‘It felt like one of our own was leaving’

HIGHGATE, St Mary — When Peace Corps volunteer Julia, who lived with Erica Hutchinson and her family for three years, ended her stint and had to say goodbye, Hutchinson and her relatives could not hold back the tears.

“I cried, she cried, my family cried. It felt like one of our own was leaving,” the Clonmel/Lewis Store resident told the Jamaica Observer.

Hutchinson doesn’t remember the last name of the young volunteer who was fresh out of college at the time, but she vividly recalls that she was an agriculturalist and of great help to many in the community.

“We have an elderly farmer who she helped on his farm and was able to get others to come in to help, this was well appreciated,” Hutchinson explained, adding that the entire community accepted all the volunteers and made an effort to ensure that everything went smoothly for them.

Hutchinson was among the attendees at a recent swearing-in ceremony for 21 new volunteers who will spend the next two years working in the fields of education and agriculture in the parishes of St Ann, St Elizabeth, St Andrew, Manchester, St Mary, and Portland. During the event there was also a welcome ceremony for two Peace Corps Response Volunteers who will focus on short-term, high-impact programmes at the parish and national levels. This is significant because this is the first time since 2017 that Response Volunteers have been assigned to Jamaica.

The fresh volunteers will benefit from the goodwill banked by those who came before them.

Hutchinson said the volunteers she hosted, always females, seamlessly integrated into her family.

“They call my parents grandma and grandpa and me mommy,” she said.

The young women, she said, initially experienced some culture shock as they were taught how to do laundry by hand, rake the yard, and slaughter chickens for domestic and sale purposes.

“It was weird for them but they were quick learners and enjoyed everything,” Hutchinson said.

They also helped her children and others in the community with schoolwork.

Like Hutchinson, Delores Leami also spoke glowingly of her experience with those who recently ended their tour.

“We had all males in their 30s and 40s; they were like my grandchildren,” she said.

Leami also spoke of the volunteers’ helpfulness, kindness and the respect they showed to everyone.

“In the evening they would play ludo and dominoes at the nearby shop,” she said.

During the recent ceremony, guest speaker Dr Ronald Blake, the chief of party for the USDA Food for Progress Jamaica Spices project, urged the new cohorts — the first since the COVID-19 pandemic — to maximise their expertise wherever they are placed.

“The pandemic has exposed a greater loss in literacy and nutrition. An undernourished and under-educated society poses a threat to itself,” he said.