In the heart of the Caribbean lies Jamaica, a beautiful island country that welcomes visitors with arms wide open.
With a rich culture, lush wilderness, delicious food and beautiful beaches, Jamaica is a perfect travel destination for people of all ages, but especially students and youth looking to take a trip with meaningful impact.
Of the many trips I took with my school, youth group and family, my former church’s “Senior Service” trip to Jamaica is at the top of the list. That was in 2008, but I remember how delicious the jerk cuisine was and how incredibly welcoming every single person I met was, down to a local fisherman offering to take us on a special snorkeling expedition far from the all-inclusive resorts. We painted houses, put up buildings and tried to help in other ways I hope were genuinely impactful.
For students looking to have a similar experience, there is a local immersive travel program that excels in doing just that: Global Service Adventures (GSA). This is a new program from the family behind Jamaica Volunteer Programs, with a particular focus on student and youth.
The story of GSA begins with founder and CEO Maureen Wright-Evans. When she was a child, her mother was a housekeeper and cook who worked in villas and hid Maureen away in the staff quarters while working, for her own protection. Of course, Maureen would escape to wander the beach, and ended up befriending a Canadian couple who wanted to help her.
This couple offered to sponsor her through high school, and after Maureen’s mother passed away when she was 16, the couple offered to assist her through college as well, where she became a teacher. This gift from the couple changed Maureen’s life, and she’s been working to pass it on ever since. Eventually, she decided to take learning outside the classroom, leading to her very own travel business.
That business has since expanded in many ways over the years, including a sports camp which managed to bring Patrick Ewing back to Jamaica as a speaker and has turned into the country’s largest sports camp. That camp also sparked the passion for travel in Maureen’s son, Omar, who now helps Jamaica Volunteer Programs and Global Service Adventures alongside his mother. They’ve also restored a beautiful house that acts as headquarters for the business as well as a place to stay.
Both Omar and Maureen know that Jamaica is an amazing place for student and youth travel, but that knowledge isn’t common just yet. “Our objective is to bring awareness to Jamaica for these experiences, because we’re not known for it and we just want to share this experience with schools, anybody that wants to travel and make a difference,” Omar told Teach & Travel.
What the family strives to do is create experiences just like I had in Jamaica years ago: authentic, off-the-beaten-path, and impactful. You won’t be staying inside an all-inclusive resort for a week—Global Service Adventures gives teens immersive experiences, blending community service helping locals, hands-on learning with cultural activities, adventures and sustainability in island nature, sports programs, and new friendships with other youth.
If you’re heading to Jamaica, Omar and Maureen Wright-Evans are certainly the local experts to help guide the best experience possible, and there’s even more to the story that we don’t have room to get into here. For now, let’s take a look at what your students might experience while on this lovely island.
First up is Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, both officially and culturally. This city on the southeast coast is the hub of reggae music, fashion and the arts, with plenty of history to take in as well. You’ll find the vibrancy of city life here, and it’s also home to the Bob Marley Museum. Located on the site of the legendary musician’s home, this museum was created by his wife Rita and displays his personal treasures, as well as a small theater, a photographic gallery, record shop and gift shop.
Kingston also has the University of the West Indies, a top school that was once part of the Mona Sugar Estate—as well as the historic Devon House, a 19th-century Georgian style home of Jamaica’s first Black millionaire and home of I-Scream, an iconic ice cream shop and household name on the island. Then go on to Half Way Tree, a busy shopping district.
Next, you can head to the northeast coast for Portland, a peaceful area of breath-taking scenery. Visit the Blue Lagoon, a stunning body of water that has its name for good reason. Then head to Boston Beach, a beautiful place for basking, swimming and surfing—also known as the home of jerk!
Then you can head to the Blue Mountains, a rugged and stunning range that gives new views of the island and also produces some of the finest coffee in the world. You can even visit Creighton Estate, a local coffee farm, to try some for yourself and learn how it’s made.
Heading west from Portland, you’ll arrive in Ocho Rios, meaning “many rivers.” This town has grown from a small, sleepy fishing village into a world-class tourist destination and port of call for cruise ships. With its enchanting landmarks, beautiful gardens, and thrilling excursions, the town is the “capital of adventure.” You can head to the Dunn’s River Falls to climb the 600-foot cascading falls in a human chain led by an expert guide, enjoying the thrilling massage of water and relaxing in pools along the way.
Visit the Blue Hole, a hidden gem with a rope swing leading into refreshing waters. Or head to the Spanish Bridge, which also features a rope swing over sparkling blue waters. Looking for a low-key beach instead? Visit Sugar Pot Ruins Beach, and enjoy authentic Jamaican food while you’re at it.
There’s so much more to explore in Jamaica, including the fascinating history of the country’s indigenous people. If you’re interested, contact Global Service Adventures, and see where the island can take you.
From the March 2023 issue of Teach & Travel.