Located west of Hispaniola, Jamaica is right at the heart of the Caribbean Sea. The country has characteristically Caribbean sunny weather, golden beaches, and thriving resort life, but with an African feel. Volunteer in Jamaica to experience it for yourself.
Geography & Demographics
The majority of Jamaica’s nearly 2.9 million population is African (76.3%), with a relatively smaller Indian (3.4%), and Chinese (1.2%) population. Jamaicans of European descent make up a small racial minority but are influential in both the social and economic spheres. Whatever ancestry they have, people in Jamaica mostly refer to themselves as Jamaican. This is in keeping with the national motto, "Out of many, one people.”
Prior to Columbus’ discovery of Jamaica, the country was inhabited by the indigenous people of Tainos and Arawaks. The Europeans brought the Africans to the country for slavery. Some of the slaves fled to the mountains and were called the Maroons. These escapees eventually developed their own traditions and place in Jamaican culture.
One of the factors that keeps Jamaica teeming with tourists from all over the world is its tropical climate made even more ideal by the moderating effect of the surrounding sea. The climate in Jamaica has no extremes, with winter temperatures averaging at 77 degrees Fahrenheit and summer temperatures averaging at 82 degrees.
The rainy season starts in May/June and extends until November and December. The heaviest rains are usually experienced between September and October. Do not be surprised to encounter rainfall all throughout the year. They usually come in short and heavy showers, followed by a sunny climate. Needless to say, Jamaica is a year-round travel destination.
Food & Culture
The official language in Jamaica is English. Called the Jamaican Standard English, the language mixes British and American English and is spoken with an Irish accent. Most Jamaicans speak a variation of English called Patois. It is a Creole language that mixes English and West African languages. A number of Jamaicans, mostly those from the Rastafari movement speak Iyaric. The language is like a personalized English dialect that was created by the Rastafarians’ in defiance against what they view as a language imposed upon them by oppressive colonizers.
Jamaican cuisine is a fusion of the influences it got from various cultures, mainly from the Spanish, Africans, Indian, Chinese, British, and its indigenous people. In spite of the influences from the foreign cultures, Jamaican cuisine has distinctively local ingredients that make the dishes stand out. Most notable is the Scotch Bonnet pepper. This hot and spicy ingredient is a key addition in jerk, the country’s national dish. Jerk uses chicken or pork seasoned with Scotch Bonnet peppers, thyme, scallions, and onions. The meat is then wrapped in pimiento leaves and cooked for 6 - 8 hours. The jerk is cooked in a pit filled with hot coals, on a grill, or an oven. The escoveitch fish is another local hit. It is fried fish served with vinegar sauce seasoned with hot peppers and onions.
Side dishes are mostly prepared with big flavored veggies. The callaloo, a leafy collared green, is a local favorite. It often goes with pickled mackerel, cod fish, or boiled green bananas. Hot soups are also common in Jamaica. Pepperpot soup, creamy pumpkin soup, conch stew, chicken stew, and oxtail soup are commonly served in the country. Meals are not complete without coconut water, a favorite beverage in Jamaica.
In addition to the abundance of rum bars in Jamaica, the country has a reputation for having more churches per square mile. The Jamaicans’ way of life is shaped by their religious affiliations. The majority subscribe to Christianity (80%). The largest denomination is the Anglican Church of Jamaica, followed by Protestant churches. Though with a much smaller following, Rastafari makes for a major highlight in Jamaica. Rastafari is a unique religious movement that saw its inception in the 1920s and 30s. It combines Old Testament Christian beliefs, African fundamentalist ideology, and mystic beliefs. The Rastafarians have a distinctive lifestyle. Follower wear their hair in long dreadlocks, partake in spiritual use of marijuana, avoid alcohol, and are usually vegetarians. The Rastafari movement became widely known around the world because of the popularity of Reggae music.
The Jamaicans are generally laidback and relaxed. They live on Jamaican time, and people are mostly expected to be late. Also, Jamaicans have a natural tendency to speak their mind, so try to not take it personally.
Things to Do
Visiting volunteers in Jamaica will never run out of things to do. The country offers a host of activities that cater to both the thrill-seeking outdoor buff and those with more laid-back activities in mind.
Various water-based activities await Jamaican volunteers in their free time. Boston Bay is a well-known surfing destination. Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay are great for reef diving. Windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, cliff jumping, and windsurfing are also widely available. You may opt to go river rafting on the Martha Brae.
Jamaica does not fall short of exciting land-based activities either if you want to stay dry. You can go on a thrilling hike to the country’s highest point, the Blue Mountain Peak. You may take the less strenuous hiking trail and heritage tour along the 130-acre tropical garden, Cranbrook Flower Forest. For an even less tiring excursion, take the tractor-drawn jitney ride along Jamaica’s oldest working plantation, Prospect Plantation. Craving adventure? Try caving in Cockpit Country.
You may also take tours along the Appleton Estate rum distillery and the century-old Mavis Bank coffee factory. Fans of the iconic Bob Marley can visit Nile Mile, the place where he was born and where his body was laid to rest. You may also visit the museum in Kingston, the capital, especially dedicated to the famous musician. You may also learn more about the Rastafarian culture that Marley helped to propagate by visiting the Rastafari Indigenous Village in Montego Bay.
Volunteering in Jamaica
Work with kids through Jamaica Volunteer Programs, programs include short term service learning all the way to Gap year volunteer opportunities. Coach Sports in Jamaica with Projects Abroad and help kids learn to play as a team and find new skills through sports. Help with Deaf Education in Jamaica, if you are an experienced deaf educator or new sign language learner alike.