by Frankie Keesee, Field Trip Coordinator & Spanish Specialist

Participating in the trip to Jamaica this past January was both personally and professionally fulfilling.  My grandmother was a proud Jamaican woman, born and raised in Lucea, Jamaica.  I was able to travel to Jamaica with her, visit her hometown, and learn how to cook her favorite dishes before she passed away in 2015.  Since her passing, I have been exploring ways to honor her and our Caribbean heritage, and I’m so grateful to Peace Learning Center for giving me a new way to connect with her and the island.

Tim, Tiffany, Natalie, and I stayed in Jamaica for one week in January.  The members of the Rotary Club of Sav-La-Mar (Savannah-La-Mar) were excellent hosts.  We stayed with Illinois and Indiana Rotarians in a beautiful home in Whitehouse, Jamaica, we had our own quiet beach, and we were well fed and cared for by wonderful Jamaican women, Fine and Carlene.  I could not have imagined a better place to work!

The 3-day workshop was truly inspiring.  Based on my experience, the conversations I’ve had with Natalie and Tiffany, and the testimony I’ve heard from the participants, I believe the workshop was a powerful event for everyone.  The days were long, but profound.  The first day was focused on self-reflection; the participants were able to reflect on their own conflict resolution styles and explore their implicit biases.  The second day was spent on Restorative Practices for schools—PLC’s level 1 and level 2 trainings.  The third day was facilitated by our Jamaican friends who attended the week-long workshop in Illinois last July.  On this last day, Tiffany, Natalie, and I took a step back as facilitators, and the team of Jamaican facilitators guided 2 groups through HIP (Help Increase the Peace) activities.  This last day was my favorite!

More than 50 Jamaican educators participated in the 3-day workshop.  Their confidence and eagerness to transform their schools, as well as their love for their students, was contagious.  I left Jamaica feeling ready to take on the world.  Natalie, Tiffany, and I have been in contact with one school counselor who facilitated her first proactive circle the day after we finished the workshop.  Her willingness to take what we shared and “run with it” seems true for all those who came to learn with us.  The educators and counselors we met are a powerful network of people, and I have no doubt that they will transform the lives of many generations of Jamaicans.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the peace resource “centre” built next to Ferris Primary School in Westmoreland.  The converted shipping container sits on a small hill, connected to a concrete patio with a shelter overhead to protect from sun and rain.  When this resource center is fully operational, it will house a variety of peace-education documents, curriculum, and tools, and it will also be a space for more conflict resolution and peace trainings.  This resource center has been an ongoing project led by Jamaican Rotarian Douglas Arnold, and I imagine it will soon be ready to use!

This workshop was an amazing coming-together of Americans and Jamaicans.  This project could not have happened without the efforts of all involved at the respective Rotary Clubs, without the long and loving history between Peace Learning Center and Jamaica, or without the 50-plus educators and counselors who will spread messages of peace throughout their schools and communities.  I plan to go to Jamaica with my family many more times, and I look forward to visiting my new friends and hearing of their successes.

“Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica Land We Love.”