Mass. native volunteers in Jamaica on spring breakBy AMY DEMELIA , Associated Press
Mar. 31, 2013 12:36 AM ET
NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — When most college students spend their spring break in Jamaica, it's all about spending as much time as possible on beaches and in party spots.
That isn't the case for Mary Hodge, 20, a North Attleborough resident who spent her spring break week working as a volunteer with school children in the mountain town of Hagley Gap, Jamaica.
Hodge, a sophomore at Ohio's Xavier University, participated in the Alternative Breaks Club program that sends students to locations across the globe for a week of community service.
More than 250 students and 25 faculty and staff members participate in the experience each year, giving up the traditional spring break experience for something more meaningful to the communities they visit.
"What appealed to me was the fact it was different than a conventional spring break. It was a great opportunity to do a week of service," she said.
Hagley Gap, about two hours away from Jamaica's capital city of Kingston, is a farming village where Blue Mountain coffee is grown. "Pretty much everyone works there, they work on the farms. Everyone knows everyone," she said. "It definitely wasn't a city by any means."
Hodge, a 2011 Bishop Feehan High School graduate, spent the week working in the local schools, along with several other Xavier University students.
Hodge mainly worked with sixth graders who were preparing to take a test that will determine what high school they can attend.
"Obviously, you're pushing for the kids to go on to the best schools in Kingston," she said. "Here, it's assumed every kid is going to high school, but it isn't there. You'd hear kids say they weren't taking the test. It was almost frustrating to hear it because they were so smart and couldn't go to school because of their family circumstances."
Hodge worked with students on practice tests, with a particular focus on science, including anatomy, which was a good fit for her skills as a nursing student.
With everything from pencils to chalk in limited to supply, Hodge said she was amazed to see how schools managed with so few materials.
"What was most eye-opening was seeing how limited the school's resources were," she said. "There were maybe four or five kids to one book and that just doesn't happen back home. It was amazing to see how just one copier would help them out because they would be able to have the pages in front of them instead of having to yank around a book."
During the weeklong trip, Hodge stayed with a host family who had older children, including a daughter who was going to a university in Kingston to study nursing.
She ate breakfast and dinner every day with her family, helping to create a close connection to the community.
While the Alternative Breaks Club does not allow students to return to the same location, Hodge said she would love to volunteer in the community again through the Blue Mountain Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health, education and economic circumstances of those who live in the Hagley Gap district.
"I would definitely do it again," she said. "I grew to love the community and I'm going to remember the trip forever."