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Student Story:
Spring Break in Jamaica

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Jeri Suarez
Associate Dean for Cultural and Community Engagement
(540) 362-6382

Cultural and Community Engagement

Jamaica Service Project

The Center for Cross Cultural StudiesHollins' Jamaica Service Project is a unique abroad program. It stands out as one of just a few colleges in America that organizes annual service trips to Lucea, a community on the Northwest Coast of Jamaica. Since the program began in 1988, more than 250 Hollins students have taken advantage of this opportunity to experience the Jamaican culture and to complete service projects like teaching in the school system or working with the local infirmary.

While in Jamaica, students spend their days working on community based assignments, projects that are often tailored to match each student's individual talents. For Ashlee Reeves '98, that meant giving local school children lessons in basic Spanish. In the evening students often attend lectures given by local community members and go on tours of the island. During the course of the program, Hollins students are also led on expeditions to nearby rainforests and Negril.

Reeves maintains that part of the program's success stems from the longstanding relationship Hollins has established with the community. She was especially aware of this relationship when she worked with patients at the area's infirmary. "They know Hollins. They look forward to seeing us," she said. "They want to  know how so and so who participated in the program last year is."

Another distinctive aspect of the program is that participants do not stay in hotels. By living with a host family, each student experiences the life of local Jamaicans. "If you stay in a hotel you're on the outside," Reeves said. "By living with the home stay you learn about the culture."

For Reeves the most important aspect of the Jamaica Service Project is that it does not attempt to place western values on the culture. "What I think we got across to them is that we're not there to change them in any way," she said. "We're just there to aid them. They respect us because we respect them."

The annual trip occurs during spring break. Hollins is committed to keeping fees low for this program, and scholarships are available. It is open to qualified Hollins students in all classes and disciplines. The director of the program will also work as a consultant for other colleges that wish to organize similar service projects.

"Jeri Suarez, director of the Jamaica Service Project, and Hollins students have a legacy in the community of Lucea, Jamaica for their willingness to serve and give freely of themselves and their resources. Obviously, the service project is not the typical college student's spring break vacation to the Caribbean. I had the opportunity to participate in this program during my first year at Hollins. While there, I partnered with a senior Spanish major to teach Spanish in the local primary school and helped paint the interior of Lucea's Salvation Army building. My best experience occured during one of our daily visits to the local infirmary. While visiting with the residents, I met an elderly gentleman who was blind in both eyes from cataracts and confined to a wheelchair. What touched me the most was his contentment with his situation, evident through his good spirits and his desire to share that joy with us and the other residents, despite his physical condition and his impoverished situation." Kelly Strawderman '03