Our Courts for Kids team consisted of 5 adults and 20 students from Clark County (Battleground High School, Columbia River High School, Kings Way, and Eisenhower Elementary School), and one high school student from Dubai. We ranged in age from eight years old to retired, and we had students, clerks, teachers, and a factory materials manager on our team. Our team consisted of some people with vast international experience and some who had not been farther than their city limits. This was going to be an adventure! We met up at PDX and took a midnight flight on Friday, April 4th through Houston (where we picked up our last team member, Aaron, who joined us from Dubai) to Montego Bay, Jamaica. We were greeted at the busy (and very hot) airport by our Peace Corps volunteer, Chantal and the school’s P.E. teacher, Mr. Reid. A long day and evening of travel culminated in a four hour bus ride on the winding roads through the Jamaican countryside. We even had an unexpected stop for some of our teammates to get some fresh air (wow, those roads were winding!) and one 45 minute stop in Santa Cruz for a “quick” stop to pick up dinner to go at the famous “Juici Patti’s.” We knew, in short order, that our American sense of time was not a consideration for our Jamaican partners. We were definitely experiencing a shift in cultural dynamics. It was our first opportunity to embrace the Jamaican national motto, “No Problem!”
We arrived well after dark on Saturday night, and were escorted by local police to Bellefield Primary School where we made our residence for the next seven days. Mr. Grant, the school principal even made a late night visit to introduce himself and welcome us to Bellefield. We really felt their hospitality! Sunday morning we all had the pleasure of visiting different local area churches and taking in some of the culture and traditions of Jamaicans in Bellefield. This was a real highlight for many of our group members as we got to experience the ways that other people worship, gather, fellowship, celebrate each other, and enjoy the company of community. We were inspired!
Bright and early Monday morning we were up and at ‘em ready to work. The community had already prepared the court for our work including building a retaining wall, clearing plants and debris, and leveling the ground. While we waited for the remaining supplies to arrive (including a mixer) we got to know some of the kids and teachers of Bellefield Primary School. We were able to work a half day on Monday and by Tuesday morning had a great sense of the tasks at each station: gravel, sand, water, wheelbarrow, and rest! We were so impressed by the hard work and dedication of our team (some of whom were new friends on this trip), and the local community members who put in their own time, blood, sweat, and tears. Men and women of all ages helped in the efforts to build the school’s court. It was inspirational to see the community come together and work alongside the Courts for Kids team. This was truly a court we built with the community. We got to know Paul and Mr. Peck, the contractors, and Dwayne, Chris, Baker, and Chrissy, the helpers who showed up day after day in the hot sun to work next to us on the court. Other nearby Peace Corps volunteers came to lend a hand as well: Meg, Maria, and Ben all shared their Peace Corps experiences with our group and enlightened us about working closely with Jamaicans to improve health care, the economy, and sustainable living practices. What inspirational young people! We were especially grateful for Mr. Stimpson who was up before dawn every day to cook delicious (and sometimes peculiar) dishes for us the Jamaican way. A real favorite were the jerk chicken, corn porridge, and festivals (sort of like a hush-puppy, but more satisfying after a long day of cement work!).
One fun part of our trip was the daily challenge. Some challenges were absurd like, “teach the local kids a karate move!” or “make a ridiculous suggestion to the contractor!” and some were more meaningful, like “find out about the history of the community from an elder” or “find out what economic problems are most challenging in the community.” No matter the challenge, meeting it was always an opportunity for humor, creativity, and most importantly, a way to connect with our new Jamaican counterparts. During lunches and after work, we had the pleasure of visiting with the students and staff of Bellefield Primary School. Some of our team even went on a three mile run with Chantal and some of the kids! The rest of us hung out with the kids to play futbol, tag, or Frisbee with the kids, or lounged in the shade and sipped on “bagga juice.” Sounds fun, right? Well, that’s not to say the trip was free of challenges. We faced many obstacles to achieving our goal of finishing the court on time, but each of those challenges was handled by the grace of our fearless leader, Selene, and the inter-cultural cooperation of many people (facilitated mostly by our amazing Peace Corps contact, Chantal). There were days where we didn’t have enough gravel to complete a day’s work; there were relentless Junebug swarms at night (most notably into our food!); there were several instances of dehydration or heat exhaustion (but no major injuries, thank goodness); a time when we ran out of water mid-shower for one of our teammates; and we ate foods we had never thought we’d try. But none of those challenges daunted our efforts. Everyone rallied around the “No Problem!” mentality. We were positive, enthusiastic, and we worked together with our cohorts to achieve our goal.
On day four of our build – after several fits and starts – we finished the court! The entire team and community erupted into joyous shouts and hugs, and *much* photo taking ensued! The end of the week culminated in a community-wide talent show and musical celebration. We enjoyed skits, songs, dance, and drums by locals and by our CFK team. By that time, we had all grown quite close with the kids and adults of our community. We could feel the end was drawing near, and it was quite difficult to think about saying goodbye to our new friends.
After a fan-fared celebration of the court opening, including coverage by a local news crew and visits from Jamaican officials from departments of education, security, and youth, our time in Bellefield had come to an end. We all celebrated as Mr. Grant made his first basket on the new court, and as the kids got to take to the court for the first time for an impromptu pickup game of basketball. Sadly, it was time to make our way home; it was time to say goodbye. In just a short time we had forged new friendships with our teammates and with our Jamaican companions. We have continued to get together at home for visits with our new CFK family and we Skype regularly with our pal, Aaron, in Dubai. Our time together left an indelible impression on us and no doubt on the students and staff at Bellefield Primary School. We are so thankful to have been able to partner with such warm, compassionate, kind people. It is as difficult to close this report as it is to think about where this journey ends. Does it? I think I speak for all of us when I say that this is an experience that will continue to be a source of inspiration, strength, and focus for us for many years to come.
~Jeni McAnally (teacher, Columbia River High School)
This trip completely changed my perspective on life and set my priorities straight. Just days before going on this trip I was making my final college decisions. I was very upset in realizing that I couldn’t attend UCLA in the Fall (a dream of mine) because of money. Instead a day before leaving for Jamaica, I had to enroll at UW. Coming on this trip was the best possible experience for me because I realized that my “difficult” college decision is not even a struggle. Most people in Jamaica don’t even attend college, and many don’t even complete high school. My opportunity to attend college is something that kids in Jamaica would die for, so wherever I go I am going to be completely grateful. Instead of finding the negative in a situation, Jamaica has taught me to see the positive in everything, be grateful for my tremendous opportunities in life. – Taylor Beardall
I have always struggled with establishing my own self-confidence in group situations but this trip to Jamaica
has reiterated the importance of letting down my walls and form strong relationships with people in a global setting.
The court we built with the Bellefield community this week is the result of our hard physical labor but is also a symbol of the teamwork and cooperation of two cultures coming together to achieve the same goal. .. . . Being in Jamaica has made me realize how much I want to continue traveling and being a part of something to make a difference in other people’s lives. . . this experience with Courts for Kids has left me itching for more opportunities to form friendships with others around the world.
– Sarah Furth
Through this trip I learned many different things about myself. I learned that I don’t need a normal bed, bathroom, or food that I’m used to be happy and comfortable. The traveling experience and being immersed in a different country opened my eyes to different possibilities for myself.
– Christina Kenoski
I understand the importance of giving and teamwork more than ever. While it isn’t my first time traveling abroad, it is my first time in a developing country. After seeing how happy and appreciative all the community was it really stuck me that no matter the amount of giving, whether it is our money or our bodies, it can change someone’s life.
– Emma Montague
This trip has changed my perspective on so many cultural aspects. I want to go back to the USA and try to apply what I have learned here to the people in the states. I have become more open to people of all cultures.
– Katelyn Brkljacich
Through my time in the Bellefield Jamaican community I learned the importance of happiness. It is not what we have that’s important, it’s what we make of things that matter. It is important to be open-minded and kind to everyone. By greeting people and being happy you can lighten up everyone’s day. I learned that community and friends are what truly matter. Our success isn’t measured in the cargo we hold but the happiness we create.
– Justin Bernstein
The biggest thing I learned from the community was being friendly and open with people, even strangers. When we got here everyone was so welcoming and friendly to us even though they didn’t know us. Everyone that we met shared so much about their lives. I have never felt so welcome and comfortable among strangers. This is definitely a trait I would like to apply to my own life.
– Kylie Nuno
I have learned that sometimes less is more, and living a simple life is in many ways better. In countries like Jamaica where they don’t have as many things, they put more value into building friendships and finding happiness. I want to strive to live a simple and happy life.
– Erin Scott
The Jamaican community taught me that even with so much conflict and struggle in the world that love, friendship, and kindness can overall all. I have learned that there is many different ways to do things in the world and ours is not the “right” way.
– Julie Drury
Something I understand more clearly now is the human connection of love for each other can bridge gaps. Though we look, speak, and act differently from those here in Bellefield, hard work, shared experiences were able to bring us closer to them than I could have imagined. Before we came I was apprehensive to see how they would treat us and if we’d become friends with the community, but now I understand that coming into something with an open heart and mind can provide opportunities for unity and enrichment.
– Jessica Otto