In my opinion if you’re a first time volunteer and are not familiar with the country you are going to visit, then yes you should most definitely go with an established organization; I went with Projects-Abroad Jamaica.
(This picture was taken after ‘Dirty Day’ on a Friday. We painted bathrooms at a local highschool and the ones who had finished went on the road to wait for taxi’s. I am the one with the purple bag. In just this picture alone there are people from Denmark, Canada, Belgium, USA and Germany.)
The benefits for myself when traveling overseas with an organization had been profound. You get in country help and a crash course on the ‘city’, or parish in my case.
- I was picked up from the airport and driven to my Host-Families home within a few hours.
- The second you arrive in country and are picked up from the airport the driver will hand you a package of relevant information like a map of the country, phone numbers of all volunteers and officers, the date and time to be ready for orientation, what to wear, etc.
- I was taken on a tour of the town and shown where important key markers were; like the KFC at the top of town, and the Juicy Patties closer to the end of town where locals used to take a short cut and volunteers would take to go up to the main organization office.
- I was taken to a Digicel store to buy a temporary phone with a Sim card (the US does not use this type of system, though it is used in almost every other country.)
- I was shown where I needed to go to change the currency in town from USD to JAD.
- I was shown where the post office was, the police station, the hospital, the banks, grocery store, ATM’s, and MOST importantly where to go to catch a taxi back home and to work.
- Can you BELIEVE sometimes up to TEN people would be jammed into 1 car? … that normally seats 5?! You better believe it… we were sitting on top of each other half the time!
- In addition to that, I was taken by my CARE project officer to the Orphanage where I would be working and shown where to catch a taxi there and back.
- I was picked up from my home by this CARE project officer and shown the proper way to greet someone when entering into a taxi. Either with “Hello, Good Morning, Afternoon, Goodnight, etc.”
- I was told the amount of taxi fare I would pay for simple trips from home to town and from work to town which is 90 JAD.
- I was also told the amount I would pay if I were to be dropped off directly in front of my house, 120 JAD.
- And then explained that on after hours, which vary greatly between taxi drivers who often just make up their minds if they are tired and want to go home, fares can be up to 1,000 JAD or more. However, this amount normally meant they were trying to pull one over on us because we were ‘stupid foreigners’.
- To show me the path, my CARE officer and I walked the 30 minutes each way to the office where our weekly meetings would be held and any events like a Language and Culture class or International Day and also for our monthly extra group volunteer day somewhere else in the community; this was called Dirty Day.
- Weekly meetings are held with a group of volunteers in different sections. For example the CARE volunteers all serving in Orphanges around the area would have a meeting for 1 hour with the CARE projects officer. We would play team building games and go around to each person talking about how our weeks went and how we can make it better. If there are any concerns about how the facility is being handled, culturally for example, then we voice our concerns and have talks about culture differences; like corporal punishment often used in Jamaica’s schools, home and Orphanages.
- In addition to solving problems, these group volunteer activities forces each other to talk and become friends and to socialize with other people in the same situations.
- My care officer then had lunch with me at Juicy Patties and helped me figure out the paying process.
- After a few weeks I hadn’t been drinking enough water and my CARE officer was right there trying to figure out how to make it better.
- In addition to that, they are always there to listen to your needs and if you have a problem with your host family or your work place, she was there to jot down the issues and contact each individual to figure out how to fix the problems.
- My roommate and I had an issue with the amount of money we had to pay to use the washing machine; and though it made the conversation awkward, they were contacted and the fees were dropped.
- If you have any medical needs they refer you to a doctor (the medical insurance is included in your overall fee.)
- On the day of your orientation you get a Projects-Abroad T Shirt that you wear every last Friday of the month for Dirty Day.
- For the first two weeks they bring you in to ask questions about your host-family life like, “Are you getting enough water?”, “Getting enough food?”, “Getting along with your Host-Family?” and have you rate each category.
- And at the end of your service you fill out questions about your overall experience.
A few cons:
- Some volunteers were irritated that they felt like they were being ‘babysat’.
- If you are going to be traveling for the weekends, you must fill out a paper saying where you are going and with who.
- If volunteers have an issue with someone (maybe even just concern) and it is brought to the attention of the officers, then they will have a talk with you.
- ALL activities are mandatory. This means everything from a dance class to weekly meetings. If you don’t attend classes or meetings you will not get your certification of completion.
- They have a strict dress code for CARE and TEACHING positions. But this is just because Jamaica is actually a conservative country (give or take some people, just like anywhere.) And Projects-Abroad would like to keep up with their reputation within the country.
- You cannot wear anything above the knee (which is EXTREMELY annoying because of how hot it is) and cannot wear sleeveless anything, no leggings, and must remove all piercing except for one set of earrings and cover all tattoos.
Over all, Projects-Abroad Jamaica was exactly the type of help I needed to get me comfortable with my surroundings knowing that I had someone to back me up if I needed it.