Students travel to Jamaica to help local community and teach children

Published by adviser, Author: Katie Ellis - Campus Life Editor, Date: January 29, 2015
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A select group of 15 students traveled to Petersfield, Jamaica from Jan. 3-10 as part of a carebreak trip to provide aid in the form of education and community service to local schools, all while becoming immersed in the country’s culture.

In order to be eligible to go on the trip to Jamaica over winter break, students were required to fill out an application, and complete two essays that detailed why the applicant should be chosen to go on the trip, including why they had a passion for helping others and previous experience working with children. Amizade, an organization dedicated to helping universities across the country plan care break trips for universities, helped to foster the relationship between Slippery Rock and Jamaica to ensure that students would be able to return to the island nation for the third year to help a community in need.

Junior early childhood and special education major Mary Miskinis, 21, served as a student leader on the carebreak trip this year after going to Jamaica last winter break, and worked with fellow student Randy Dangler to narrow down the applicants to just 15, and organize activities so that the students could get to know each other before traveling. Miskinis wanted to become a leader for the trip after falling in love with the culture and people of Jamaica, and realizing how much of an impact she and others could have on the people there.

“We’re there to teach the students and keep them at grade level,” Miskinis said. “There are some fifth graders there that don’t know the alphabet. I had someone tell me that this was the first time that they’d learned something since they started school in August.”

Miskinis and the other students that went on the trip brought six suitcases full of school supplies with them on their trip to give to the schools so that they could use their money to provide different resources for the children, instead of having to worry about coming up with funds for paper, pencils and calculators. While there she also helped to plant a field of trees that when ready, will provide food for the schoolchildren.

“Monday was our first day of service work, and we spent the whole day in the field by the local elementary school,” Miskinis said. “We cleared rocks and garbage and planted 138 plantain trees which will be used to feed local schools. They’ll use them in their porridge for breakfast and in their lunches.”

Junior communication major Anna Buffalini, 21, is no stranger to traveling abroad to serve communities in need having gone to Haiti last summer to work with children, and she jumped at the chance to travel to Jamaica to experience a new culture after seeing photos from her sorority sister’s trip last year. Buffalini and the students were quickly immersed in the culture after being broken into groups to stay with host families for the duration of their visit.

“They break you off into families and you get a mom, and you’re her daughters, and you become sisters,” Buffalini said. “Your mom cooks for you and she gets so excited if you like the food. Her grandson lived there and we called him our brother and we still keep in touch with him.”

Aside from spending time with her host family, Buffalini went to church, celebrated birthdays, and took part in the annual Jamaican Maroon Day festival. Through spending time with her family, and participating in cultural activities, she found the character of the Jamaican people to be one of the most impactful memories from her trip.

“Their culture is such a kind culture and it really makes you want to come back and be a better person,” Buffalini said.

The carebreak trip to Jamaica was a first for junior public health and sociology major Jamie Romine, 21, who has thought of joining the Peace Corp after college, and wanted to travel abroad to see if the experience would be right for her. Romine roomed with Buffalini and three other girls while on the trip, and quickly bonded with them and her host family.

“We all stayed in one room, and it was like we were having a big sleepover every night,” Romine said. “Our mom was awesome, she was the principal of the elementary school and she had a son that lived with her, who helped cook meals with her, and his son was our age and we got really close with him.”

Romine worked at a local preschool teaching children their ABCs and helped teachers grade past assignments. She helped children that weren’t at the same level as the rest of their classmates to make sure that they had an opportunity to catch up with the curriculum, and would journey there again to help the community and visit her host family.

“Our mom told us that if we can’t afford to stay down here to pay for a plane ticket, and she would house us,” Romine said. “I want it to be somewhere I can bring my kids and my husband someday to introduce them to the family I stayed with.”

There are already plans for another carebreak trip to Jamaica next year under new student leadership. Students that apply will again be able to be immersed in the culture of the island nation and provide aid to a community in need.

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