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Volunteers began working in Jamaica in 1962, the same year that the country gained its independence from Britain. The first group of Volunteers was dedicated to working in library development, vocational education, and agriculture.
Since then, more than 3,400 Volunteers have served in this country of stark contrasts. Outside of the luxurious resorts, Jamaica's population faces the same struggles as many island nations. A wealth of biodiversity exists in this small country, and protecting Jamaica's valuable natural resources while balancing the benefits of tourism is essential to its economy. There are many areas where people still subsist as farmers, and many youth are without jobs or the skills to contribute to developing their communities.
Volunteers are working to conserve Jamaica's natural resources, promoting healthy living, and helping youth to gain the skills and education they need for their future.
Peace Corps History
Main article: History of the Peace Corps in Jamaica
The Peace Corps was first asked to work in Jamaica in 1962, and Volunteers worked in cities, towns and the countryside as teachers, agricultural extensionists, health educators, and rural development workers. In the mid-1970s, Volunteers were assigned to schools, hospitals, health clinics, and other government ministry offices as teachers, nurses, and loan officers.
The most recent shift in approach to development was conceived in 1989 and is now a reality. Current assignments are part of a uniform plan that has a significant community development core. While each project plan has specific tasks and skill requirements, Peace Corps/Jamaica assignments generally involve facilitating the growth and development of communities and their members in a way that empowers them to make and carry out better decisions about their own lives. Not all Volunteers are placed in small rural communities. Sites also exist in small towns, peri-urban centers, inner cities, and tourist cities such as Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios. No Volunteers are assigned to Kingston (the capital) or Spanish Town.
Living Conditions and Volunteer Lifestyle
Main article: Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Jamaica
Your living conditions in Jamaica may not be as rugged as those in many Peace Corps posts. Most Volunteers have indoor plumbing and running water. The water usually is not heated, however, so be prepared for cold showers. Laundry, while usually washed by hand, is usually done in a sink or a washtub. Electricity exists island-wide, except in very remote areas. Very few Volunteers go without a refrigerator and other electrical appliances, and many Volunteers have amenities such as cable television.
Living conditions will vary depending upon whether your site is rural, peri-urban, or urban. Areas with mining, manufacturing, and tourism will have a higher standard of living. The agency to which you are assigned will assist you in identifying suitable housing. All Volunteers must live in the initial housing identified by their agency for at least the first four months of service after which Volunteers may move to different housing if they so desire (with the approval of Peace Corps staff). If accommodations do not meet your needs, it will be your responsibility to locate housing that meets specified budgetary, health, and safety criteria and is approved by Peace Corps staff. The most common living situations are a room with its own entrance, attached to a bathroom and kitchen that you share with a family; an apartment you share with another Volunteer; or your own place. Generally, Volunteers remain in the housing initially identified by their agency.
During pre-service training, you will be placed with a host family for the community-based portion of training. Here you will receive a firsthand orientation to Jamaican culture and community life.
Main article: Training in Jamaica
Once you arrive in Jamaica, you will participate in an intense, eight-week training program, beginning with four days of orientation in a university campus setting. There, you will be introduced to the staff and support services pertaining to medical and administrative matters, as well as to cross-cultural, safety and language issues, and local cuisine.
You will then be divided into your technical skill groups and depart to a community to take part in community-based training for approximately seven and half weeks, living with a Jamaican family while gaining technical skills and adjusting to the language, culture, climate, and food. Training uses current adult-learning methodologies. During the final week, you will come together as a larger group again to process your experience, complete your assessment, and finalize your commitment before being sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
You, along with your training staff, will assess your progress throughout training to ensure you are meeting or exceeding the expectations of training. You will engage in a number of assessment exercises during pre-service training, which will enable you to accumulate points toward swearing- in. Toward the end of pre-service training, each trainee will participate in a final oral exam before a panel of Peace Corps staff, trainers, and host agency partners as a final assessment to determine suitability for swearing-in. After the satisfactory completion of training, you will be sworn-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Health Care and Safety
Main article: Health care and safety in Jamaica
The Peace Corps’ highest priority is maintaining the good health and safety of every Volunteer. Peace Corps medical programs emphasize the preventive, rather than the curative, approach to disease. Peace Corps/Jamaica maintains a clinic with two full-time medical officers, who take care of Volunteers’ primary healthcare needs. Additional medical services, such as testing and basic treatment, are also available in Jamaica at local, international-standard hospitals. If you become seriously ill, you will be transported to the United States once your condition is stable enough to allow for safe travel.
Diversity and Cross-Cultural Issues
Main article: Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Jamaica
In Jamaica, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Jamaica.
Jamaicans are proud of their cultural diversity and that is exemplified through their motto, "Out of Many, One People". That being said, many who reside in deep rural communities, have had little interaction with people outside of their villages or towns. Volunteers should not experience many cultural problems in major towns or capital cities, as that is where Jamaica's diversity is at its most vibrant. What people view as typical American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Jamaica are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.
The two dominating spheres of influence on Jamaican culture are the many christian churches and the dancehall culture. The christian culture will lead to clashes with volunteers who do not regularly attend church service or who oppose christian beliefs - the most sensitive being the attitude towards the Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered community. While the Peace Corps may not directly say so, for safety reasons, it is recommended that any gay volunteers wishing to serve should do so closeted. The dancehall culture, seemingly at odds with the strong christian influences, is highly and explicitly sexual.
To ease the transition and adapt to life in Jamaica, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
- Possible Issues for Female Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
- Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
- Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
- Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
- Possible Issues for Married Volunteers
Frequently Asked Questions
Main article: FAQs about Peace Corps in Jamaica
- How much luggage am I allowed to bring to Jamaica?
- What is the electric current in Jamaica?
- How much money should I bring?
- When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
- Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
- Do I need an international driver’s license?
- What should I bring as gifts for Jamaican friends and my host family?
- Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
- How can my family contact me in an emergency?
- Can I call home from Jamaica?
- Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
- Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Main article: Packing list for Jamaica
This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in Jamaica and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything we mention, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Jamaica.
- 1 General Clothing
- 2 Men
- 3 Women
- 4 Shoes
- 5 Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items
- 6 Kitchen
Peace Corps News
PEACE CORPS JOURNALS
( As of Friday December 20, 2013 )
Contributions to the Jamaica Country Fund will support Volunteer and community projects that will take place in Jamaica. These projects include water and sanitation, agricultural development, and youth programs.
- Volunteers who served in Jamaica
- List of resources for Jamaica
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- Inspector General Reports