I wasn’t really sure what to expect as we piled on our bus to spend five days in Kingston, the capital of this beautiful island. We were to stay at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus. There are four campuses of UWI located throughout the West Indies, with Mona being the largest and oldest. It is a beautiful campus rich with history, culture, and diversity. There were two sugar plantations on these grounds, and one can still see the old bookkeepers house, a water wheel, and a roman-style aqueduct among the lush greenery and modern, colorful buildings. An especially fun fact that we learned on our tour of the campus was that the buildings for each discipline (humanities, business, law, etc) were colored-coded. So you could see tropically colored groups of matching buildings that really enhanced the community feel of the campus.
The beautiful campus chapel also has a very interesting story behind it. It was constructed in 1799 on a sugar estate in Trelawny, a Jamaican parish in the north. However, the estate shut down and the historic chapel sat empty for most of its days. In the mid 1950’s, it was decided that the chapel was going to be added to UWI. Each stone of the chapel was carefully removed, numbered, and shipped to the campus, which is in the southeast. There, the numbers were used to reconstruct it to its original grandiose.
It is now open for services in any denomination, and is a popular spot for weddings. There are flags inside that represent every country from which students at UWI originate. The lectern at the front is a carved pelican, the school mascot, which I thought was a nice touch. I always appreciate a good story behind impressive buildings, and the campus chapel certainly fell into that category. That concluded our historical tour (hisTOURical…haha), and I was left with a great appreciation for the magnificent university.
Our time at UWI thus far has been a mixture of lectures and touring Kingston. Dr. Michael Witter spoke to us on the political economy of Jamaica. I now feel as though I know just as much, if not more, about the financial struggles of Jamaica, possible solutions, as well as their successes in the past years. The brand “Jamaica” is ranked 13th in popularity in the entire world! Dr. Witter, and now I, believe that if Jamaica can use that fact to their advantage and focus more on their cultural services (music, food, art…), their debt can decrease and their already existent cultural pride and increase.
Dr. Elizabeth Ward spoke to us about violence in Jamaica. I went into her presentation expecting to leave it full of depressing facts and statistics. I have come to love this country and its people, and I wasn’t thrilled about the fact that I was about to go learn how they commit acts of violence on one another. And while I did hear some facts like that (30 per every 100,000 deaths in the Caribbean is from homicide, however in Jamaica the latter number is 52), but the majority of her lecture was on youth empowerment. She emphasized the importance of a supportive family, staying in school, and structured after school activities. These are parallel with my beliefs for children, regardless their race, country, or extent of their “at risk.” Instead of leaving with my head swimming with depressing statistics, Dr. Ward’s speech on youth empowerment led to feelings of hope and encouragement to emphasize her ideas to any child I meet.
The team of Yolanda Paul, and Dr. Marian DeBruin gave our final lecture on HIV/AIDS, its prevalence in the Caribbean, and more specifically in the UWI campus. They enlightened us on one of Jamaica’s most current and controversial issues-the Bain issue. I have seen people throughout Kingston and UWI protesting for or against Dr. Bain but never knew the story, so I was glad to discover where all the heat was coming from. In short, Dr. Bain is a researcher at UWI Mona on HIV/AIDS. He is also practices the Christian faith. He was asked to make a statement regarding homosexuality and its relation to HIV/AIDS to a Christian group in Belize. He made a contradictory and disapproving statement towards homosexuality in this statement, which caused the stir. Now, some people believe he should not be researching for the disease because of his beliefs, and others think he is not a Christian because of his profession. I’m keeping this as unbiased and to the point as possible, but I’m sure you all can see how this is a sticky situation. It has not been settled yet, and I will be interested to see if it is during our last two weeks in Jamaica.
Needless to say, our stay at UWI has been very informative, but we have definitely played the role of tourist as well. So far, we visited the National Art Gallery, full of paintings that tell riveting stories, unique sculptures, and even an exhibit on Japanese cartoons. We went to a craft market and did some serious souvenir shopping, and then to the historic “Devon House.” The Devon house is basically an estate that used to belong to one of the richest Jamaican men, but has since turned into a pleasant park with shops and a famous ice cream shop.
Yesterday, we were able to go to the track that Usain Bolt built on the campus and watch him train! We were fairly star-struck to say the least. Later today, we will be touring the ever-famous Bob Marley house…we couldn’t leave Kingston without doing so. After that it is back to the daily routine of going to our sites, developing our service-learning projects, and implementing them. More on that later—I have to go get ready to learn about one of the greatest reggae artists in history! As a Jamacain would say in lieu of “take care.” “walk good all!”