University of Oregon students transformed by the bonds created in Ritchies, Jamaica

June 2019

Day 1– After a long travel day we landed in Montego Bay Jamaica in the early morning. Groggy and starving we were greeted by our Courts for Kids leader and Peace Corps representative with our first Jamaican treat… Patties! A delicious flaky handheld pie filled with spicy beef to get us going for a 4 hour bus ride. Once we left the tourist area, we were driving alongside the coast and the buildings started to appear more rundown than the previous. Concrete shells of houses lined the roads as we started our drive into the mountains. Once we reached the primary school in Ritchies, we were separated into three groups with the boys in one house, girls in another across the street, and then my group in the school computer lab upstairs. Exhausted and tired, we went to sleep with mosquito nets above us, impatiently waiting for our first day. 

Day 2– A casual Sunday for the locals consists of church, cleaning and cooking. We went to the church that was attached to the school across the street. Many of the local kids that were enrolled in the school were in attendance as well. They invited us to the service, to which we showed up in our work clothes. We were greeted with smiles and warm hugs, and we were encouraged to greet one another after the singing part of the worship. There are no instruments involved in the worship part of the service, just a tambourine and a wide variety of voices. My cheeks hurt from smiling because of all of the hugs and greetings from the locals.
Then we began our first shift. It was much harder, but at the same time more fun than I could have ever anticipated. As we waited for the locals to arrive, as well as the contractor, we began to pour the forms to start our concrete process the next day. All of the locals showed up in their normal clothes to get dirty with us. Pouring concrete had seemed like something that was casual for them. I was so surprised with how well our group worked together and we all pulled our weight and kept things moving. After work, we came up for dinner and our first dinner was curry chicken, rice and cucumbers. We also had a coconut tart and sugar cane. I met so many new people and many girls in the Church service in their beautiful church outfits. My quote from today was: “Jamaicans treat time as something that happens, whereas we treat time as something that is ours.”

This was the first day that Julia had brought out her guitar and we were all singing songs inside of the school with the kids from our group. She successfully got lots of us to sing, despite never thinking we would sing. 
Joke from local kids “what goes in the fridge hot and comes back out hot…? A pepper!” 

Day 3– Today we got more done with the court then we anticipated; well over ⅔ completed before lunchtime. In the morning we had eggs and bread with cornmeal porridge. Today was much longer and harder. We ate chicken and rice for lunch and the kids are in class and were watching us eat from the windows. When I went to talk to them and asked them their names, before I knew there were 30+ kids all around me telling me what they wanted to be when they grew up. Doctors, pediatricians, policeman, fighters to name a few. So many wanted to be a teacher so they could provide a good education. Then we played outside for a long time, and I raced a bunch of kids, and it seemed to help when we went back to the court after lunchtime to keep the same energy to get more of the court done. We did more than anticipated and everyone kept great attitudes; they also brought us coconuts with coconut water inside of them for snacks. Afterwards, some of the locals took us to a river… It really wasn’t a river, it was more like a pond, so that we could wash off after working. For dinner that night we had our first meal of jerk chicken with fried dumplings. It was amazing, and then we did karaoke and sang with the locals and played mafia to end the night.

Day 4– Every day manages to exceed the last. In the morning, we had fried fish cakes and bread fruit. I was more sore than ever, and when we went to work it was super hard but we pounded out the court to finish up the base layer before lunch. We had “bola and cheese” for a snack that day, which was canned cheese and a gingerbread cookie smashed together which doesn’t sound very appetizing but it was actually really good. We went back to work after lunch and then we ran out of gravel and we had to wait to see if we could finish the court. We didn’t know if we would be able to finish the court that night, but then later the truck came and we barely pulled it off before it became dark! It was phenomenal to see everyone work so fast to fix things after we were behind schedule. At the end of the day we had a “tour of Jamaica“ where they showed us artifacts from their history and community, and then we had our own private concert from the locals. They performed with drums and guitars and singing, and invited us to sing and dance as well. This brought out a side of people in our group that I have never seen and it felt so refreshing to be around people who want to be here and want to get to know you. 

This trip has made me feel like I can make new friends anywhere, and meet new people. If you’re around people who want to get to know you, then it makes your time better.

Day 5– Today I was really sick and we had to smooth out and do the finishing layer on top of the court. It took hours and a lot of patience for the small group that was tasked with the specialty work of smoothing/finishing.  Although it took a lot out of me on the one day I don’t feel well, I felt a huge sense of team accomplishment when it was done! This is probably the day that seemed to take the most coordinating, as it was harder to make sure things were done correctly.  We always are careful to never offend those we are here to work with and help, and so it took some delicate maneuvering on today to make sure things were done the right way, and without offending anyone. Once we were able to figure the communication piece out, we got in a groove, and the tasks flew by!

Day 6- Today I woke up feeling a lot better and for breakfast we had salt fish and plantains, and bananas with fruit. Then right after breakfast Mrs. Potts invited me into the kitchen to help cook lunch for the school kids. I helped her make lunch for us as well as the school kids. The chefs were so friendly, and were overall very surprised with my kitchen skills and could tell that I cooked frequently at home. I made sure to use their surprise to sweet talk a few recipes out of them! Miss Potts gave me a recipe for fried Plantains: 

1 Large Plantain 


Salt to taste 

  • Cut plantains into thirds and then cut down the middle.
  • Half fry in oil on both sides
  • Remove plantain from hot oil then smash into a patty.
  • Fry again until very crispy and then add salt to taste. 

One small detail from today that I thought was really important was when I was in the kitchen and the head chef is preparing lunch for us, he cut up a tomato to look like a flower. I think this is important because we never got to see the tomato as it wasn’t placed on our plate, it was just placed in the pot while cooking. The people here care so much about us that they even added a small unnoticeable detail in the preparation. I want to take that kind of idea home with me. 

After dinner we played on the basketball court until it got dark and had our meeting under the stars where we all laid on our backs and looked at the thousands of stars above us. They are the most beautiful stars I’ve ever seen.

Day 7– this was the official day that most of the kids were allowed to play on the court, we read aloud to them all day long as well as rotated having PE classes down the court where we played  soccer and basketball with them. Then later that day, we had Opening Ceremonies where the community, as well as their family members, all lined up to talk to us. I found out that Omar McLeod had went to Ritchies primary school, and I met his mother. The track world is so small! This was the last day that we saw many of the kids, as they said goodbye and ran around playing with all the basketballs. We wrapped up our day to have one last meeting  at Ritchies primary school. 

Day 8– 

We began our bus ride to the airport, but in a different direction so we could go to YS falls. YS Falls are these massive waterfalls that we hiked up into, it was a very touristy area. They had a rope swing that almost all of us jumped off of. After we hiked up into the falls, we went to the pools that were located below them. We hung out there for hours and then began our excursion to the airport. Once we got to our hotel, we were all very excited to have dinner at Usain Bolt’s restaurant. I had the jerk chicken platter, which was delicious. Then after that we had our longest reflection yet where we expressed why we thought we were meant to be on this trip and then gave hot seat shout outs. It was amazing to hear what people had to say about the trip, and each other.

Day 9- our last day in Montego Bay, we spent the day at the beach snorkeling and playing on blow up trampolines in the ocean. Lastly, we visited local shops and headed to the airport and said goodbye to the beautiful island of Jamaica. We got to the airport and some of us got our phones back. It was amazing to finally tell my family all the amazing stories. I’m so beyond thankful that Oregon is involved in such a program, and this was so life-changing. I took more away from this trip than I ever could have imagined. -Keira, University of Oregon student

“What I understand more clearly now is that ‘service’ is not about helping people, it’s about working alongside your neighbors from all different backgrounds.  I never felt like I was ‘helping’ them, I felt as though I was working alongside the community on something we both were passionate about.  Service isn’t about helping people, it’s about loving them and learning/growing”. – Lillian

“Something I feel like I understand now more than ever is happiness and how it in no way has to be connected to materialistic things.  The Jamaicans life much simpler lifestyles than most Americans and don’t have much when it comes to materialistic things, yet the genuine smiles and happiness I encountered was far beyond what I’ve experienced in America”. – Zach

“The most difficult part of going home is leaving the community that I have called home and my family for a week.  The bonds that we formed through building the court to singing and dancing our heart out at night are some I’ll never forget.  Ritchies Primary School in Clarendon will forever be in my heart and a place I can call my home.  From the community I learned the power of teamwork and love.  Members of the community would show up everyday at any point and help out, whether on the court, off the court as support, bringing coconuts, or playing music.  Everything was fantastic.  I want to bring the power of genuine love and unity back with me and integrate it into my lifestyle”. – Eden

“I feel as though they gave me a lot more than I gave them even though I was the one to ‘serve’ them.  I came to understand the power of observation and of living in the moment, and I mean truly living in the moment.  This has allowed me to realize I can live without my phone as I honestly don’t want to turn it back on.  Most importantly I realized that no matter what I have, my identity is in who I am and not what I have”. – Hannah

“This was my first time out of the US, so it was a truly new experience for me.  I learned that music, dance, laughter are universal languages.  There is power in vulnerability and coming to a different country made me feel very vulnerable.  However, an open-mind and heart for people will enable anyone to communicate no matter what language or culture they explore.  Many times when going away from home, you would learn how much you appreciate what you have at home, which is true.  However, leaving Jamaica, I realize how much I’m going to miss.  I will try my best to bring the positive attitude, love and crazy fun vibes home”. – Kevin

“Something I learned about myself is that I use material things and often rely on things to make me happy.  And I realized that I was the most genuinely happy on this trip that I have been in a while, and without all those extra things I don’t actually need.  At home I need to make myself happy with the people I surround myself with and the things I do, not buy things to make me happy”. – Josie

“This trip changed me in the development of cultural and diversity awareness.  It taught me that judging other cultures is pointless and we are all raised differently and have different ways of life.  It is possible to get along with anyone if you focus on what we do have in common, our humanity and our desire to love.  I know now that I won’t be as naïve when I return to the States”.- Lillian

“What I understand more clearly now is how to promote community values.  I understand that people who are part of a community like Ritchies think more for the good of the group and less about themselves.  Cultivating that ideology requires a leader who is able to go above and beyond to help others.  I hope I am able to become that leader or facilitate friends and teammates to become that leader”. – Jackson