Jamaicans love a good 3-day weekend just as much as Americans do, and lucky for overextended employees, they’ve got nuff ah dem. Last Monday, Jamaica celebrated its version of Labour Day and teachers and students alike enjoyed a nice mid-term break.
In America, Labor Day serves as one last hoorah before the new school year starts and one last opportunity to wear white for the year (why was that ever a thing?). In Jamaica, Labour Day is a day of, well, labour.
Communities come together on Labour Day to do public service projects, repair roads, paint public spaces and fix up local schools. From a community development perspective, it is a day that Peace Corps Volunteer dreams are made of.
My host father is the Justice of the Peace in our community, which is similar to a notary public, but with more responsibilities. He organized community members of all ages and genders to do a clean up of our main road, including trimming back plant overgrowth, building a retaining wall, patching up pot holes and cleaning up litter.
“You just have to find people’s strengths and target certain leaders, and they get the people in their circles to turn out. You have to be smart about it,” my host father remarked in reference to mobilizing the community. I guess sometimes it really is that simple, especially when you’re the type of person who garners well-deserved respect.
It was beautiful to see so many people working together in harmony to give the area a face-lift.
True to Jamaican style, there was music blasting all the while. Even those who did not feel up to the task of manual labor came out to spectate and show their moral support.
I noticed that there were lots of bits of trash around, especially plastic food wrappers and empty bag juice casings. I started picking up trash, wrangled my host sister into helping me, and before we knew it, we had a posse of kids cleaning up the gully and the roadside.
Even though she complained the whole time (lol, so teenage angsty), I think my host sister ended up enjoying herself even more than I did.
It wouldn’t be a Jamaican event without food. Mr. Bodden, the owner of the corner shop, made and served up cups of soup to everyone.
I could only manage a couple of hours in the sun, but my host dad and many other community members were around cleaning up from morning until late.
The naive often think of Peace Corps service as a one-sided giving experience. I heard a lot of “wow, you’re so selfless to give up two years of your life to help others!” before I left for Jamaica. Give up? In my year of service, I’ve gained more than I could possibly quantify. I’ve perhaps done more learning than I have teaching.
Labour Day in my community left me feeling inspired and impressed. It is a testament the power that comes with community service and loving thy neighbor.