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Jamaicans warming up Alaska - Summer programme stars carrying the flag proudly

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

While some Jamaican students attached to the United States J1 summer work and travel programme have been giving the country a black eye, others, particularly those based in Alaska, Canada, have been carrying the flag proudly, displaying all the best the country has to offer.

"I wouldn't trade my Jamaican workers for anything," said Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse executive chef, Sergio Rojas.

The historical spot located at the Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the many establishments within the United States and Canada which take on seasonal works under the summer programme.

Rojas' endorsement should be good news to local stakeholders in the J1 programme after some of the agencies responsible for sending off students annually recently expressed concern over the future of the programme.

Their fear has been sparked by the rowdy behaviour of a few of the university students who have ventured on the programme, resulting in some prospective employers explicitly stating that they do not want any Jamaicans.

The proprietor of one local agency has also taken the decision to look to other countries for a greater number of the students to send off annually.


But according to Rojas, who said more than 50 per cent of his 30-member workforce is Jamaicans, he has remained impressed with their performance ever since he first started working with them three years ago.

"I am the executive chef, so I am the one who does everything here. So what that means is I hire these guys, I give them raises, and I am very pleased with my staff that I have here from Jamaica," Rojas told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The way they all help each other and are willing to help everyone else. They are willing to go the extra mile and do anything for the other staff."

Rojas even took steps to ensure that the Jamaicans were able to enjoy as close to an authentic Independence Day celebration as possible.

"For Jamaica Independence Day on the 6th, I coordinated to get food up here for them; I got goat, rice and peas, I got Red Stripe Beer flown up. I have been doing everything possible to make them feel comfortable here. I know they got my back and I got theirs," said Rojas.

Ricardo Smith, who is one of the work and travel students from Jamaica now working at Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse, has impressed so much that he was promoted twice in the space of four months and has been selected as the employee of the season.

"I was employed as a dishwasher. In less than a moth I was promoted to a line cook and now I am a saute chef."

Smith, who is a 26-year-old Edna Manley College final-year student, expressed regret that the actions of others who have been casting a bad light on the work and travel programme.

He said there are approximately 60 Jamaicans employed to different companies around Denali and they have been acting as cultural ambassadors.

"We are waving the Jamaican flag very high," Smith said. "We are the only ones from the Caribbean, but there are tons of persons from eastern European countries that are in Denali, but we stand out in terms of culture, work ethics; you name it."

Smith said he has also been networking and has already received job offers.


"One of the greatest things is having an international network and rÈsumÈ and I have even been offered an internship for next year doing events with the company Denali Visions 3000."

Abigail Thin Sah En, who also works at Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse, admitted that the main reason for going on the programme was to make some money to ease some of the pressure off her parents going into her second year of studies at the University of the West Indies.

But she has also been able to enjoy the programme for what it was intended, which is cultural exchange.

"It's a new environment; it's definitely completely different from Jamaica. Just to get the stuff that you need to stay warm, as the biggest challenge has been to adjust to the climate," Thin Sah En said.

"But we get to go on tours that the tourists go on but it's free here. So we get to go glacier landing, ziplining and tours in the park."