USC Project Jamaica: Day I

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Today, we landed in Montego Bay. Although it started the beginning of our chapter in Jamaica, it was the end of a long 4-month journey of preparation and years of planning. About two years ago, my organization African Americans in Health (AAIH) conceived the idea of conducting a service-learning trip. In September 2009, I told one of my friends, Ruth Awosika, from USC’s Pharmacy School about the trip. She liked the idea of embarking on a global health mission and passed it on to members in the Student National Pharmaceutical Association (SNPhA). We then collaborated, AAIH and SNPhA, to plan for USC Project Jamaica.

The eleven of us left for Jamaica right after finals, giving us little time to get to know each other. So, we spent the first day getting acquainted with our fellow teammates. We landed in Jamaica at noon on Thursday and drove to our residential site for the week. (Toni let us stay in her house in Montego Bay, which is just minutes from the airport and the center of the city.) After bringing our stuff into the house, we enjoyed our first Jamaican meal: beef and chicken patties for everyone to get a taste of the island and one of its token dishes. We then drove to get our groceries for the week at a store called MegaMart. As we drove through the streets, we noted the frequent jaywalking of pedestrians, the sparse traffic lights, and the unpaved roads throughout the city. Though Jamaica’s healthcare system has several issues to address, such as frequent hospitalizations due to hypertension, I’ve learned in my Global Medicine courses that traffic injuries are a leading cause of death worldwide (about 1.2 million deaths/year) and between 20 and 50 million disabled persons a year.

Another observation we made as we were driving to the grocery store was the extent that Jamaica’s economy had become Americanized. We saw KFC’s, Burger Kings, and Pizza Huts throughout the city, which was a testament to globalization. As these fast food restaurants have replaced healthier eating habits in the US, they threaten to introduce unhealthy food portions and ingredients around the world. For this reason, some scholars coin this form of globalization “westoxification.”

When we got back to our site, a few of us helped Toni prepare our first homemade Jamaican meal: curried chicken! After dinner, we held our first group reflection. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves: name, major, year, career goals, … Though this was our first formal group exercise, I was so thankful that all 11 bonded already, throughout the flight and during our adventures that day. After our introductions, we discussed expectations for the trip. Many of the pharmacy students hoped to see how pharmacies run in Jamaica, how the role of a pharmacist is similar or varies, and how public health campaigns are administered throughout Jamaica. All 5 of the undergrads would like to become physicians and they expressed interest in observing medicine in a developing country, investigating how medicine is administered at the orphanages, and learning more about Jamaica’s healthcare system. Though all 11 of us had unique backgrounds and interests, I was happy to be amidst a group of students who shared the same passion as me: global health.