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Vanderbilt in Jamaica: Day 5

May 18, 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.

Vanderbilt's group spent Wednesday visiting Ferris Primary School, where they delivered shoes, played with children and helped with painting projects around the school.

Courtney Zeng, Women's Golf:
It was a beautiful, sunny morning as my roommate, Erin and I, walked to breakfast at 7:30 a.m. If someone were to tell me about my experiences today, I honestly wouldn't have believed them. Our trip officially began when we hopped onto the van and prepared for our hour drive into the mountainous and beautiful regions of Negril, when rain began pouring down on us. As we approached Ferris preparatory school, I could see the small children peeking through the rusty bars of the main classroom. Once we were inside the main room, the children's' sweet, and genuine smiles assured me that we were going to have an amazing day.

Music began blasting from our speaker and a couple of the kids immediately showed off their authentic Jamaican moves in a dance-off. Our main activities included painting all the surrounding walls with new paint as well as fitting each child with new shoes and small toys. Each item given out, whether it was a brand new pair of Toms or a tiny sticker, brought out the biggest smiles on these kids' faces. Interacting with the children today was such an eye-opening experience because every single child was so genuinely happy with what little they had, and even more so after we fitted them for their new shoes. It was a happiness that is so rare to find in this crazy world, especially when it's so easy to focus on all the materialistic things that come easily to us in the United States. I believe that their emotions of extreme gratitude, hope, and joy gave me more than I was able to give to them.

One of the girls, Danielle, talked about the United States as if it were a dreamland utopia, and how much she aspired to receive a university education in the U.S. While it made me feel proud to be an American, I was so grateful for the opportunity to teach her a little bit about our culture and show pictures of what it's like to attend such a prestigious university. Each child was so bright and full of life in their own way, and I have so much hope for their future dreams and goals, as well as Ferris Primary School because of the children who attend it.

I saw a quote on the walls by Frederick Douglass that read, "Once you learn to read, you are forever free". It struck a chord inside me as soon as I read it because each one of these children either walks or takes the public bus miles away from their home everyday, just to receive an education in hopes for a better life. The pouring rain didn't stop us from having a wonderful time, and most of all, it didn't stop the kids from receiving an education. I will always remember today and all the kids who made such a lasting impact on me. I am extremely grateful for Vanderbilt University and Soles for Soles for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a true difference.

Hadley Brown, Lacrosse:
Today was possibly one of the most incredible days of my life. This entire Soles4Souls trip has been amazing, but today was something special.

Our group traveled about an hour outside of Montego Bay into a more rural, mountainous region of Jamaica. We arrived at a primary school with about 60 students. The kids were sitting politely and quietly in their chairs and seemed a bit timid at first. As we encouraged the girls and boys to talk to us, one particularly incredible girl got up in front of her classmates and our group and started to sing the words of Disney's movie, Frozen. This small act was able to ease all of the children's nerves and they all joined in.

After the singing we asked the children to dance, to which we got a response of shy faces and heads shaking. That is, until we pulled out a speaker and I grabbed the hand of a little boy sitting in the front row of desks. The children slowly but more confidently joined in to the dance party and we had ourselves a blast. We all had sweat dripping off of our foreheads but I don't think I thought about the heat once while I was dancing with those kids. We were all having the times of our lives and the smiles on the kids' faces said it all

Later in the day after we had done some painting of their school building, it was time to give away shoes. Because of the ages of all of the children, we were able to give most of them colorful Toms, Converse and Adidas, which was so fun for us. To see a little girl's face when we slip her feet into a pair of shoes with flowers tattooing the fabric, or a little boy's face when we lace up his new blue Converse high tops, is such an awesome experience. The crisp white soles of the shoes were quickly dirtied after we started kicking soccer balls and jumping rope. But it added so much character to the shows and showed our whole group exactly how important these shoes are in these children's lives. I think we have our smallest pair of shoes away today to a one year old. The little boy sporting the orange striped Toms was one of the cutest things I've ever seen. It was so amazing to see him running around and to hear his mother thank us over and over again.

Today was one of the most exciting and touching days I've ever experienced, and I cannot wait to have another meaningful experience tomorrow. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this with Vanderbilt student-athletes.

Melanie Becker, Lacrosse:
Today we spent the entire day at a small school about an hour outside of Montego Bay. There were fewer than 100 children at the school that day, so we were able to interact with all of them individually. We talked to them all throughout the day and got to learn about them at a personal level, which made the shoe distribution even more special for us.

We started out by painting the outside of the school, and then spent a couple hours playing sports with the children. This was my favorite part of the day because we gave out some lacrosse sticks, which they had never seen before. It was fun to be able to teach them a new sport that they had never played and most of them had never heard of before. We left them with the sticks so they could continue to learn and they told us they would teach their friends how to play. I was so happy to hear this, as lacrosse is a growing sport that has yet to make its way all the way around the U.S., let alone to this part of the world.

The children told me their favorite sport was cricket, and they asked me if I had ever played before. When I told them I hadn't, they immediately set up a game of cricket for us to play, so they taught me a new sport, too. After playing sports for a while, we began giving out shoes to the children. It was so special to have made a connection with them from an athletic standpoint before giving them the shoes. We knew that through these shoes we would be giving them to ability to play sports in quality shoes long after we leave Jamaica.
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