By Denise Clarke, Staff Reporter
A GROUP OF American college students has decided to shun the fun and frolic usually associated with the annual Spring Break activities and instead provide voluntary service to some of Montego Bay's less fortunate residents.
The 17 students hail from the James Madison University in St. Harrisonburg, Virginia. Like many other college students, they could hardly wait for Spring Break to arrive, providing them with a week off to visit the land of reggae they had heard so much about. The reason for their anticipation, however, was different.
The students had heard about the Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI) through a programme at their school called the Spring Break Alternative. The programme encourages students to give voluntary service to welfare agencies throughout the United States and in several other countries, including Jamaica.
"We wanted to go somewhere and help people," said 21-year-old Laura Vento.
She, along with Dominic Alexander, also 21, co-ordinated the group's trip to Jamaica. During their week-long stay the students plan to form three groups and spend their time between CUMI, the Blossom Gardens Children's Home and the Montego Bay Christian Academy.
"This morning (Monday) we spent time at the Blossom Gardens with the babies, holding them and feeding them and then we came here to relax and hang out with the clients," said a beaming Alexander as he shared his experience at the children's home.
The students, ranging in ages from 18 to 21, raised their own funds to pay for the trip plus accommodation and other expenses. The only cost to CUMI and the other agencies is time to share the local culture with the students.
But why did these students choose to spend their week off from school hanging around mentally-ill persons and abandoned children?
Well, after spending a day in Negril on Sunday, they felt they had made the right choice.
"Negril didn't seem too much like Jamaica," Dominic said. "It was more kind of touristy ... I want to feel some good vibes and hear local reggae."
"We felt like we were in America," added Laura. "There were drinking contests and American music and we wanted to hear reggae and see the culture of Jamaica."
Haru Kutsukake, 21, who like most of the other students was visiting Jamaica for the first time, also shunned the party atmosphere in Negril.
"I didn't feel like I was in Jamaica. The beach was full of American people and they were playing American music. I really prefer to interact with people and listen to reggae and see what's really going on here," Haru said.
For the rest of the week, the students will rotate between welfare agencies until they return home on Friday.
Perhaps 20-year-old Carly Stamey said it best.
"I wanted to do something that I would remember a lot more. I mean I could look back at every party I've been to, but nothing sticks out. There was nothing special about any of them, but everyone will remember what we did here."