When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the island of Jamaica in 1494, he called it the single most beautiful place he had ever seen. Millions of people who have visited the island have echoed the same sentiment since that time. Jamaica has always been known for its beautiful landscape, pristine beaches and phenomenal weather. These factors have made it an attractive place for tourists in the past and today it consistently ranks high in the top five lists of the world’s most popular vacation spots.
In its 4,411 square miles (roughly the size of the state of Connecticut), Jamaica hosts a population of over 2.2 million people. The smiling faces and majestic landscape we see in the commercials imploring us to “come to Jamaica and feel alright” put an appealing façade on what was one of the world’s slowest-growing economies of the last four decades. In the 2000s, Jamaica’s average Gross Domestic Product growth ranked 180th out of 196 countries. The nation’s ranking in terms of its economy has consistently declined since its official independence from Great Britain in 1960 until 2008. One fifth of the population lives below the poverty line.
The economic factor is only one of the major elements that promoted a large exodus from the island beginning mainly in the 1970s. Over two million Jamaicans live in other countries. They immigrated mainly to the U.S, Canada and Great Britain, but there are Jamaicans in a number of other nations across the world. People took great measures in escaping the crushing poverty that still cripples the island nation.
Jamaicans outside of Jamaica generally assume a supportive role with their families who remain in the Caribbean. It is not uncommon for people who live abroad to regularly send money and other goods to help their families survive. The current global economic crisis is also taking its toll on the small country. The reduced employment that many face around the world result in a reduction of the help they can get from families living overseas. The high rate of inflation and low productivity (which result in an increased dependence on importing goods) make for a bad combination for the Jamaican economy and the people who reside on the island.
Once a year, the Word in Action Mission tries to do their part in helping to alleviate poverty in Jamaica. The team comes out of the New Beginnings Family Worship Center located in the suburbs of Atlanta. The majority of the people who participate in the four year old charity endeavor annually are of Jamaican descent themselves and have family who still reside on the island. The mission is a very personal one to them. They spend the year collecting clothes, shoes, school supplies and monetary donations and when they get to Jamaica, they not only distribute the donated items to the people there, but the nurses that go on the trip provide basic health care services and education that we here in America often take for granted. They feed the people, some of whom express that the meal they received was their first in days. And they try to educate them on sexually transmitted diseases, teach them about self-breast exams and the importance of maintaining their health in whatever way they can. A simple thing such as alerting someone who has never seen a doctor that they have high blood pressure can be life-saving.
Living in poverty can mean that there will be days that people will have to find a way to survive without food and other basic needs. Some of us who have been more blessed than others should never forget those who are less fortunate. There are many ways to give back without spending a lot of money. There is a great website called FreeRice.com where you can play games and answer trivia questions. For every question you get right, they donate 100 grains of rice to someone living in poverty abroad. We should all try to find the means to help spread the love that we tend to take for granted. There are millions of people in need across the world. There are times when we feel like maybe we don’t have the financial means to do a whole lot, but you might be surprised at how the small things we do can make a big difference in other people’s lives. Check out the video to see some of what Word in Action actually does to help Jamaica.
Written by: Kika Ramsay