Things move fast in the internship world- while I had every intention to blog more frequently, I find that my weeks have sped along (with no posts) and I’m now officially past the half way mark of my time here in Kingston.
Soon after I wrote the last blog post, I started traveling around the island on school visits with the Ministry of Education branch that I am working with for my project. This meant early morning- I mean EARLY morning 5:30 am- starts where I would be on the road with a team of 5-8 people, navigating the sometimes non-Google mappable areas of Jamaica as a passenger in the car. I did not drive these routes myself, nor was it advisable for me to do so. I just passenger-seated along with whoever was on “Suhina pick up” duty. Over a 10 day period, we covered all the parishes in Jamaica and I visited I think 15 schools for filming and photography. We typically covered two school visits in a day, and captured salient elements identified by us in Week 2. This project is a collaboration between my host organization and the Ministry, and the teamwork really took shape during these travels!
Over the course of the school visits, I’ve interacted with students from an infant school age to high school students. Every visit had a different learning/take away for me, but my most rewarding conversations have been with the high schools students (I also taught that age so I think I defaulted to my comfort zone).
One experience that stands out was at a high school located in an area notorious for gang violence, where student retention- particularly male students- was a concern. I spent most of my time during this visit with the automotive technology class, in their work space/classroom area, and ended up chatting with two students who weren’t part of the filming but were members of the class. While these boys initially addressed me with formality and politeness (as is the norm I find in Jamaican students), they eventually opened up and shared their career goals and aspirations of joining the military and the maritime college respectively. They sought advice from me, and even appeared to internalize it, which was not what I expected since really I am a nobody in their world. I walked away from the school that day feeling a warm contentment type of feeling. I think I had also been away from adolescent engagement for so long that being able to do even a little slice of what I love made me happy.
Another aspect of this particular school visit was the teacher for this specific class. Ms. H is a female teacher instructing a class of mainly boys, teaching a course that is typically taught by male teachers. Ms. H, her students, and I spent some time in their classroom discussing the idea of machoism in Jamaican men, what that means, the counterproductive elements of this attitude for society as a whole, and what the students feel about (the rather American term) toxic masculinity. The views expressed by the students gave me a lot of perspective, and also made me feel hopeful for the future.
Ms. H and I later spoke about how she feels uniquely positioned to help break the cycle perpetuated by the male attitudes here through her class, and the relationships she has with the students and the parents. She firmly believes that boys don’t get the love and attention that girls get from their parents, making them less likely to be able to give affection as they grow. It was such an interesting perspective, as I have mostly considered/been exposed to addressing such societal issues from the perspective of educating women and girls through targeted interventions. This is just a short snippet of ONE day at ONE school. Imagine 10 days filled with snippets like this!
On the more personal side, I am so so grateful for the team here in Kingston. One example of the family that they have become- my husband, Arjun, was visiting last week and we had been making plans to go to Port Antonio over the weekend -which we did, by the way, and I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in Jamaica. A colleague had asked me to block out Thursday evening before we left, 3 hours, for something special. She gave me no details other than 3 hours of time and please come to her house at 6:30 pm. When we showed up at her house, Arjun and I saw essentially the ENTIRE team that I’m working with – both host organization and ministry members- hiding in a dark room to surprise us. I was so shocked and touched, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I did both. This was how they responded to “My husband is coming and I would love for him to meet the team!” Lo and behold, he meets the team!
I truly am going to be sad to leave in 4 weeks, so far this experience has been amazing across the board. I hope that I can bring this warm love and growth mindset back to wherever I work in the U.S. I’ve learnt a lot, and this internship has helped me grow not just in a professional capacity but also in a personal capacity, and as a member of the development community.