Campus & Community

Stevens Students Return to Jamaica for a Week of Service

Students assume an Usain Bolt-style pose at the work site at Pedro plains school in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.
Carrying on the tradition of taking an Usain Bolt-inspired photo at the work site at Pedro Plains school in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.

 A group of Stevens students journeyed to the island of Jamaica May 28 - June 4 for a week of intensive physical labor and cultural immersion.

This year’s trip was the second year in a row of the Stevens Global Service Initiative (GSI) in Jamaica, a philanthropic effort aimed at creating a greater understanding of global issues and commitment to community service among students.

Like the 2015 cohort, this year’s group provided construction, painting and repair work to two primary schools located in two vastly different locations on the Caribbean island – Pedro Plains Primary, near the beautiful and secluded Treasure Beach area of Jamaica, and Church Hill Primary School in the resort beach town of Negril.

Students faced daily challenges throughout their stay as they worked in hot and humid conditions with limited resources. Committed to contributing to the local economy, the program prohibits the use of imported goods, which meant that materials such as paint and masonry had to be locally sourced and manufactured.

Recognizing the engineering capabilities and instincts of the Stevens volunteers, school administrators at Pedro Plains Primary and Church Hill Primary School encouraged the group to engage in brainstorming sessions on ways for creating better learning environments.

“As students of a world-class university, we understand the importance of improving standards of living and creating opportunities so that others can receive a high quality education,” said sophomore Melanie Caba, a biomedical engineering major. "This trip was one the biggest learning experiences of my life and it challenged me to keep the ball rolling in terms of motivating others around me to get involved in community service, both at home and abroad.”

Stevens junior Caroline Culp added that the experience led to a sense of empowerment and awareness of her ability to become a change agent. 

“Project Jamaica helped me realize that I can make a difference, that I can lead a movement, that I can change the world for the better. Yes, it takes hard work, sweat and grit, but the end product is the most rewarding part of the whole project,” said Culp.

The number of participating students grew to 15 undergraduate students (Greek and non-Greek), an increase from 11 last year. Five included returning students who participated in the inaugural trip last summer.

Julia Maria Stika, a member of the 2015 cohort, said her return to Jamaica was motivated by a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the issues germane to that community.

“Eventually I would like to choose a cause or two that I am interested in serving throughout the rest of my life so I can become highly educated in that specific issue. I have already planned to attend an informational meeting about human trafficking at a local church in a few weeks and I hope to learn more about the reality of that situation and see what I can do about it,” said Stika. “I’m grateful for Jamaica for giving me these experiences that I will take with me throughout my life!”

The question of Jamaica as a repeat destination for this year’s GSI was never in doubt, according to Associate Director of Student Life Thea Rachel Zunick, who says the ongoing commitment to this particular region was an important facet of GSI so it avoids becoming a “one-off” or “toxic charity” that provides little, if any, benefit to the community being served.

She also underscored the contributions of the greater Stevens community for making it possible for the participating students to take part in such an enriching experience.

“This program is self-funded and the participants fundraise individually and as a group to generate enough money to pay for the cost of the trip. For example, Stevens classmates ran in a 5K race in Hoboken to raise money for their friends to go on this trip,” revealed Zunick.

Kaye Schendel, director of global initiatives of Delta Upsilon fraternity, has long established ties to the Jamaican community and played a critical role in organizing the trip. She says the impact that Stevens students made while working in Jamaica was profound.

“The lives that were touched will forever be changed.  Stevens students helped complete the construction of a ball court for 173 grade school children and helped advance work on a dining/multipurpose space for a different school.  All this was accomplished while students learned more about themselves and the importance of becoming global citizens."

For more information on Stevens Global Service Initiative in Jamaica, visit stevensgsi2016.blogspot.com.