The Collegiate Global Service Initiative (GSI) combines direct service, immersion, and Alpha Chi Omega principles and values into one unique experience. Three participants of the 2019 GSI trip share about their experience in Jamaica.
Arrival and Negril
By Stephanie Van Horn (Iota Chi, Middle Tennessee State University)
Jamaica. For many this country is a place for relaxation and vacationing. For the 31 other collegians, three leaders and myself, I can safely say that beautiful island was a place for memories, growth and quite literally seeking the heights. During my day of travel from Nashville to Miami and finally Montego Bay I wondered…
“What would this week entail? Would the girls like me? I mean, we’re sisters but other than that what do we have in common? Also, did I pack enough bug spray?”
I certainly didn’t have enough bug spray, but thankfully my first roommate Julia Visner (Iota Rho, Loyola University Chicago) was a saving grace and packed enough for the both of us. As for what the week would consist of there isn’t enough space to fully explain how amazing each and every one of the women I met on this trip was. Their talents and hearts were so selfless as we worked in the heat during the day and bonded over food and conversation in the evening.
Our first service location was a school in Negril called Higher Heights Academy, where we quickly became covered in concrete, sawdust and sweat. Although I spent most of the first day getting a majority of everyone’s names wrong, I couldn’t stop smiling because the work we were doing was slowly but surely coming together right before our very eyes.
As some women mixed batches of concrete with a shovel, others lifted buckets of the material over their heads to pour an entire new roof on the extension Alpha Chi Omega helped build for the school. Across the schoolyard a handful of GSI members used semi-sharp scrappers to peel old varnish off of a playground.
We were blessed with the ability to finish all the tasks we set out to accomplish at Higher Heights in 2019, and I am so excited to see where this school will be in 2020.
By Carly Cisson (Kappa Upsilon, Florida International University)
Treasure Beach was a hidden “treasure” in Jamaica that was a blessing to experience. At this point in the trip, all of our initial awkwardness had dissipated, as we had realized that it did not matter what chapter we came from, rather that we all had taken the same oath to uphold the same values, which is what tied us all together. We were relishing in the bond of Alpha Chi Omega and the bond that us 32 strangers (and three inspiring leaders) had created up to this moment.
En route to Treasure Beach, we had the opportunity to relax and create more memories with each other at YS Falls. We soothed our muscles from the hard work we had accomplished earlier in the week, but more importantly, we belly-laughed all day with each other. Whether it was Selin Bolayir (Gamma Pi, University of Tampa) attempting the rope swing for the fourth time even though she pretty much wiped out her first three times or all of the malfunctions we experienced trying to take pictures in the strong current, I had not laughed that hard in months.
The next two days, I felt overwhelmingly welcomed by the students and staff at Epping Forest Primary School. Many of the boys wanted to help us, sweeping the whole front driveway, painting, carrying materials and more.
On our first work day, Jamaica was actually observing their National Labor Day. But, the difference on Labor Day is that Jamaicans dedicate their labor to their country instead of having a vacation day. So on our way up the mountain to the worksite, we witnessed Jamaicans out doing various public works projects, all for the betterment of their community and country. It made me think how much change Americans could make if we adopted that practice in our populated country.
The most heart-warming thing (besides Chicken and Nugget, the local pups) was the principal’s face when she saw what we were able to do in two days, which would have typically taken weeks. I feel that Treasure Beach was mutually beneficial, as we were able to do service, but were also impacted deeply by the community.
By Nicole Little (Iota Tau, California State University, San Marcos)
As I reflect on the Alpha Chi Omega Global Service Initiative trip, I can wholeheartedly say that it has changed my life. The week in Jamaica placed me in an environment where I was completely out of my comfort zone, surrounded by Alpha Chis who were unfamiliar to me. Although at first I was intimidated and uncertain about what the women and the experience would be like, I can truly say we bonded as sisters and were heartbroken to part ways at the end of the week.
During our nightly reflection on the last evening of the trip, we each reminisced on our favorite memories. We laughed, cried, made plans for a future reunion trip and each promised all of our sisters a place to stay if they were visiting our cities. The relationships we had made in such a short amount of time were real and impactful; it was amazing to see how quickly we grew close, especially during our service project interactions.
Thirty-two collegiate Alpha Chi Omegas from schools all over the country came together with the purpose of serving the people of Jamaica. Some sisters had extensive service experience while others, like me, had none. This dynamic, along with our shared values for being real, strong women who help others, fueled our passion to serve throughout the week. Recalling our hard work and the projects we assisted in allowed us to walk away from the trip knowing we were able to leave a lasting legacy on both Higher Heights Academy and Epping Forest Primary School.
The GSI trip opened my eyes to the remarkable differences between philanthropy and service, my privilege, and everything I take for granted. My time in Jamaica with my Alpha Chi sisters catalyzed my realization that small acts can have big impacts and that every single individual has the chance to make a difference. The line of our Symphony, “to appreciate every little service rendered,” is now monumental to me as it glimpses a personal reminder of the unforgettable experiences I had in Jamaica.