Sun | May 31, 2020

In the spirit of serving humanity – Part 2

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2020 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma - Arts and Education Coordinator
Peace Corps Jamaica celebrated the arrival of the 90th group of volunteers. The group which arrived on Tuesday March 12, 2019 will share in the mission of promoting world peace and friendship.
Charles Cirkl, a Peace Corps education volunteer in Pepper, St Elizabeth.
Radhika Patel, former Peace Corps volunteer, with some of the students from James Hill Primary, Clarendon.
Joel Matheson, a Peace Corps volunteer working with farmers in St Thomas.
Amitabh Sharma

We continue the positive reinforcement of humane spirit and action when humanity, as a collective, is grappling with an unprecedented calamity. “We shall overcome” is the mantra, and going by the ­indomitable strength we possess, we ­definitely will.

It has been a personal ­endeavour to constantly highlight volunteerism in its many manifestations. Helping each other is ­gratifying, empowering, and unifying in thought and action.

The magnitude of perceived small interventions can make a world of a difference to those who have not been privy to things that many take for granted. In the words of Carl Sagan, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

Volunteers, keep creating those apple pies from scratch, and keep building new universes.


Value of service to others

Joel Matheson – Peace Corps volunteer in St Thomas, Jamaica.

The 25-year-old has lived in Jamaica for almost two years. Joel has a bachelor’s degree from Boise State University and is an ­experienced beekeeper.

Why did you gravitate towards volunteering?

My parents raised me to understand the value of service to others. My father, uncles, and grandfather all served in the United States military; however, I found that the military was not for me. I found my service to others in volunteering.

Since I was old enough to help, my parents would take my siblings and me to volunteer at the church food pantry. We would sometimes even volunteer on holidays. My parents were great role models and would volunteer their time with our sports teams and after-school clubs. When I was in university, I learnt about the Peace Corps and thought that this would be a great opportunity to help others and learn new skills.


Why do you think ­volunteering is necessary?

I believe volunteering is important because it creates relationships and understandings between people. Volunteering connects you to the community, where everyone can come together to make it a better place. Volunteering is a good example for the youth. It is important to show them at a young age the importance of ­helping others. Volunteering leads to compassion, a willingness to help, a more open mind, and a positive outlook on life.


Volunteerism is often perceived as ‘free’ or work that you do when you are ‘jobless’. How can this mindset be changed?

This is a difficult question to answer. I think that the only way for this mindset to change is for people to volunteer. Volunteerism is different than working a job. Volunteering is more about building relationships than it is about getting something in return. Most of the time when working a job, a person expects to be compensated for their time. Volunteerism is asking the question, “How can I help you?” instead of, “What will you give me if I do something for you?”


How do you think volunteering can have a long-term impact personally and professionally?

As I mentioned earlier, I think that volunteering can make you a more well-rounded individual. Volunteering with my family at a young age has made me the person that I am today. Professionally, volunteering can be good job experience or allow you to try something new. For example, if someone thinks that they want to be a nurse, then they can volunteer at the hospital or a nursing home and gain job experience and valuable skills. For me, I want to have a career in international relations, so volunteering in a foreign country for two years will help me get into that career.


Can you give a brief overview of your work in Jamaica? What has been the response of the community?

The Peace Corps mission, which I will briefly summarise, is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals: one, help where needed; two, share American culture with Jamaicans; three, share Jamaican culture with Americans. In my community, I am helping to promote sustainable farming, and I am also working with the community group to develop eco-tourism and rehabilitate a community centre.

My favourite part of my work in Jamaica is goals two and three, which is the culture exchange. I have learnt so much about Jamaican culture, and I have shared it with my family and friends back in America. I have also had the opportunity to talk about American culture to my Jamaican friends.

Since the first day I arrived in the community, where I have spent almost two years now, I was met with kindness and compassion. Some people were wondering why I left the United States to come live in rural Jamaica, and more than once, I held meetings that no one showed up to. But there is a sense of community in rural Jamaica, and we are working slow and steady towards our project goals.


Based on your experiences, how can volunteerism be encouraged among Jamaicans?

I think the biggest thing that can be done is, encourage the youth. Teaching the younger generation the importance of volunteering will lead to a future ­generation of volunteers. Mentoring ­students, coaching a sports team, and ­taking children to a coastal clean-up day are all easy things to do and will have lasting effects. Having a ­positive role model when ­growing up is important.


What are the key things that you have learnt in your time spent in Jamaica, and how have they impacted you?

I have learnt so much in the last two years; it is really difficult to summarise it into a few sentences. One of the biggest things that I have learnt about volunteering and development work is that ­sustainable community projects start with the community. The community is the heart of a project, and the people that make up the community need to be involved from the beginning for it to be sustainable. It takes time asking questions, listening to responses, and ultimately building trust. It’s not always easy getting everyone to work together, but together, we can go far.


On a global scale, how do you think volunteerism can help an individual to learn about, adapt, and appreciate foreign cultures?

I know first-hand that ­volunteering can lead to learning, adaptation, and ­appreciation for foreign cultures. I have learnt so much about Jamaican culture over the last two years. My friends tell me now that I move like a Jamaican.

Above all, I appreciate and love Jamaica with all my heart. I have made some lifelong friends in my community and around the island. I know that when my time is done here, I am not going to say goodbye, but instead, it will be ‘soon come’. I have been able to make these friendships on a deeper level, not because I was working out here but because I was volunteering and living in the community.

During time here, I have learnt how to ‘fling my shoulder’, roast breadfruit, ‘catch janga dung a river’, and much more.

The first year I was on the island, I went to the Denbigh Agricultural Expo, and I won a shovel in a dancing ­competition by ‘flinging my shoulder’.


Yearning to give

Charles Cirkl from Missouri – Peace Corps education volunteer in Pepper, St Elizabeth.

Why did you gravitate towards volunteering?

The yearning to give to people; to learn about another culture, their people, and the country; to gain some humility; to learn more about myself and how I want to traverse life; to see and feel the motions of watching a child learn to read and grow.


Why do you think ­volunteering is necessary?

Volunteering allows those who haven’t been able to, or those who have chosen not to visualise other aspects of life, the world, and other people, to see them in a true and honest light. It also lets the volunteer gain ­perspective, ­confidence, humility, and ­numerous other qualities and skills to enrich their life.


Volunteerism is often ­perceived as ‘free’ or work you do when you are jobless. How can this mindset be changed?

Most of the time, volunteerism is work you do for free, pay your own way, or are given a living stipend that is substantially less than that of the average in the local community. This is mainly because most areas and organisations that hire volunteers usually don’t have the finances to pay a full salary or stipends, so they depend on volunteers to fill the roles needed for success.


Give a brief overview of your work in Jamaica. What has been the response of the community?

I work as a literacy adviser in a local primary school helping with the literacy programme and working with students of all grades in helping them learn to read and write English. I also have partnered with an organisation that is developing American tackle football in Jamaican high schools.

So far, so good in regards to how my community has responded to my present activities. They all are very welcoming and nice.


Based on your experience, how can volunteerism be encouraged among Jamaicans?

By informing them of the current Jamaican volunteering organisations on the island. There are many to choose from. By promoting volunteering and the non-monetary benefits that are generated from it, like being able to see pure joy on the faces of those being helped.


What are the key things that you have learnt in your time spent in Jamaica, and how have they impacted you?

People are people. No matter where you go, people will always be people. It’s just that their culture, politics, beliefs, looks, style, food, and life outlook, among others, may be different than what you know.

It doesn’t mean one is better or worse, just different. Jamaica, specifically, is a good example because most people in the world know Jamaica for its tourism opportunities, though once you’re there as a volunteer, you learn there’s so much more this country and its people have to offer. It truly is a beautiful place and one I call home.


On a global scale, how do you think volunteerism can help an individual to learn about, adapt, and appreciate foreign cultures?

I believe that everyone, from all walks of life, should volunteer in a place that is very unlike that of where they are from for a period of time long enough to really see and experience what life is like where they are volunteering. The minimum time, I would say a year to really get the full gamut.

In last week’s feature, it was mentioned that Mary Bilecki’s mother was a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV). Mary’s father was a PCV, not her mother. The error is regretted.