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Jo Gomes

A welcome presence in Jamaica

Portland Parrish, located on Jamaica’s rural northeast coast is known as a choice destination for wealthy tourists because of its gorgeous beaches and posh resorts. Portland, and its capital town of Port Antonio, has also become a draw for alumni of Seneca’s Social Service Worker (SSW) program: But for very different reasons.

For the past five years, a collection of these grads, led by professor and SSW alumna Jo Gomes, has spent two weeks each February providing social service programming to Portland’s children and young adults, many of whom have no access to proper educational, heath or counselling resources.

While a great deal of wealth passes through Portland Parrish, next to none of it is channelled into the local communities of poor farmers and their families who grow bananas, coconuts, coffee and mangos for consumption globally.

“This experience gives alumni a firsthand glimpse into how poverty, inadequate health care and the inequalities of international trade affect people living in developing countries,” says Jo. “In this environment, our goal is to implement social service programs that can be sustained over the long term by the community.”

The SSW alumni Jamaica Project marks an extension of the work that Seneca has been doing across Jamaica for more than 10 years, primarily through the Social Service Worker, Nursing and Early Childhood Development and Travel & Toursim programs.

The Seneca alumni group worked with eight agencies in Portland this year, including the Victim Support Unit, which helps those affected by crime. Their contributions included workshops on domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as outreach and one-on-one counselling for those affected by drug addiction, mental health issues and homelessness.

Preparation for the Jamaica project is extensive and begins in October each year. The participants juggle their work schedules to meet for five Saturday workshops, including a session with the York Region Police. They also pay for much of the travel expenses, raising funds through silent auctions and breakfasts.

When SSW professors Kevin Kennedy and Felicity Morris approached Jo about starting this Jamaica trip back in 2008, she jumped at the chance. She has even volunteered on her own during the summer.

For all of us, it’s life changing,” says Jo. “It makes us better at what we do. It humbles you”

Because of their positive impact, the SSW alumni now have an open invitation to continue their work in Jamaica. The CEO of Muriton Place Boys Home, Norma Hill, basically told Jo they can come whenever they wants.

“As soon as you land, you are welcome,” Norma told Jo. “Seneca alumni are always welcome.”

SSW alumni support

List of agencies:

  • Muirton Boys Home
  • Victim Support Unit
  • Portland Police Department
  • Child Development Agency
  • Portland Rehabilitation Management Centre
  • Women’s Centre of Port Antonio
  • School of Hope
  • Infirmary of Port Antonio