As the third biggest island of the Caribbean, Jamaica is generally known for a few things: sun, sea, sand and all inclusive resorts. But the truth of the matter is this is an incredibly diverse country with an intriguing cultural heritage. Not only has this small island of three million people given the world ska, rocksteady and reggae, it’s also home to the one of the world’s most delicious and little known cuisines and some of the most unique rums imaginable!
Cruise ships and luxury resorts aside, most visitors miss out on the most bountiful aspect of this beautiful country: it’s people. With a heritage mix including Arawak Indian, African, British and Spanish, fusion influences can be seen everywhere; from the British and Indian influenced curry goat recipe to the colonial remnants of locations like Spanish Town.
And while a small percentage of the population is well off, the sad fact is most people are not; and poverty, corruption and crime are rife. Concerns about safety mean that many people are put off visiting out of the way areas. But this is why volunteering here is so good! Not only do you get to help out with teaching, conservation and medical care; but you also get to stay with a host family and experience that incredible Caribbean hospitality! To help you along we’ve researched some top opportunities in the next part of our guide to top volunteering destinations...
Helping the deaf
Due to a lack of deaf education in Jamaica, many hearing impaired students leave school without being able to read properly. If you’re proficient in sign language, World Endeavors want to hear from you! In partnership with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, volunteers will help promote personal development by teaching sign language and trying to improve educational facilities. The ultimate goal of the project is to make deaf education self-sustainable. Volunteer for anything from two weeks to three months, staying in dorm accommodation with other volunteers. Prices start from £823.
Pick n mix
If you fancy volunteering but aren’t sure what to expect, why not consider trying a shorter project? Jamaica Volunteer Vacations has a package just for you: a seven day tour mixing volunteering opportunities with sightseeing. For five days you’ll work in a children’s home, teaching a subject of your choice while learning about your students’ lives too. Afterwards you’re then free to start some sightseeing. The trip includes excursions to the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls, a 600ft cascading waterfall which can easily be climbed. Swim in the clear waters of Hellshire Beach and feast on delicious festival (long doughnuts). Prices start from £625.
The cost of special education in Jamaica is beyond the means of most of the population. A lack of school facilities to accommodate disabled children means many miss out on an education. The Academy is a non-profit organisation that specialises in educating disabled children of all ages up to 18. Shadow a teacher or become one yourself. There are other opportunities too, such as counselling students or working with young children. The initial project is for six months and costs from £375 including food, inland travel and accommodation.
In the 15th century, explorer Christopher Columbus described Jamaica as the fairest land he had ever seen. While this is still true, the large population size for a tiny island has seen rubbish accumulate and areas of forest chopped down. In the centre of the island is the stunning Cockpit Country – Jamaica’s last remaining wilderness. This wonderland is a karst region of hidden caves, natural springs and rivers. The limestone hills give it the look of an upside down egg carton! But poor land use and poverty threaten to ruin this stunning region, so why not volunteer with Globe Aware to make a difference?
Based in the Rock Springs community, you’ll stay with host families to implement sustainable practices, clean rivers and forests of litter, help create an eco-tourism programme and try to provide alternative ideas for income for local people. In your spare time, feast on delicious rice and peas, ackee and salt fish, jerk pork and oxtail stew dishes, play dominoes with locals and hike into the hills to spot rare bird species.
Arguably one of the most musical countries in the world, Jamaica has influenced countless music types with its home grown upbeats. Starting in the 1950s, islanders first began imitating New Orleans rhythm and blues before creating ska in the early 60s. Punctuated by short, sharp upbeats, in the middle of the decade Hopeton Lewis slowed down this fast paced music to create the amiable sound of Rocksteady. This slowly morphed into reggae in the late 60s. One very interesting thing about Jamaica is that reggae is everywhere! Even church gospel is infected with its easygoing upbeats and blues influenced musical structure.
So getting involved with a music programme here will not only be enjoyable but very, very culturally engaging! Projects Abroad offer projects ranging from anything above two weeks. Working in a school, you’ll be able to teach children between 6 and 18 how to play an instrument of your choice, school them about Jamaica’s music and the wider world’s and help them understand the relationship between music and art.
Jamaica is one of the most culturally unique and fascinating countries in the world. And volunteering here is one of the most rewarding things you could ever do...