Monday, September 7, 2009

6 Months Down!

I've been tidying up my room and starting to put aside things to pack in anticipation for my visit home in two weeks and realized that it has been a whopping six months already that I've been gone. While it feels like this time has gone by in a blink of an eye, I know it's really been that long because of how I feel walking around my community and traveling around the island. My favorite thing these days is the drive back up my mountain after being away for a bit and that feeling of returning home once I take the last turn around the mango stand before Irish Town houses start popping up. My host family is great. My living situation is ideal. I'm traveling to so many amazing corners of the island - every other turn in Jamaica looks like some new exotic place. I've made some fantastic friends out of volunteers, girls in my dance company and especially community members. Getting into a minibus in town and having five old ladies call out my name and start instructing me on how I should be freezing my mangos has been the highlight of so many days. But, while it is such a joy to explore and integrate, the most fulfillment has resulted from the successes, large and small, in my projects. I have an awesome orange-dreadlocked supervisor who has been at my side every step of the way encouraging me to get out there and see what areas need help. I've really been able to take my skills and passions and match them with the needs of my community. So after six months in the Peace Corps, here's what work I've been up to:

MRI Learning Centre
- Working hard to get the new building built, furnished and ready to go as soon as possible so the kids can start using it for this school year. Putting together a new system for keeping things organized and developing an assessment method for tracking the kids' progress.
Red Cross - Trained and certified 18 community members in first aid and CPR and created a MRI response team out of them for emergencies and disasters. Will be certified as a trainer soon to teach the course and will be able to certify in communities all over the island. Working on getting more community members trained in shelter management in anticipation of the need in the next month or two of hurricane season.
Heart Trust - Adult courses soon to be added to the learning centre through the Heart Trust. Will be offering training and certification in computer processing and customer service. Teaming up with the Heart development team to create an assessment curriculum for the new health courses they are hoping to start offering at the beginning of the year.
Redlight/Middleton Farmers Group - Promoting organic farming,  water conservation, fair land distribution, watershed area preservation, market targeting and cooperative sales. 
HIV/AIDS - Board member of Peace Corps' subcommittee, HASL (health across sector lines), and organizing an island wide effort to expand HIV/AIDS education and rid Jamaica of the attached social stigmas for World Aids Day on December 1st. Will use the Hope Cube as an educational tool along with anti-stigma messages from local religious leaders.
Ena's Haven - Local women in the community has transformed her ranch into a facility to address the needs of physically and psychologically disabled children and at risk teens using the interaction with horses for therapy treatment. Helping out with establishing their initial strategic and business plans along with marketing strategies.
Women's Health - starting up a young women's' group to address health, relationship and social issues. Bringing in a component of job skill improvement to enhance self esteem and respect. Hoping to team up with a local health facility for field trip-like activities and access to health resources.
Rural Roads - The most common response to my inquiry on the community's desire for improving their area is to fix the roads. Searching out options for funding to get things started.
Engineers Without Borders - Two foot bridges are going to be rebuilt by this group from the States. They have signed a five year commitment to the area so I have begun looking for bigger and better projects for them to dive into.

Next up: Vacation to Cali for two weeks! I'll be home September 24th through October 7th. I'd love to see as many people as possible, so let me know if you will be around Dana Point - I will be more than willing to catch up over a cup of oh-so-missed Starbucks!

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