Students help others, learn lessons serving in Jamaica

teaching readingTen SUNY Oswego community members taught children, built infrastructure and learned plenty during the college’s first international Alternative Winter Break service project in Jamaica.

The college’s Center for Community Service and Service Learning and the international Volunteer in Jamaica Opportunity Network coordinated the program, Jan. 6 to 20 in Treasure Beach. Eight students as well as Alyssa Amyotte, the center’s coordinator, and AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer Bailey Garfinkel participated.

Oswego representatives taught subjects and gave computer lessons to students in grades 1 to 6 in a local primary school. “The teacher essentially handed us the chalk and said, ‘Go ahead and teach’ and left,” said Shaun Del Rosario, a senior marketing and psychology major.

Students also painted the school, thatched a hut for a computer learning area, cleared brush and other debris to create a play area and set up a jungle gym for a school of 3- to 5-year olds.

One key piece of hands-on work involved setting up a campground, including showers and bathrooms, that other volunteers coming to aid the project would use.

“We were the ‘guinea pig’ group, not staying in inns like other groups,” Del Rosario said. “We gained so much more camping out in a family’s backyard. We were really immersed in the culture . . . the relationships that we were building were very strong.”

Scott Ball, a senior English and history major, enjoyed creating two-way cultural connections. “When you think about other countries, certain stereotypes come to mind, and they have certain stereotypes about us,” Ball said. “You want to change the perceptions people have of you, and you want to dispel stereotypes about them as well.”

The students said they realized, given America’s influence abroad, the need to use this power to benefit others.

“The thing that really struck me was how much their culture was Americanized” through the media, fashion and trade, said Michael LaMastra. “Where we were was considered affluent by Jamaican standards because the people there have family in the United States” or come to America to do short-term work, he added.

“I had never been out of the country before,” said LaMastra, a graduate business and marketing education major. “I’m going into education so I was interested in working with students, especially ones from a different culture than ours. I wanted to go out in the world and explore. It was also an opportunity to make a difference.”

While teaching youth and helping an economically challenged country, students found it educational and enriching in many ways.

“I really enjoyed their culture that says it’s OK not to always be going. They are very calm, laid back and say ‘no worries’ a lot,” Del Rosario said. “We had the opportunity to fall into that groove, to let go of all our worries and just enjoy life as they seem to do.”

Ball found that the old adage “money can’t buy happiness” rang true, as the real treasure in Treasure Beach was the creativity, community and camaraderie of the residents. They used everything around them to the fullest and didn’t complain about what they didn’t have.

“Everyone was well off because they had each other,” he added. “We saw a community in the utmost sense. They all cared for and supported each other. They may have been what we would consider impoverished but they were happy because they had each other.”

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PHOTO CAPTION: Teaching time—Dan Lupa, a master’s in education counseling student at SUNY Oswego, reads with Noah, a young student in the Salvation Army basic school in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. Ten members of the SUNY Oswego campus community, mostly students, took part in an international Alternative Winter Break to help build a campground, teach youngsters and create basic infrastructure in Jamaica last month.

(Posted: Feb 04, 2009)

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