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Come down to Jamaica

A local church group is looking for people willing to devote two weeks to improving public schools in Jamaica.

Jamaican United Mission Partnership, or JUMP, needs a half dozen or so people in order to send a third team early next year to the central highlands region.

Each person pays about $1,300 for the trip, half for travel expenses and the other half to pay for supplies and skilled local laborers to do construction work.

JUMP would especially like to recruit four or five teens, age 16 or older, to join the teams. Teens are charged half price, and can raise the money through fund-raising opportunities provided by JUMP.

The group likes to have two or more young people with each team to serve as outreach-type workers with Jamaican youngsters in the schools.

JUMP is an interdenominational group that has sent volunteers from 15 area churches in the half dozen years it has been operating independently of the Methodist Conference that started the Jamaican effort.

"We've been going down there just short of 10 years," said Bill Henderson of Detroit Lakes, who sits on the local eight-person JUMP board.

He was accompanied Tuesday by Aston Bramwell, a member of the six-person Jamaican JUMP board, which handles finances and construction oversight for JUMP projects on the Caribbean island nation that gained its independence from Britain in 1964.

Bramwell, 66, is a self-employed cabinet-maker and woodworker who volunteers for JUMP. He is a soft-spoken Methodist with a strong English-Jamaican accent and an easy smile.

"As the local organizer, we would identify the areas with needs," he said.

"That's where they direct us," added Henderson.

Bramwell said recipient school districts need to come up with a 10 percent match, in cash donations or in-kind pledges, before they qualify for JUMP's help.

Most help goes to cash-strapped public schools, which accept students tuition-free up to high school.

The government pays teacher salaries in both parochial and public schools in Jamaica, but private schools also charge tuition, so they tend to have better facilities, Henderson said.

JUMP aims to help the poorer kids who attend public schools.

For instance, the group recently built an indoor bathroom complex in an Alexandria preschool (called a "child and infant school" in Jamaica). Basins, toilets and showers were installed to replace outdoor bathroom facilities. A reservoir was built to capture rainwater to provide water to the school.

Because of the mountainous terrain, reservoirs are the common way to provide water there, by funneling rainwater off high ground and saving it in a higher-elevation pool that uses gravity to serve as a sort of water tower.

The group earlier built a 26-by-60 foot dining room addition at a high school in Alexandria that serves 1,500 to 2,000 students.

"They were running around trying to hold on to their dishes," Henderson said.

At an all-age school serving 300 to 400 students in Abouker, a nearby district, JUMP built a two-story learning/reading/

computer room, Bramwell said.

"We had it all done in one year," he said.

In the Watt Town district, the group is building a smaller reading room and computer room for the school kids.

The project was started last year, but only one JUMP team made the trip, so funds were too short to finish it. The project will be finished this year, when either two or three teams visit for 11 days each in January and February.

There are now 23 people signed up to go, but organizers hope to attract enough volunteers for three teams of 10 people per team.

"But we aren't always able to get that many people recruited," said board member Sherry Thompson. "The more people that go, the more money we can put towards that project."

Ideally, at least two of the 10 volunteers on each team will be older teens, she said.

"We do an extensive amount of work with kids themselves as part of the mission," Thompson added. "If one person (local teen) gets interested, they can get a friend to go."

The idea is not so much to send laborers as cultural ambassadors, she continued.

"We don't want anyone to think they have to be big and strong and do construction work in order to go," Thompson said. "They can be in a classroom all day with the kids -- they love it and the teachers encourage it."

Most construction work is done by paid local workers, to help the local economy, Thompson said.

And there's a fringe benefit for volunteers, Bramwell said.

"It's not only work, there is also much play," he said. "During the course of the week, we take side visits to the beach, to sightsee, to go shopping..."

Those interested in taking the trip have to act soon. There's an October deadline for applicants, in order to give organizers time to get airplane reservations and make sure passports are in order.

The group also needs time to learn to work together.

"We meet as a team and do team-building projects," Thompson said. "We decide what we will do down there, since we also work with the locals and do projects with the kids."

To volunteer, call Thompson at 847-6099.

Want to help the cause?

Buy a pie.

JUMPs biggest fund-raiser of the year is its pie sale in November, in which it sells fresh-frozen apple pies that can be baked anytime.

Pies can be purchased from any JUMP member.

Or skip the pie and send donations to JUMP at P.O. Box 64, Detroit Lakes, MN, 56502. Money goes to school improvements in Jamaica.

Need more information? The group's Web site is www.jump-mission.org.

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