Reni Zhelyazkova - 2014 Program Participant

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad?

I applied for this programme because I studied international development and wanted to understand how development works on the ground. I also wanted to get some transferable skills which could help me find a job in the NGO sector in the UK.

Creative Arts Festival participants in Port Maria, Jamaica

Me with my Rasta friend who participated in the Creative Arts Festival in Port Maria

Why did you choose V2 Volunteer & Vacation?

I chose V2 because it provided a really worthwhile opportunity to work for a governmental development organisation. Also, it was one of the few organisations that works in the Caribbean and going to Jamaica was my dream for a very long time. Also, I chose V2 because of the different approach it has to volunteering, as it aims to combine volunteering and vacation meaning that people not only enjoy the beautiful tropical nature but also contribute to development of people in the country.

What was your favorite part about Jamaica?

Jamaica is an incredible country which has a number of cultural and natural attractions to offer. The parish of St. Mary, where we were situated, was a fantastic place as it gave me an opportunity to taste true Jamaican life. So my favourite part about the location was that I was emerged in the real Jamaican lifestyle and quickly became a part of the community.

What made your program unique?

Its location and its aim. Working and living with disadvantaged communities, who nevertheless gave us so much love and appreciation, was an extraordinary opportunity.

I felt like I was becoming a part of the community and that I was really making a change for the people.

White River in Jamaica

First day in Jamaica - Trip to White River

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Our colleagues at the Social Development Commission were very supportive and were always interested in how I was, whether I had any issues and problems, and enjoyed talking about any topic that interested me in terms of Jamaican culture, the development context of the country, etc.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

I wish I stayed longer and traveled more. Three months was simply not enough time to see all the beauty Jamaica has to offer.

Describe a day in the life of your program.

I would usually wake up around 6 a.m. (the heat simply does not allow you to sleep more) and get ready for work. Our taxi driver came to pick us up around 7:30 a.m. to take us to Port Maria where we had to get our transport to Highgate, where the SDC office was situated.

The work day started usually around 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and finished around 5 p.m. During this time we were engaged in on-the-ground community research, which involved going into different communities to talk to people about their issues and availability of different services. Sometimes we would participate in workshops or community events, such as social service fairs and community meetings.

After finishing work for the day, we would go out to the small road bars to have a drink with Jamaican friends and listen to some good island tunes.

What did you enjoy spending your free time doing?

Spending time with Jamaican friends,  either on the beach, on the river, or simply at the local bar. Jamaica is never boring! Our friends made sure we are always safe and happy with our environment.

Boston Beach, Portland

Clear waters at Boston Beach, Portland

What was your housing like? What did you like best about it?

We lived in a family house in our own private apartment. The best part about living there was talking to the family on the veranda in the evenings and listening to the sounds of the jungle which surrounded us.

How has volunteering in Jamaica impacted your life?

It made me determined to build a career in international development. I am also determined to go back to Jamaica and the Caribbean and hopefully find employment there, so I can contribute to the development of the wonderful people I met there.