Vanderbilt Athletics

Vanderbilt in Jamaica: Day 6

May 19, 2017
Vanderbilt student-athletes will blog all week long from their service trip to Jamaica in partnership with Soles4Souls. Follow @vucommodores on Twitter and check back on VUCommodores.com all week for updates. Recap Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 here.

The Commodores visited another local Jamaican school and distributed shoes to more students, many of whom were sad to see the Vanderbilt group leave.

Erin Whalen, Women's Basketball:
Today was probably one of the most emotionally challenging days so far, and if you know me at all, you'll know I'm not the most emotional person, so that is saying a lot.

We started the day at the Mt. Salem Primary and Junior High School, where we were able to serve around 600 kids. Before we distributed the shoes we spoke with the vice principal, who informed us about the Jamaican school system: the end of the sixth grade, children take a test and the results show what type of schooling they'll receive. It determines whether they continue schooling in private or public institutions and also the specific material that they will begin to focus on. This was really hard for me to grasp because I couldn't imagine being told that the rest of my school career would be based off of my sixth-grade self, like it is for the Jamaican children.

Once we began the distribution at the school, we were able to really engage with the children. I think my favorite part of this trip so far is being able to witness pure happiness and relief in a child's face when they finally find a pair of shoes that not only fits, but ones that they actually like. After the distribution concluded all the kids really loved showing us their great dance moves and enjoying our company so we were able to spend some time just playing and goofing off with the children. Although our time is limited with the kids, I really feel like I am able to become very close and connected with a lot of them. So when we were told we needed to start packing up the truck so we can prepare to move to the next site, it was no easy task.

At one point, a child who I spent the majority of my time with became overwhelmed with tears. As he asked me when I would be able to see him again, my heart sank. I knew my answer would not be what he wanted to hear. This whole week has shown me how being able to just share a little bit of your time can make a bigger impact than you could have even intended.

Josh Smith, Football:
Today for our first distribution, we visited Mt. Salem Primary and Junior High School to provide shoes to about 350 kids. Today's distribution was different than the earlier ones this week because we decided to do the distribution without shoes. We wanted to show a greater sense of vulnerability and show early recognition to National Barefoot Day, which is on June 1. Thus, I went barefoot today, which gave me a greater connection to some of the situations the children are coming from. Giving away shoes while not wearing shoes was an unusual concept to me, but it really allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone. Today, like many experiences throughout life, I realized it's the uncomfortable experiences that can make a person grow the most.

We then visited Barrett Town All Age School for the final distribution of the day -- and for the trip! This was quite a way to go out with a bang. We were able to wash the kids' feet at the distribution before giving them their new shoes, which was an amazing moment. Like all the children we've met, the kids were nothing short of amazing -- smiling, dancing, grateful and playful! The smiles on their faces when they found the perfect shoe that fits was priceless and was an experience that I won't soon forget.

I'm so thankful and grateful for the Soles4Souls staff and Vanderbilt University for giving me the opportunity to give more than myself by loving and helping the beautiful children of Jamaica. My experience has exceeded my expectations. I could not have asked for anything better than a chance to visit schools with teenagers, young adults and children. I have now experienced the completely diverse culture of the Jamaican people. I have learned handshakes, dances, and bits of Patios, the native language, that I now feel is part of me after just four days in Jamaica. In all, that really sums up Jamaica and the people in it: once you visit here for any amount of time, you begin to adopt this country's culture as if you'd been immersed in it for your entire life.

Myka Dancy, Women's Basketball:
Today was our last day distributing shoes to the schools. In the morning, we went to a school and gave out 350 pairs of shoes. We helped size the students for their shoes and then spent time playing with them. At one point, the vice principal of the school told me that most of the students were not at school today. Because it had been raining the day before, children who only had one pair of shoes could not afford to get their shoes wet and risk messing them up. I really wish that we could've given shoes to all of the students at that school, but I'm glad that we at least gave half of the students shoes so that hopefully they don't have to miss school in the future.
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