Tue | Jun 18, 2019

Peace Corps trainees impressed with Jamaica

Published:Friday | May 24, 2019 | 12:24 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Nicholas Steven (left) and Ray McKetty pose for the camera. Following 10 weeks of training, learning the language and culture, they now head to Manchester where they will be exposed to four months of hard work and will spend two years overall in Jamaica.
Nicholas Steven (left) and Ray McKetty pose for the camera. Following 10 weeks of training, learning the language and culture, they now head to Manchester where they will be exposed to four months of hard work and will spend two years overall in Jamaica.

It was billed as a Group 90 swearing-in ceremony for Peace Corps Jamaica, but it was more of a coming-of-age celebration of sorts.

After 10 weeks living with host families in Highgate, St Mary, where they had been introduced to Patois, new fruits, and other facets of Jamaican life, 33 Americans turned up at the Colin E. Powell Residential Plaza on Wednesday, champing at the bit and eager to head off to their first four-month stints in a two-year sojourn.

For Roy McKetty, an education volunteer, learning about cultural, technical, and language skills was crucial to getting a good start.

“So they teach us to speak nuff Patois, the culture, and everything that we need to set us up for the first four months of training. We did go out into the classrooms observing teachers, shadowing teachers ... . So we got to cut our teeth a little bit on what it’s like to be a teacher in Jamaica, and let me tell, it’s not for the faint of heart at all,” he warned.

He continued: “What I learned is how committed the teachers are in educating, and even if there is lack of certain resources, the teachers and staff, they make do, and it’s inspiring, and so I look forward to working alongside them.”

However, not all the lessons were in the classroom, as McKetty told The Gleaner.

He praised his benevolent house mother, who was always eager to help him every step of the way.

“They want to take care of you, and it’s so heartwarming to feel that kind of love,” said McKetty, who also raved about the variety of unfamiliar fruits on offer such as papaya, otaheite apples, June plums, and jackfruit.

Nicholas Stevens, one of 18 members of the Peace Corps environment cohort, is eager to work with farmers’ groups and community and benevolent societies. And he acknowledges that having a solid grasp of local parlance would be critical.

“The first four months, we are anticipating a lot of relationship building, getting to know the communities as the basic foundation of any of the projects.

“As with any language, it’s difficult, and you really want to show respect and be able to converse with local people in Patois … . It’s humbling, but I would say I am in the learning process,” said a pumped-up Stevens, who has become a big fan of naseberries and starapples.

IN LOVE WITH JA

Meanwhile, Haitian-American Gabriella Cajuste has fallen in love with the county already even as she heads to Manchester.

“Jamaica is a beautiful country, and I have Caribbean roots, and so I wanted to experience being in a predominantly black country and learn about the Jamaican culture and history and people and just soak it all in.”

Cajuste, who did her internship at Bellefield Primary School, said that she was bowled over by the experience.

“Everybody’s been really friendly, and it is very welcoming at the school where I was. The teachers were really great, the principal was fantastic, and students were really well-mannered, very engaged. It was such a great school!”

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com