By Gretchen Pierce
Alpha Upsilon, University of Alabama
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Gandhi
At this point, we have all parted ways and reunited with our loved ones…what a week! As I look back on all of our wonderful experiences, and now memories, the two words that come to my mind are: serving others. From In the Service of Life, “When you help you see life as weak, when you fix you see life as broken, but when you serve, you see life as whole.” We started the week under the impression that we were helping others and the community that surrounded us. However, by the end of the week I was so proud to understand the meaning of service and serving those around us. The principal of “serving others” is about being equal. By pouring ourselves into the community and letting down our guards, we were able to serve not only the Jamaican community but, more specifically, the communities of both Church Hill Primary School and Pedro Plains Primary School. In return, they taught me a new way of life and how important it is to also serve ourselves along the way.
Each of us came from different universities across the country, but we were all equally nervous. I know I was counting down the days, then the hours and then finally the minutes until I would meet my sisters who would be joining me on this week long journey of service. It is crazy to think how we started out as strangers who shared the same bond, but left Jamaica as best friends. Throughout this week, these women constantly showed courage, love and empowerment. They showed me how important it is to be dedicated to Alpha Chi Omega, our sisterhood and ourselves. The quote, “I cannot do everything, but I can do something,” was one that I mentally revisited throughout this trip, when I stumbled upon an obstacle or something through which I needed guidance.
It is hard for me to open up right away, but I am so proud that I was able to this week because I can honestly say I met some of the most amazing people. I cannot believe the best week of my life has already come to an end; however, I am so thankful and blessed to have had the opportunity to share this with my Alpha Chi sisters.
All together we cried, we laughed, we sang and we danced. I have learned that Alpha Chi Omega is made up of so many different women, and that really is the best part. Someone’s weaknesses are often another’s strengths, and we continuously lift one another up when we need it most. This has been a life changing week serving others, serving the Jamaican community and serving ourselves. Until next time Jamaica, we love you…“Sunshine Jamaica.”
By Bailey West
Zeta Sigma, Missouri State University
Saying this trip was a step outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement. I had never flown alone, never been out of the country and never met any of the participants of the trip. I was alone on my flight into Atlanta, but I was looking forward to meeting up with five more sisters when I made it there. When I landed, I was alone and unsure of what to do. I soon found Maddie and we were joined by four more Alpha Chi Omegas not long after that.
We didn’t know each other and we were all nervous, but there is something so comforting about being with your sisters. I felt like I had known them all for years and within minutes we were all laughing and talking about how excited we were to get to Jamaica. That single hour, out of the many hours of the trip, set the tone for the entire week for me.
While in Jamaica, we were uncomfortable, we were exhausted, we were sweaty and dirty and we were sunburned. But at the end of the day, when we gathered around the table for our nightly reflection, every uncomfortable situation from the day simply went away. In that moment, we were sisters who couldn’t wait to share about our experiences – share our triumphs and struggles. Each one of us accepted the challenge of being vulnerable and opened up to 17 women we had met only days ago. We shared about times in our lives when we were courageous, times that weren’t so great, times that defined who we are today and our hopes and dreams for the future. We encouraged and inspired each other to work harder, smile bigger and continue taking steps outside of our comfort zone. With the help of my sisters, I was able to conquer fears, such as jumping off of a waterfall and leaping into the ocean off of a boat. Our motto pertaining to the adventurous parts of the week was, “If we’re doing this, we’re doing it together.” I honestly would not have many of the memories I do, if it weren’t for the women holding my hands and standing by my side when the week got a little rough or scary.
We made a visible impact while in Jamaica, but Jamaica and Alpha Chi Omega made an impact on me that will last a lifetime. I knew before this trip that Alpha Chi Omega is big and it is great. But after this trip I know that Alpha Chi Omega is so big and it is so great.
By Brigitta Haller
Alpha Mu, Indiana University
Friday. The last work day. Something that seemed so far away when I first arrived on this beautiful island of Jamaica but went by too quickly, now that the day is finally here. We woke up to the waves crashing against the rocks on the shore (which I will greatly miss), ate our breakfast of fresh fruit and toast (which, again, I will greatly miss) and loaded the bus to head to our second site, Pedro Plains Primary School, with 17 girls who I call my sisters (who I will miss the most). We finished priming most of the (very, very, very, long) cement fence yesterday, and our goal today was to finish putting on a third coat of primer so we could begin the final coat – the red clay paint.
The teamwork and enthusiasm to help one another has made every day at each work-site a meaningful experience – filled with hard work, lots of laughter and, of course, even more paint. We didn’t finish painting the entire fence with the final coat of red clay paint, but it was amazing to see what a difference a small paint job can make and all the progress that has been made. If you have been keeping up with this blog, you know that yesterday we learned the why we were serving in Jamaica (which I highly encourage you to read). Now I know painting a cement fence may not seem like the biggest deal in the world, but for schools like Pedro Plains Primary School it would be an unobtainable project to complete themselves, due to the current financial crisis and deteriorating infrastructure throughout the country. There are not enough words for me to write nor ways to express how grateful and humbling this experience has been, why it has been an honor to be able to paint that cement fence and what it means to learn what serving truly means: the work of the soul.
After a hard day’s work in the vibrant Jamaican sun, we returned to Taino Cove together to reflect on this past week and what we were most proud of throughout this experience. The ideas about “teamwork,” “hard work,” “service” and “learning more about myself” were discussed, as well as how we can go back to the states and apply that which we have learned from this Global Service Initiative. We talked not only about how to apply these lessons at our respective chapters across the nation but also how to be an active citizen on an international scale. The moment that stuck with me the most, as we were sitting around together still sweating, sticky and covered in paint with smiles across our faces, was when we were asked “What can one do?” We were asked to read the following passage: [from One, written by Dan Zadra and Kobi Yamada]
The forest was quiet – too quiet. From out of nowhere came the clatter of horses’ hooves, and then silence again. A few moments later a flame sprang from the dry leaves.
“Fire!” roared the bear. “Run for your lives,” cried the crow. The forest animals, great and small, all fled in panic toward the river. But one small bird remained on the far bank watching the forest burn. “What can we do?” he cried out. There was no answer. “But this is our home,” he cried again, “We must do something – it’s on fire!” Silence was the only answer.
At last, he swooped down from his perch, scooped up a bill-full of water and flew over to dump it on the fire. Time after time he flew from the river to the fire until his weary wings were singed and covered with ash. High above, the gods looked down at the chaos below, and they laughed.
“What in the world is that little bird doing?” asked one god. “He is trying to put out the fire with a bill -full of water! But why? I will find out.” And he the god went down to Earth to ask the bird.
Later, when the god returned to the skies, he was surrounded by the other gods. “Well? What is he doing?” they all asked at once. The god replied softly, “He told me, ‘I am but one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”
Tears welled up in the gods’ eyes and fell as gentle rain on the flames below, quenching the fire.
First of all, how awesome is that? Second, it’s amazing to see what a small group of college-aged women, who went from complete strangers to life-long friends, can accomplish in just one week. Just like the brave little bird, it may not seem like we can change the world or accomplish everything at once, especially when it seems as if the world may be against us, at times. But together we can make difference – no matter how small. One thing that I have learned and valued throughout this trip is that it truly only takes one person (or in this case, 17 Alpha Chi’s) who is courageous (and even at times, crazy) enough to take a leap of faith and make a difference – because something good will come out of it. I promise.
By Caitlyn Moylan
Alpha Lambda, University of Minnesota
I have so many thoughts as this trip is coming to an end, but I’ll begin by saying that I never want to forget the faces and the beautiful souls of the sisters with whom I have served here in Jamaica. It is truly an indescribable feeling, a feeling so very special, to be connected to these women in such a way. Last Saturday, we were only strangers from different chapters, and now we are lifelong friends. I have an immense burning love in my heart for these women, as well as a renewed love for Alpha Chi from this experience. We have empowered each other, motivated each other and lifted each other on each work-site where we served, and we did so as if we had been friends for years. The bond – the ties of Alpha Chi Omega – are nothing short of magical, and it is an amazing feeling to know that sisterhood is not limited to one chapter.
Each of us comes from different campus cultures and varied degrees of involvement within our chapters, but we were all instantly able to come together, become friends and take on this journey together. It definitely has been a journey filled with learning – from learning about ourselves and each other to learning about Jamaica. I am a firm believer that the best way to learn is through experience, and that’s exactly what this trip gave to me. I have learned that although it only costs about 80 cents per week for lunch in Jamaican schools, some families still cannot afford that for their children. I’ve learned that it is not so easy to tell someone to “get a job,” when there are no jobs available. Most importantly, I’ve learned how truly generous others can be, even when they do not seem in a position to do so.
Just today, around lunchtime, a man pulled up to the school where we were working. He had attended the school as a child, and he was extremely grateful for the service we were doing. So, although he may not have had much himself, he gifted us with two watermelons to show his appreciation. All of us were completely overwhelmed with joy because it was such a strong gesture of generosity (not to mention really good). It really is true, that those who have the least give the most. That man, along with my sisters, group leaders and the schoolchildren with whom I have built relationships, have changed my perspective and inspired me to give more than I thought I could. I want to give more time, energy and resources to benefit others. There is always something that I can do to help and to effect change.
Although I have a year left as a collegiate member, I am leaving here feeling that I have maximized my Alpha Chi experience, and I know that somehow this trip is leading me to my greater purpose.
With one vision and one love, together we can do so much good.
By Jaclyn Sojda
Alpha Omicron, The Ohio State University
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” –Gustave Flaubert
After a day of sisterhood and bonding we woke up at our new place of stay, Tiano Cove, and welcomed the day with a beautiful view of the ocean mixed with humor-filled stories of last night’s adventures. We soon boarded the bus to head off to Pedro Plains Primary School, our second site of service. Upon arriving we could instantly see differences between the two work sites. While one was located in a more tropical area, Pedro Plains was surrounded by soil that looked like red clay and had a vast mountain in the distance. Our new project was to prime a large fence that surrounded the school, and after a day of relaxation we were all eager to get back to work.
The principal came out, introduced himself and announced that although the students were not present due to an extended holiday weekend, the school cook had come in to make us lunch. From the moment I stepped onto Jamaican soil I have been in awe of the genuine kindness we have all received. This was another example of the caring atmosphere. Although we came to serve them, they are continually impacting me in more ways than they could ever imagine.
Throughout the day we worked on priming the fence and our teamwork again amazed me. The genuine enthusiasm to help one another makes every day on the work site a fun and meaningful experience. After going out for a pizza dinner we also watched part of a documentary about Jamaica, which really informed us about the country, their financial status and was very eye-opening as to why it is so important that we are here. Throughout the entire week I have learned many things about sisterhood, culture and have realized how much I take for granted.
At one point today, the principal asked us to go around and state what colleges we were attending. As I listened to the names of the varying colleges and then later in the afternoon looked down the long fence we were all working on, I was truly humbled and inspired to see my sisters from around the nation working towards a common goal. Not only am I grateful for the experience of learning about a new culture and performing service but, as our symphony would say, I am also blessed to have had this experience, “to shed the light of love and friendship ‘round me,” and to share it with my sisters.
By Erica Rovner
Theta, University of Michigan
Every night at reflection the sisters of Alpha Chi Omega go around the circle answering different questions. Some are funny, some are serious and some are just completely random. But tonight’s was one that made all of us think hard and reflect. After watching a documentary called Life in Debt, which was about why Jamaica’s in its current financial state, we were asked the question, “What’s one word you would use to describe your day?” After a few minutes of silence people started spewing their thoughts. Words such as “grateful, appreciative, humbled, thankful, determined and inspired” were used, but the first word I could think of was educated. For almost a week now, we have explored Jamaica and served wonderful communities, but have we really ever stopped and asked why we’re serving Jamaica? Why Alpha Chi Omega’s Global Service Initiative was stationed in Jamaica? This documentary showed us the why; it showed us the diminishing infrastructure of Jamaica since its independence from Britain many years ago. When driving through this beautiful island it is clear to see how their current financial state has affected many. At the same time, I never sat down and asked how such an incredible group of people got to this state. Although the video was at times hard to follow, I think it gave us a new perspective on why we’re really here and what we can take away from serving such a wonderful community.
Today was our first day working in Treasure Beach and we went to Pedro Plains Primary School. We were told we were going to paint a cement fence and I figured, eh, how long could that really take? We made a quick stop at the hardware store and pulled up to the school, where you could see a very, very, very, very long unpainted cement fence. It was great to see all 18 of us get that fence painted – not to mention the awesome bonding time we had with our sisters – but had any of us really asked why we were painting the fence? Later that day Kaye (our trip consultant) mentioned to us that the primer we put over both sides of the fence, which was a total of 15 gallons, cost over $300 American dollars. That averages out to $20 per gallon. To most middle class families in America, they may feel that they can spend that type of money, but in Jamaica that $20 may seem unachievable for many. At the last work-site, three day laborers were working non-stop all day with us, and together they earned $100 for the day. That’s less than $5 an hour for each man working. Now when you think about the $20 jug of paint it seems completely out of reach.
After playing with the numbers for a while, it really hit me that the service work we were doing was something that would’ve never been done if groups like us didn’t come. Even though painting a fence may not seem like the biggest deal in the world, it may have seemed completely out of reach for a school like Pedro Plains Primary School. And I for one can say I’m extremely humbled and grateful that I was able to contribute to the painted fence.
After a hard day’s work in the beautiful Jamaican sun I like to think of my favorite quote, “you find yourself when you lose yourself in the service of others.” That quote couldn’t stand more true to this trip, especially when you have 17 amazing sisters, two incredible trip leaders and Kaye by your side helping you discover what serving really means. Today I am proud to say that I added a new quote to my thought process. Thanks to this video, every time I serve a community I will now think about the quote, “knowledge is power.” Without the knowledge of the people you’re serving, it’s hard to truly find yourself. I’ll always be grateful for learning that lesson, and I hope I’ll intertwine my two new favorite quotes and use them to reflect upon my actions in my future endeavors as a servant leader.
By Kristine Bachicha
Gamma Tau, Oklahoma City University
If I had to describe my experience in Jamaica thus far, it would be that through everything we do, my Alpha Chi sisters and I have learned to let go, open our minds and jump in. The first day we arrived in Jamaica, eighteen of us who had not met before were thrown into a new environment. We all had to let go of any insecurities and begin bonding right away, which pushed me out of my introverted shell. On our first full day in Jamaica we literally jumped into the ocean before swimming into a cave with bats. This was a great representation of our group diving into a new culture with new people.
Our first two work days involved scraping walls, painting and making mortar and cement for fixing construction issues. We all quickly realized how important it is to have an open mind when experiencing a new culture. When you are not open to new possibilities, you limit yourself to what you can learn. It was very interesting to be a part of the process in making our own mortar and cement to be used. The Jamaican children from the school we were serving were very welcoming and openly let us join in their recess games. Being open to trying new foods, getting your hair braided by Jamaican children and spending a day working on a cottage were all necessary to get as much out of the process as possible.
Today involved a long and very packed bus ride, which was balanced out by beautiful waterfalls and refreshing water. The theme for today was definitely adventure. Some of us jumped off a rope swing or jumped into a waterfall. None of us were sure what to expect after leaving our first location to which we had already gotten accustomed. We loved the new location with a pool, until the power went out. We kept a positive attitude by taking a flashlight lit tour, telling ghost stories and going on a journey to get ice cream. The break from work and reflection on our achievements and our lives as a whole led us to really appreciate our vacation day and time here with each other. It was clear today that we are no longer just sisters brought together for a common purpose, but great friends.
By Allison Kerler
Gamma Nu, San Diego State University
College students usually run at a million miles an hour, but the one thing we forget is to save some time to relax the mind and body. I’m not saying it’s easy, especially when we are always cramming “one more thing” into our schedule, but it is vital. Being in Jamaica I have come to realize just how important a little down time is. Working at the Church Hill Primary school on Monday and Tuesday was some of the most rewarding service work I have ever done, but also some of the most physically draining. I have played competitive soccer since I was 6 years old and can easily say I have never been this sore in my life, but I strangely enjoy every ounce of pain that I have. Knowing how much of an impact we have made at the school is worth not having feeling from my head to my toes. It is really amazing to see how much a single coat of paint can transform a house, and one of my favorite parts of working at Church Hill was all of the progress that we made in such a short period of time. From walking off the bus at Church Hill on Monday to leaving the school on Tuesday to go home, it is incredible to see how much was completed in a short two day period. I even left with a fun souvenir: tons of paint in my hair.
Going into today, I was a little disappointed at first that we were not heading back to Church Hill. After seeing the impact we had made, I wanted to stay for another day and continue painting rather than take this day to go visit the YS Falls, even though it did sound like a lot of fun. I guess I was on a bit of a “service high.” Of course the falls sounded exciting, but being on a service trip I wanted to spend all of my time serving the Jamaican community because we were only here for a short week. Today I was proven wrong. Throughout my youth I was always going full speed. One activity after another, class after class, until finally I’d be burnt out and unable even to leave my bed. That is why days like these are vital for my health (and quite frankly sanity). I could not be more grateful for this day, in preparation for the rest of the week.
Today, we visited the YS Falls, where we were able to go zip lining, rope swinging and swimming in the falls. Although we have been spending tons of time together as a group, it was nice getting to know everyone outside of the work scene or a simple side table conversation. Spending the whole day relaxing and exploring was a well-deserved break and just what we needed. Together we helped many of our sisters conquer their fear of heights, including my own, and even witnessed one of the girls getting body slammed into a tree after “coming in too hot” on the zip line. (Don’t worry, she is not injured and will be able to continue the rest of the service trip.) I was also able to spend some quality time today with Bailey, Vivian, Caitlyn and Gretchen, which was very special to me. Rope swinging in the pool at the foot of the waterfall with them was an absolute blast.
We ended the day by relocating to Treasure Beach, about two hours away from Negril, back where we started our week. Getting settled in Taino Cove, our new hotel, we spent our free time before dinner continuing to bond. Right after dinner, our power went out in the hotel. Although loosing Wi-Fi would seem like the end of the world for 18 teenage girls, we decided to go downtown and get ice cream instead. Making the most of the situation, going out for ice cream was one of the highlights of the day. It just reminded me of how easy-going everyone was and how accepting we were of every situation in which we found ourselves. It also opened our eyes to see just how fortunate we are to have some of the luxuries we take for granted in America; a power-outage is not an unusual occurrence in Jamaica. Sitting around one big table eating our ice cream, we continued to experience new friendships and share new stories that strengthened our bond as a group. By the end of the day, I knew at least one funny and one extremely personal fact about everyone in the room, which I wouldn’t have imagined knowing on Saturday when we first arrived.
Today showed me exactly why I joined such an amazing organization. Sisterhood. Although we all come from different chapters, different home towns and different backgrounds, we are all part of one organization and share a lot of the same common interests. I really enjoyed building life-long relationships with these amazing girls and being able to laugh with all of them, maybe even at some of them, today. Lol. Love you all.
By Olivia Krupp
Beta Omega, University of Toledo
“I am as served as the person that I am serving. When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction. When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude. These are very different things” –Rachel Naomi Remen
Gratitude was the overwhelming feeling of today’s experiences. Today was our second day on the Church Hill Primary School worksite and the progress made was remarkable. We were able to finish painting the exterior of the cottage, sweep out the inside rooms, prime the interior walls and start to paint a beautiful “waterfall” blue on the living room walls. The progress made did not come easy, it was hard work under the hot Jamaican sun and I know I could not have done it (at least not with a positive attitude J) without my new friends/sisters. That is why on the bus ride home, all I could think about was how grateful I was to be having this experience. Grateful that I have learned so much about the Jamaican culture in such a short time. Grateful that my sisters are hardworking. Grateful that the children at the school are welcoming and excited to see us. Grateful that my sunburn is not as severe as it could be. But I am especially grateful that my path has crossed with 17 other women and somehow our work ethics are compatible and we were able to serve this community with determination. At one point during the afternoon, I walked outside of the house with 4 dirty paintbrushes and sweat dripping down my face. Immediately two of my sisters jumped up and came with me to help wash them. I was grateful for their help.
After dinner, we discussed the difference between serving and helping. We learned that helping is based on inequality. Service is a relationship between equals. I hope that the gratitude I felt today is common amongst us all and we will be able to take the lessons we learned today home with us to continue serving in the future.
By Maddie Settle
Iota Lambda, Texas Christian University
Today, we finished up our work at the Church Hill Primary School working on the principal’s cottage so that the principal and his family can live closer to the school. Our work began yesterday, and I spent the entire first day in a single bedroom ripping out nails, painting a primer coat and sweeping the floors. What I appreciated most today was the sense of accomplishment when we finished this room off with a fresh coat of “Waterfall” blue paint. The transformation from when we arrived to when we left rendered that room nearly unrecognizable. It is amazing how our teamwork improved as we bonded, and we accomplished so much more together than we could have individually.
Tonight, we spoke as a group about the difference between helping and serving. Something that stood out to me was how helping is based on inequality, while serving is among equals. The Jamaican people have already taught me so much about joy, worship, contentment and optimism; I honestly can say they have served me as equally as I have served them this week. We also discussed how helping is draining and exhausting, while serving is renewing. I am beginning to fully understand this difference simply by experiencing the peace and genuine happiness the kids at the school and the workers we worked alongside brought me.
I’m saddened to leave these wonderful people tomorrow as we head to Treasure Beach, but I am thankful for the impact they’ve made on my life, and hopefully I have made an impact in their lives. I’m excited that we still have another school to work with and I look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the difference between helping and serving.