As I sit on my bed, in the midst of the harsh British winter, with the cold winds howling outside my window, I am thankful that I have the memories of my recent time in Jamaica with the Shashamane Sunrise team to keep me warm. I returned from my first Service Tour as a Shash Ambassador only days ago, and what a trip it was! When I joined the team only a few months ago and had my first conversation with our fearless leader, Dr Rene Zazou Williamson, I knew that I was about to join an organisation embarking on something great. This last week in Jamaica has only served to solidify my assumptions. Shashamane Service tours, as I was informed before getting started on my first, are conducted once a year in each of the countries we work with. They are a way of bringing together the various volunteers from around the world in order to allow them to get involved in the service programs in the different countries and different schools in which Shash operates. Imagine my absolute exaltation when I found out that my first service tour would take place right in my favourite place in the world, my home, Jamaica! Being a member of the Jamaican Diaspora in the UK, I take up any and every chance I get to go home, and not only was I going home, I was going home to give back to my community! To make a difference in the lives of the children right there in my homeland. This being the introduction to my Shash experience has made all the difference, and I can’t wait to start playing a part in the other 5 countries in which Shash has begun its journey to empowering youth through education.
This service tour saw a culmination of efforts from volunteers across seas, with volunteers coming from the UK, the United States, Trinidad and of course, Jamaica. Being quite a shy person, and being used to having a support system around me at most times, usually my momma, I was a little nervous to undertake this experience by myself. Many of the volunteers I had heard of, but hadn’t met. But what an amazing bunch of people! The way we laughed and joked and blended together, one would never have guests that most of us had been strangers at the start of that week. There was such synergy amongst the team, perhaps because we were all so passionate, so eager to fulfil a need we shared to make any kind of difference we could, to uplift the youth of these Shash sponsored countries and hopefully, by extension, the countries themselves. The work part of our journey began in Kingston. Trench Town, to be exact. Before visiting the two schools we sponsor there we had an opportunity to go to the Trench Town Culture Yard, to learn a little about the history of this area as well as some of the historically significant people that dwelled there at one time or another. A history of people all showing us that greatness can be achieved by anyone, no matter what kind of start you had in life. Hopefully a history that will inspire the children in the schools that we visited, one that will show them a bright and hopeful image of all the things they could one day achieve. Being able to interact with the children at Trench Town Basic School was absolutely phenomenal. I was teaching a workshop on self-confidence, a characteristic none of these jubilant young children were lacking. So instead I just took some time to get to know them, figure out what they liked and what made them happy. I think they taught me more than I could have hoped to teach them. But it was apparent the effect that our interaction, as a team, had on them. The piles of children with beaming smiles that encased each of us as we attempted to leave was evidence enough that they were more than happy with the school supplies and workshops we gave them. The next school in trench town was a very different experience, but equally rewarding. This was a remedial school for young people who found difficulty existing within the regular school system due to a number of reasons including trauma and violence in their past, and to this school we were able to chat, as a group, to the upper and lower class. We each shared our background with them, in an attempt to illustrate how irrelevant our background was to our present achievements as well as the range of possibilities these young people could have if they put their minds and hearts into their education.
We also visited a school Shashamane Sunrise supports in Portland. A primary school called Windsor Forest. There, again we came ready with our various workshops and an array of school supplies to give the young ones, and again we were met with such love. Little girls gathered around, slipping their little hands into mine so that they could lead me to games of ring-a-ring o’ roses. Little boys gently tugged at my skirt and sped off, cheekily trying to start games of catch. Each perhaps almost as happy to have us there as we were to be there. The whole experience was almost overwhelming. I’ve been smiling to myself ever since. And of course we couldn’t go to Portland without stopping off at one of its legendary beaches! Despite it being a little overcast, and not the warmest of days, we all bonded over the familiar feeling of the sand and the sea. One of many amazing experiences we got to share as a team betwixt our hard work.
The Shashamane Sunrise fashion show, ‘Fashion Meets Music’, at Villa Ronai in Stony Hill, Kingston, was the icing on top of a completely fantastic week. I was lucky enough to co-host the show alongside one of my idols growing up, the Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998. Incidentally one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen up close. Meeting her and being able to interact with her was a dream come true for me on this trip, and if I do say so myself, I think we made a pretty great team! The whole show went swimmingly. The audience reaction was great and the show itself, with the mixture of (yes you guessed it!) fashion and music kept the tempo up and kept the show exciting!
All in all, this has been an experience unlike any other organisation I’ve worked with. I can’t wait to stay involved for years to come.
Gina Hargitay, Shash Jamaica Ambassador
Miss Jamaica World 2013
29 January, 2017