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ACE Staff chat with a homeowner about their planter box

Yesterday I  was not at the community center teaching basic computer classes to senior citizens. I went on an adventure.

Far across the island from our normal location, I spent the day with the ACE (American Caribbean Exchange) team doing 21 house visits in 2 different communities, visiting families that they support. ACE is a non-profit organization that has been doing sustainable community development work in Jamaica for over 25 years. You can learn more about who ACE is and what they do at their website: American Caribbean Exchange

We connected with ACE during our first year of service and were drawn to their mission. Since then we’ve been visiting the organization (located in Galina, St. Mary) here and there during breaks from our regular assignments to assist in what ways we can and more importantly to learn.

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A staff member checks-in with a community member

The first part of the day we went high in the hills to a large, spread-out community called Hampstead. As we made our way up the steep, narrow road, I couldn’t help but wonder: why and how did people come to live up there? We passed several parts of the road washed out by recent rain and flooding. One could easily be trapped up on this hill, with only a few makeshift taxis servicing the community and roads easily prone to damage and blockage.

Nutmeg
Nutmeg

Our main task of the day was to monitor the progress of raised garden beds that ACE staff had installed for each sponsor family. After a quick yell (the common way to announce one’s presence) to the homeowner, we made our way through each, very different property to the garden boxes. The first thing I noticed on each property was the huge variety of different fruit trees like banana, plantain, breadfruit, ackee, neesberry, oranges, Jamaican (otahiti) apples, mango, etc… There wasn’t one property that didn’t have at least a couple of these trees. I told an ACE staff member that I wish more people in my hometown of Honolulu did this. I myself never really appreciated the mangos we had growing up in our backyard. The number of people actually growing and eating their own fruit in Honolulu is pretty scarce compared to Jamaicans. I love that about Jamaica. Though I might think of it as a novelty, it is how Jamaicans have survived by living off what the land provides them.

The other major thing I noticed at each home we visited was resourcefulness of Jamaicans. “Tun hand mek fashion” (Turn hand and make fashion) is a Jamaican proverb that speaks to this resourceful spirit. Though some communities may not have a lot they will make do with what they have. Often times there is great beauty in this as well. Once again, it made me realize how much can be done with so little, a concept that I want to take back with me wherever I go. See the gallery below:

And the resourcefulness is not only in regards to tangible objects but also the land you have to work with. Hampstead is lucky to have a lot of great top soil and ample rain which allows for great year-round conditions to grow a lot of fruit and vegetables. However, the second community we visited called Galina is built on what looks like an old reef. There is very little top soil and jagged edges everywhere. Regardless of the challenges, people do what they can. There are no roads in the Galina area, just rock and coral, yet the staff still make their way to each of their support houses. 

I needed to see this, to be a part of this process. It reminded me that sustainable projects are possible and though there are many challenges, progress happens when there is a solid commitment from those serving and those being served. It’s a good reminder for all of us in development work. It’s not about me, my efforts alone, my passion. You cannot do development work without relationship. It’s not about doing something for somebody else, but with and alongside them.

We need to work together.
-J

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