Washington and Oregon students learn the importance of community on their trip to Woodford, Jamaica

July 2019

Early one July morning, 20 anxious Vancouver/Portland students met with their 4 mentors at the airport to embark on a life changing journey. No one knew what to expect . . . well, maybe some of the chaperones did slightly, but I can say for certain that this experience was one of a kind and certainly unique. So there we sat, awaiting our flight, talking about how excited we were to travel to Woodford, Jamaica. Some of us had never been out of the country, and some were seasoned travelers. The diversity of our group still astounds me, yet we were still able to come together and enjoy our action packed trip.

After our long day of travelling, we eventually arrived at the Kingston airport, albeit later than expected. Nonetheless, Elena, one of the amazing Peace Corps volunteers from the trip, greeted us with a smile and helped us load our baggage into the buses. Luckily for us, our bus ride was much shorter than usually anticipated on Courts for Kids trips, so we made it to Woodford quickly. It was pitch black when we arrived, so we unloaded our bags and went directly to sleep, eager to start work the next morning.

Unfortunately, there were many setbacks on our trip. There was a landslide, the tractor broke down, the fuel line broke, the cement was nowhere to be found, to only list a few. Even so, we still made the most of our time in the community and stayed positive even in the face of adversity. On the first day, we decided to go for a hike up the mountain. We came across a beautiful viewpoint where we could see all of Kingston and the Blue mountains. Then, we hiked a little further and met a professor from the University of the West Indies who told us about how local politics worked. Afterwards we spent time getting to know the community. After our hike, we ate lunch and then visited the primary school. It was so much fun talking with the kids and asking/answering questions. 

We woke up the next morning and alas, the court was still not ready to be worked on. No worries though, we just went to the school again! We got to talk more and take lots of pictures! One of our group members, Meriel, brought a Polaroid camera that the kids loved! Seeing their eyes light up as the pictures printed made my day, and I’m sure everyone else can say the same about visiting the school. After visiting the school, we walked to a small river and enjoyed the cool water for a while. It was nice to relax and cool off in the Jamaican heat!

The next day, the chaperones planned a fun excursion for us since there were more problems with the court. We took a bus up to Holywell National Park, a beautiful and scenic park located at the top of a mountain near where we were staying. The views were spectacular, and we enjoyed some nice hiking around the park. We walked back to Woodford from the park, which was quite a long walk, but the views were worth it! We learned a lot about the history of the Woodford community and coffee farming from Nyrubi, one of the local residents with a one of a kind personality.

On Friday we finally began doing some work on the court. The tractor was up and running, so we were able to start prepping the area for the court, laying out the forms and filling the area with gravel, and building up the sides with some dirt/clay. We spent most of the day doing prep work with prospects that the next day would be the day we start the real deal.

And right we were! Saturday we finally got to begin mixing and pouring cement into the court. It was a long, grueling process, that much is true, but it was also so rewarding and satisfying to see that all our hard work paid off. We spent the entire day alongside the community members shoveling gravel and sand, loading the mixer, filling buckets, and pouring them into the court. There were moments where some of us felt so exhausted, like we would never have time to finish. But then, as if some wind of change had blown through the village, we all began thinking on the bright side. 

“What if we finish this whole thing today, wouldn’t that be great? It’s a challenge, but I know we can do it.”

And so it was decided. We would work our absolute hardest and finish the whole court in one day. At first it was ‘only a quarter of the court is finished!’, which turned into a resounding ‘we already finished half the court!”, and before we knew it we were pouring the last bucket of cement. It was tough, but we all pulled through and worked through the pain, and burns, and aches, and sores. In that moment we all felt so proud of what we accomplished that everyone had a smile from ear to ear. The next day was a much needed relaxing day. We hung around the community, attended the local soccer tournament, and some people got their hair intricately braided by the talented Miss Maxine.

Monday was our surprise day, as well as our last night in the community. We got up bright and early to take a bus to who knows where! Our first stop (besides Port Maria to pick up lunch) was a fish sanctuary, where we went out on a boat ride to see the bay, and got to wade in the water with giant fish. Afterwards, we took a short trip to a private beach, where we got to enjoy the warm Caribbean waters and relax in the sun. However, no one expected what happened next. Dani, another Peace Corps volunteer, had arranged for us to wash and release baby turtles into the ocean! It was a once in a lifetime experience, and also gave us a glimpse into the efforts that volunteers put in to preserve wildlife and the ecosystem. After some Jamaican KFC and a long bus ride home, we made it back to Woodford where we celebrated our last night in the community, a bittersweet ending to a remarkable journey.

The next day was spent in Kingston doing some shopping and trying Devon house ice cream, the #4 ice cream in the world! After our shopping day, we took some time to relax at the pool and then had a team reflection. We all learned a lot through this trip, whether it was about ourselves, about our home, about Woodford, or about the world. We spent a long time reflecting on everything that happened, and one of my favorite comments came from our chaperone Rachel. She said (not word for word, my memory isn’t that good!) that it was amazing to see how everyone in the community gave so much even if they had so little. She also said (again, paraphrasing) that back home people often associate money and material objects with happiness, but the community of Woodford had so much happiness and welcomed us even though their resources and opportunities are more limited.

One of the biggest takeaways that I had from this trip was the importance of community. Back home in the US, even unintentionally, we often take community and relationships for granted and don’t spend as much time with each other as we should. Sometimes, community is all you have, and this trip has taught me to embrace this wholeheartedly moving forward. -Niko, student from Washington

“This trip inspired me to be more outward, think less of myself and more of others, as well as staying humble and remembering that happiness is always in our control, and that life can be more beautiful and joyful if you just sit back and live in the moment.“ -Ahmani

“I learn from the community to find ways to enjoy even the simplest things… Even when you don’t have much.” – Ian

“People can live so differently but be equally as happy… This experience showed me my way of living is no better than theirs.” – McCall

“The most important thing I learned was the importance of kindness. From the second we walked into town, we were welcome.” – Jake