," led by Georgia Pearson, started a memorable reflection process. The group journeyed to Somerset Falls for relaxation, and there the reflections became very intense and emotional, ending with a flower ceremony during which participants showed appreciation to each other by exchanging flowers.

The people of Portland voiced their gratitude to RYS for its work locally and internationally. The time together was a cultural exchange, offering opportunities to experience and appreciate the diverse cultures of Jamaica and the other nations represented. 

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