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Jamaica Service Project student story

For spring break from classes at Hollins University, senior Lisa Dale went to Jamaica.

But Dale's trip wasn't a typical student's idea of spring break. She accompanied 20 other students and professors from Hollins on the school's annual Jamaica Service Project.

The project, organized in 1988, has attracted more than 250 Hollins students. Jeri Suarez, assistant dean, intercultural programs and service learning at Hollins, started the program as an alternative spring break for students.

"A colleague, Richard Pyle, had done his Peace Corps project in Lucea in the 1960s," Suarez said. "His daughter was attending Hollins in the late '80s which gave us our initial contact in Jamaica."

Living with teachers in Lucea, a community on Jamaica's northwest coast, the Hollins group spent a week helping teach classes in Lucea's schools, painting an elementary school, and volunteering in an infirmary.

"They were so happy to see us," Dale said of the residents of Lucea, who have been visited by groups from Hollins for the past 13 years.

A child psychology major, Dale presented a map of Virginia to a high school class; she and the students discussed differences between Virginia and Lucea. In Jamaica, there are only two seasons — wet and dry. Dale said the students "were totally enthralled with snow."

The Hollins group took supplies for the schools and the local infirmary, which is used by those who can't afford to visit a hospital. Dale said it was a reality check to see the community's poor health care. Students helped out however they could, even shaving male patients' beards.

"It's incredible what we take for granted here, like having running water," Dale said. Suarez explained that the water, generated at Montego Bay, flows through pipes into areas such as Negril that are frequented by tourists. Remaining water is sent on to Lucea and other surrounding communities.

The lack of water "was a real education for our team because we turn on our faucets here and expect that water will be available," Suarez said. "When the water is on it is always cold because these families do not have the luxury of water heaters."

For the last two days of their week in Jamaica, Dale and her fellow project participants explored a rainforest and visited Negril, which Dale said was packed with college students on spring break.

In spite of the unusual living conditions, Dale said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit Lucea.

"You have to forget about all the other things," she said. "They're wonderful, wonderful people."

Reprinted with permission from The Roanoke Times. Article written by Shawna Morrison, "Have You Heard?" column — Neighbors section, April 19, 2001.