With the holiday season upon us, many people start to think of ways they can give back and help others over the coming weeks and year. Vacations with a purpose continue to be on the rise with travellers to Jamaica, as many people want to lend a hand to a local project while enjoying their vacation.
Many visitors, particularly groups and weddings, also want to donate to a local charity as part of their stay.
“Volunteer vacations give travellers the opportunity to connect with Jamaicans in a very real way,” said Philip Rose, regional director for the Jamaica Tourist Board in Canada. “We’ve seen a noticeable increase in requests from Canadian visitors and groups looking for volunteer opportunities on the island as word continues to spread that this is a great way to experience the destination.”
Following are a few well-known Jamaican organizations with which visitors can volunteer (or donate resources):
- Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation: The Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation works to improve the learning experience by building and renovating schools on the island. Helping Hands was started by Jamaican Canadian Karl Hale, tournament director of the Rogers Cup, and has now been in operation for over 10 years. Interested volunteers are asked to help raise funds at the annual walkathon in Toronto (June 3) and then purchase a package to join the upcoming school build in Jamaica from July 6-10. Helping Hands has partnered with several celebrities in past school builds, including tennis stars Serena Williams and Marion Bartoli, and Canadian gold medalist Donovan Bailey. (www.helpinghandsjamaica.com)
- Rockhouse Foundation: Negril’s Rockhouse Hotel is committed to community education through their Rockhouse Foundation. Over the past 10 years, the foundation has invested over US$3 million in projects that improve education and modernize schools for children in the Negril area. Rockhouse Hotel’s guests can ask to have a tour and volunteer experience arranged at one of the nearby schools (the day usually involves reading, tutoring or other activities with the kids). School supplies are always needed and Rockhouse has a wish list of supplies that visitors can bring along with them to donate during their stay. (www.rockhousefoundation.org)
- Sandals Foundation: The Sandals Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Sandals Resorts International and focuses on three pillars – community, education and the environment. A recent environmental project this summer focused on conserving coral reefs where the foundation partnered with Coral Restoration Foundation and CARIBSAVE to plant over 500 pieces of coral in order to help preserve Jamaica’s important coral reefs. Visitors can also book a Turtle Watching Tour sponsored by the Sandals Foundation to learn about (and help with) the conservation efforts of local endangered sea turtles. (www.sandalsfoundation.org)
- Great Huts: The Great Huts is a grassroots, community-focused accommodation option in Port Antonio. Paul S. Rhodes, owner of Great Huts, is a major donor to the operation of a nearby homeless shelter and rehabilitation centre. Great Huts provides complimentary or subsidized accommodation for volunteers working at the shelter (professional medical background required). Guests can also volunteer at Great Huts to help support their many cultural activities including film festivals, art shows and educational vacations. (www.greathuts.com)
- Breds Foundation: A wholly volunteer-based charitable organization run by members of the community, Breds Foundation benefits the Treasure Beach community in St Elizabeth. Opportunities exist for corporate, missionary and school groups as well as individuals with specific skill sets such as those in education and healthcare. (www.breds.org)
The Jamaica Tourist Board has a volunteer page on their website that can help connect visitors with an organization that fits what they’re looking for: http://www.visitjamaica.com/volunteer.