Editor’s Note: Kelly Giesecke is a young adult living in New York City. Kelly is from Manhasset, NY, where she grew up playing lacrosse. She went on to play at Cornell University. Last summer Kelly used her week of vacation to Coach, Serve and Learn with the Lacrosse Volunteer Corps. Enjoy this reflection on her experience in Jamaica.
I love lacrosse, and love coaching, having played varsity lacrosse at Cornell and then played on and coached the club team there to the 2012 ECWLA finals. I love travel and seeing new places. I love helping people. So when I saw an online post about a volunteer trip to Jamaica to coach lacrosse to kids, it immediately sparked my interest. I had doubts, though. For one, I knew nothing about the Lacrosse Volunteer Corps or Fields of Growth, beyond what I learned from their Facebook Page and website, which made me a little nervous. Secondly, I had never been on a volunteer trip before, though I had always wanted to go. Finally, I just didn’t know what to expect from the country or the people. Many of my friends and family told me I was crazy for using my vacation from work to go on a volunteer trip. Still, it seemed like it was a trip I could not miss. Now that I am back from Jamaica, I cannot imagine having spent my vacation anywhere else. The experiences I had, the people I met, and the lessons I learned made this trip one of the best trips of my life.
It’s hard to sum up the entirety of the trip because I had so many life changing experiences, from experiencing all the beauty and adventure of our trips to Cane River Falls, the Surf beach and Lime Cay, to coaching and playing lacrosse in DuPont primary school and seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of the kids there, to having eye opening experiences visiting the less-developed rural communities of Nine Mile, and tough urban neighborhoods of S-Corner and Riverton. This trip is one I will always remember.
The sightseeing was great, of course, but you can get that as an ordinary tourist. What made this trip extraordinary was the deep interaction with so many amazing people all over the island. Before going on this adventure, I considered myself to be open to all people, but I would definitely keep my distance from many. Jamaica taught me the value of interacting more with others. Among the most interesting people we met were Billy Mystic, a reggae artist and youth advocate who runs the Jamnesia surf camp, and Teacher Wayne, a humble roadside cook nicknamed “Teacher” due to his openness and ability to help everyone to learn. Both men imparted wisdom to us, but also expressed an appreciation for us that surprised me. Like many people we met, they were extremely grateful that we were trying to help positively impact children through sports. Our interactions with these people made us all re-think what life is about. One of the ideas they felt most strongly about was that teaching, learning from, and connecting with people is more important then anything you can learn from a book. “One life, one love, everyone is equal.” They believed strongly that you learn the most from the people around you and from having experiences with those people that help you grow as a person.
Coaching the Jamaican kids was an absolute blast, particularly because they were so excited and enthusiastic. The children were thrilled at the chance to use our donated lacrosse gear and play their hearts out. The girls were at first reluctant to participate, but when they saw that women were coaching, they began to realize that this was a sport for the girls too, not just the boys, and more and more joined in. At one point in the trip our Jamaican Family (the volunteers) reflected on how the game of lacrosse has influenced and shaped who we are. There are so many parallels between what you learn from lacrosse and how you can apply that to life, things like hard work, perseverance, and team first (putting others ahead of yourself). This is what we wanted to teach. This is why people like Teacher Wayne and Billy Mystic were so happy to welcome us, to influence the kids in a positive way through sports. I have had a lot of coaching experience in the past, but I’ve never seen kids that were so excited to learn and get better, and several showed incredible athletic talent. Many of them were super focused and excited to learn this new sport. I got to see first hand how much a sport like lacrosse could really influence the lives of people and of kids. Many of them have almost nothing. Playing a sport like lacrosse seems to give them hope, pride in their achievements and a chance to have fun and forget many of the hardships that are in their lives. For the girls, it provided a venue where they could take pride in being on par with the boys, an opportunity that they may not always get.
Coaching was definitely a highlight of the trip, but the Lacrosse Volunteer Corps in Jamaica was so much more than just coaching. Coaching brought interactions with one group of terrific kids. Other activities introduced us to so many others, whether by visiting people living with hardships in Riverton (a neighborhood built around a trash dump) who nevertheless made the best of their situation, or helping clean out S-Corner (a school in another area we helped). One of the most memorable days was a trip to Nine Mile, a poor community where Bob Marley grew up, where we spent a full day going to church service, giving to those in need, and playing cricket and lacrosse with the community. One thing that stood out was the faith and optimism. The people had so much faith that they could make others feel it. They taught us a saying: “One, one coco full basket”, which means every little bit adds up. You have to start somewhere and eventually you will reach your goal. The leaders of the church and the community were such kind people, who despite their own hardship, found it within themselves to help others. They seemed to me to have so little, but they seemed to feel they had so much. They kept saying “little is much if God is in it.”
Although I was always taught to give to those in need, no matter how little I had to give, I never fully understood or realized how much it could mean to someone until I visited Jamaica. So many people were extremely grateful that we came to their community. We have so much to give and they have so little, but Fields of Growth and the LVC want to help them in ways so that they will be able to provide for themselves. “You catch a fish for a man, he eats for a day. You teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” What really amazed me was how the leaders of the community, Jamaicans themselves, expressed the belief that simply giving money is of little value, because it does nothing to make a lasting improvement in their lives. They need food and they need help trying to find a way to build a business themselves so they can help the entire community, but most of all they need the interest and help of others to enable them to improve their own lives. The receptiveness, warmth and gratitude of people for even our small effort was the most extraordinary part of the whole experience. When it was time to leave Nine Mile, for example, many of them expressed how sad it was to see us go and were clinging to us after just one day together. It was simply amazing. It is crazy to me that you can influence someone so much by doing something so simple as smiling or saying hello, or giving a high five. So many of us are truly blessed and have the power to help so many. We just have to reach out and do it. I can’t wait to go back to Jamaica or somewhere else in this world and continue to have these amazing experiences and help some remarkable people.