Brenda Hall | The jewel of Jamaica
Jamaica is frequently marketed to the world as the 'Jewel in the Caribbean tourism industry crown.'
I recently discovered that the best example of this jewel of tourism in Jamaica is an under-publicised, little-known Village Tourism Project operating in Petersfield, Westmoreland.
This project is one initiative created as part of a community organisation call the Association of Clubs (AOC), spearheaded by Mr Matthias Brown, and dedicated to promoting community development, positive outcomes for the citizens of Jamaica and meaningful connections among the citizens of Jamaica and citizens of other countries who spend time in Jamaica.
Last month, five master's level students in counsellor education and I travelled from our university in Fargo, North Dakota, to participate in the Village Tourism Project. Our week-long experience was based on a mutual collaboration between the citizens of Petersfield involved in AOC and a service-learning organisation named Amizade.
Unlike other service-learning experiences I have known, we did not engage in volunteerism activities during the day and then retreat to our hotel and live like typical tourists.
We spent our entire time immersed in the life of the local community and in the lives of its citizens. Not only did we work in a local primary school, and live in the homes of local residents, we participated fully in community activities; including community meetings and activities.
As we prepared for our trip, the issue of safety was heavy on the minds of the students. There is definitely a public image of Jamaica as being quite dangerous, unless one is in the confines of the resorts. Not once did the students or I feel unsafe. We were comfortable and secure in our host homes. Everywhere we went, we were accompanied by at least two members of the community - young adults and/or our host mother, who guided our travels and helped us to understand how to appropriately act and react in a new environment. We had a driver, employed by the Association of Clubs, who navigated the roads with skill and with our best interests in mind.
MODEL OF TOURISM
Before I travelled to Jamaica, I spent quite a bit of time reviewing websites and reading about Jamaica as a country coming into its own, growing strong. There continue to be efforts to expand tourism, a highly valued revenue for the nation. In addition to the ongoing development of mass tourism efforts of high-end, all-inclusive resorts, soon there will be additional economic boosts such as casinos in some parts of the island. Different concepts such as sustainable travel and eco-tourism have been advertised to draw visitors to Jamaica. According to the International Eco-tourism Society (2015), eco-tourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education."
Education is emphasised and meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests.
The Village Tourism Project is a perfect example and wonderful model of tourism that allows for grass-roots, community engagement, resulting in visitors' inclusive interpretation, education and connection with the heart and soul of Jamaica. There is nothing else quite like it in Jamaica at this time. It is completely organised, supported, operated, and sustained by members of the Petersfield community. It is the community! Upon returning to the United States, the students decided to dedicate the activities of their national counselling honour and service society in the upcoming academic year (2016-2017) to support the work of the Association of Clubs in Petersfield. They will contact and work collaboratively with Mr Brown and the citizens of the community to figure out the best way to do so.
As we travelled to other parts of Jamaica outside Westmoreland, I could not believe that the Village Tourism Project and other programmes of the AOC were not widely known, or actively being replicated in other communities throughout the country. Here is a model that, if fully supported by politicians and adequately promoted in media, serves as an additional unique and sustainable type of tourism; an alternative to mass tourism and one that has the potential to forge long-lasting and global collaborations necessary for a proud, strong, sustainable culture.
I urge that the powers that be shine a bright light on this jewel of Jamaica.
- Brenda S. Hall, EdD, is a professor of counsellor education at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota, United States.