GoAbroad Interview

Omar Evans - Founder

Omar Evans - Co-Founder

Omar combined his love for responsible travel, adventure, and helping local communities in 2011 when he founded Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions. After the organization’s conception, which was built on his mastery of international volunteering, Omar became a clear leader in the industry in the Caribbean and began promoting Jamaica as a destination of choice. He believes that each trip can inspire volunteers to change the way they think about the world, while supporting projects that help better the lives of Jamaicans, and this belief propels the organization forward.

What inspired you to found Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions?              

My inspiration for creating Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions has deep roots that are connected to my Mom. Her experience as a child is what drove me in my pursuit of entrepreneurship, and in this endeavor.

My Mom grew up the daughter of a cook in a restaurant situated on the beach.  Having a single mom, she was forced to go to work with her. During that time, my mom would venture to the beach. She crossed paths once with a Canadian couple with whom she connected. Soon after, my mother faced the untimely passing of my grandmother. It was during this emotional time that the Canadian couple emerged and vowed to sponsor my Mom through all her academic efforts for the remainder of her schooling.

Over the years, my Mom would remind me of her story. It taught me that everyone could use a bit of help at times and there are many willing to render that help. Ultimately, it is what impelled me to create a program that allows people to help other people.

Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions volunteers

You are considered a leader in the volunteer industry. What do you think the defining characteristics of a “true” volunteer are?

In reflecting on what defines a “true” volunteer, I immediately credit the term to those who act selflessly. These individuals act and give their time for significant issues. Further, they put themselves in the trenches of social problems, and through that process, expect nothing in return.

How do you use your own volunteer experience to support incoming volunteers?

I am aware that many of the individuals who choose to volunteer come not only from many different geographical locations, but also different cultural backgrounds and experiences as well. That being said, I consider it important to support this time of cultural immersion by offering time for reflection and encouragement. My hope is by fostering these conversations on an individual and group level, I can communicate that I am friendly and approachable in providing any necessary assistance in their volunteer experience.

Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions staff

What is your best piece of advice for volunteers to make the most of their experience?

Simply put, come with an open mind. They may see ways of living and different cultural beliefs and practices, some that are far different from their own. In letting go of common misconceptions and judgement, the outreach becomes more meaningful for both the volunteers and the population benefiting from their service. In short, a better connection can be made and more growth and progress can develop, as a result.

What is the greatest misconception people have about volunteering in Jamaica? What do you do to dispel this misconception?

I do not believe most people are clued into the amount of poverty that exists in Jamaica. Mass tourism and the luxury lifestyle of all-inclusive resorts are images associated with Jamaica. Many do not understand the high levels of poverty that emerge outside of the walls of these resorts. This needs to be made clear and the true circumstance of Jamaica needs to be revealed. I work hard in doing so, and in dispelling these misconceptions, because it is my belief that if people understand the level of poverty and just how under-resourced certain areas are, they will be more likely to volunteer.

Volunteer at a local orphanage in Jamaica

What makes Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions’ programs unique among other volunteer programs in Jamaica?

Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions’ programs stand out from others in Jamaica because we can boast 10 years’ experience in the industry. The understanding and knowledge that is acquired in this time is what sets us apart as from other community-based volunteer businesses. Additionally, our programs are based all around Jamaica, enabling our efforts to reach all ends of the island.

If you could choose one project or placement, which one would you choose? Why?

Of all the projects and placements Jamaica Volunteer Expeditions is associated with, I would choose to highlight disabled care. I would select this one above all because it is often the last place volunteers align themselves and subsequently, gets the least amount of attention. This signals to me that more care and efforts need to be directed their way. They are a truly vulnerable population and require support on multiple levels in order to live and sustain an adequate quality of life.

Why is volunteering important in your community?

Volunteering is critical to our community. It provides not only the labor in the outreach to a variety of societal concerns as well as revenue in the Jamaican economy. Volunteer spending ensures the introduction of foreign currency, which stimulates the Jamaican market. Unlike the hotel sector (which I brought up earlier), this volunteer revenue supports community-based tourism; it also brings tangible resources to the community.

What makes volunteering such a valuable life experience?

Most volunteers who I talk to declare that they leave their volunteer venture feeling as if they are the ones who have benefited. Many conclude their trip being humbled and more clear about their journey through life as a whole. The relationships made with the program partners have proven to be genuine and long lasting, which is another reason that solidifies why volunteering can be such a valuable life experience.

Group of people hiking in Jamaica

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is watching the volunteers transform. They come to Jamaica subsisting as one person, but the impact of the service creates a reset button for most and many leave the island undeniably moved. These volunteers bear many of the lessons they have learned in this experience and these points of learning begin to impact their day to day living long after they leave Jamaica. I am also lucky because I get to see first hand how the community benefits from the service of the volunteers.