Today's post is from Sophie Dornfeld.
I think everyone would agree that today was the first day we really felt comfortable. This was no longer a day of firsts, in the sense that we knew where we were doing our service and generally what to expect from our host families. But still, this was a very exciting day.
We started out marching with the students for the Peace March, which falls on Jamaica’s Peace Day. Although we were in the back and couldn’t fully hear, we all understood the impact this would have on the greater community. Witnessing elementary schoolers advocate for peace for their schools, homes, and communities, hit surprisingly close to home considering the school shooting that recently devastated America. It was an admirable display of their commitment to and desire for peace.
At the elementary school, Michael, Matt, Sean and I painted the wall. I could sense that the leader organizing the painting process was doubtful of us, possibly because I’m a girl or possibly just because we were all a little scrawny and clueless, but I think we showed him that we were still competent. We made do, even though we quickly ran out of paint. We certainly set a strong framework for the following day and made considerable progress.
The highlight for me, though, was engaging with the 6th graders who were picking up trash near the wall. At first I felt bad for talking with them instead of painting the wall, but then I realized that this form of “service” was perhaps just as impactful as painting the wall. I came to the conclusion that I can still be successful even if a particular task (like painting the wall) is not accomplished. I believe I still had a “successful” day by befriending those students, hopefully empowering them and bringing a little brightness to their days. I also decided that I might be of better use in the classroom.
After lunch we visited the library/special education classroom to provide extra assistance to those struggling with reading. I was relieved to see that these students were getting the extra help they needed, which made me think about all the students in underprivileged areas who are not being taught in the way they need, simply due to a lack of resources. I spent most of this time walking around from classroom to classroom and playing soccer with the 6th graders from before. I made a promise to the students I met yesterday that I would see them today and I intended to keep my promise. I felt fortunate that I was able to follow through and show them that I am invested in their success and care about their wellbeing, even if my way of showing this was just walking around to say hi and play “futbol.”
We then debriefed about our experiences on a soccer pitch. We thought we would get to spectate a soccer game, but later learned that the game was cancelled because the security detail fell through, not because there were goats on the field, and yes, there really were goats roaming the field.
Following school and debriefing, Mama J (best host mother ever) took us on a field trip to the grocery store so we could experience it first hand. We were surprised to see an abundance of American products, but rest assured, there were still authentic Jamaican groceries scattered throughout. From fresh fruit, to their own ice cream brand, to Jamaican rum, there was no shortage of authenticity.
After a delicious jerk chicken dinner, we joined the rest of our group and the other visiting group at reggae night. We learned about Jamaica’s music history and then learned some modern Jamaican dance. Even though I’m the worst dancer, I still had fun letting loose and taking in Jamaica.
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,000 Jewish students on Grounds.