Most college students from the Upper Midwest would jump at the chance to go to balmy Jamaica in January.
Eight of them from University of Wisconsin-Stout did just that, but it wasn’t because of the warm weather and picturesque beaches on the Caribbean island south of Cuba.
The eight students, led by psychology department chair and Professor Kristina Gorbatenko-Roth, spent a week volunteering as part of a Winterm class: Impacting Communities Through Service Learning.
Jamaica, which has 2.9 million people, is known as a tourist destination and for famous native sons the late Bob Marley, a reggae musician, and Usain Bolt, Olympic track champion. However, nearly 17 percent of its residents live in poverty and unemployment is 14 percent, according to U.S. government statistics.
UW-Stout students wanted to help. Before leaving, the group collected clothing, school supplies, games, toys and cash donations. They distributed it to needy children and families in Jamaica while working at an orphanage, school and infirmary.
“Seeing the poverty and being able to see the impact a small group can make in just one week is really a humbling and rewarding experience,” said Catherine Breuer, an applied psychology graduate student from Patch Grove.
The group’s efforts included:
Spending two days at a school tutoring children and turning a cluttered, dirty storage room into a much-needed classroom. UW-Stout students also donated supplies to students and staff.
Serving food to 65 residents of an infirmary in Falmouth and spending an afternoon with them. UW-Stout students also donated clothing and shoes to the residents.
Painting an elderly woman’s rural home, after purchasing supplies locally.
Supervising children from an orphanage for an afternoon at a Montego Bay beach. UW-Stout students also donated clothing, toys, diapers, printer ink and other supplies to the orphanage.
Helping others who are less fortunate made an impression on the students, who also did a little sightseeing.
“It was the perfect way to immerse myself in Jamaican culture. Not only did I benefit by learning about Jamaica, but I was able to give back to the community by volunteering — that was the best part," said student Julie Randle, of Kenosha, who is pursuing two degrees at UW-Stout, professional communication and emerging media and also human development and family studies.
Katelin Walczyk, of Green Bay, is majoring in art but said “a cultural experience as rich as the Jamaica service learning trip can be applied to any career path. As a studio art major, there is little time for community involvement and yet it is crucial to the art making process.”
Other students on the trip were Nicole Dirkes, a graduate student from Rice Lake; Betsy Hundt, of Onalaska; Amy Loberg, of Berthoud, Colo.; Ashley Osteen, of Elmwood; and Samantha Secraw, of Colfax.
Gorbatenko-Roth believes that her students’ world views expanded as a result of the trip.
“The most rewarding parts of this program are watching the relationships develop between the Jamaican people, most of whom are impoverished, and the students and seeing how they mutually touch each other’s lives,” Gorbatenko-Roth said. “I highly recommend all students engage in service learning opportunities during their time at UW-Stout.”