Seton Hill University music students travel to Jamaica over spring break

Seton Hill University music students, including Alexandra Nash, Janie Wilcox, Amanda Ascencio, Katelyn Smith and Bridget Deveney, smile for a photo at the primary school in Harmons, Jamaica with the fifth grade students. Photo courtesy of A.Nash.

Spring break is a time of relaxation for some and vacation for others, but for 15 Seton Hill University students and two faculty members, their spring break consisted of helping those in need.

From March 4-11, the group of predominantly music therapy majors traveled to Jamaica, where they spent time in the village of Harmons. The trip was organized by Sarah McMeekin, instructor of music therapy at SHU. McMeekin said she wanted to try traveling somewhere new, since SHU’s last three mission trips have all been to the Dominican Republic.

Junior music therapy major Alexandra Nash plays the djembe and senior music therapy major JoAnna Ayala plays the guitar during the students’ visit to the infirmary in Harmons, Jamaica as part of Seton Hill University’s mission trip from March 4-11. Photo courtesy of A.Nash.

“I really enjoy the Caribbean culture,” McMeekin said. “It’s very laid back, nobody’s in a rush. It’s very different than American culture.”

The group traveled to Jamaica with the State College Alliance Church as part of the Won by One to Jamaica organization, and their large group built two houses for individuals in Harmons. SHU’s students also spent time doing music therapy sessions with students and interacting with patients in an infirmary.

Junior music therapy major Alexandra Nash wrote a music therapy session for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade about emotions, where one of her activities was giving the students percussion instruments and asking them to play how they thought different emotions would feel.

“It was great because I love to travel, and I’ve been wondering how I can take music therapy outside of the United States, and this is a great way to do that,” Nash said. “This was a cool way to get our feet wet in the international music therapy world.”

Along with the music therapy sessions, the students also read scripture and did activities like painting fingernails and coloring with the patients in the infirmary. According to McMeekin, the infirmary patients were mainly adults whose families could not or did not want to take care of them.

Junior music therapy major Jasmine Andrews and senior music therapy major JoAnna Ayala interact with students at the primary school in Harmons, Jamaica during their mission trip. Photo courtesy of J.Andrews.

“Especially in Jamaica, they don’t really have healthcare, so they don’t have things like therapy,” Nash said. “Even just using music and incorporating the therapeutic aspects of it is great. It helps them even though they might not be looking for it, and it also broadens our horizons globally with different music.”

While Nash traveled on a similar trip to the Dominican Republic last year, the trip to Jamaica was a new experience for Jasmine Andrews, a junior music therapy major at SHU. Andrews wanted to help people outside of the United States and build relationships with people from another culture.

“Their kind, accepting, welcoming, positive and overall demeanors reminded me to be grateful and kind to everyone,” Andrews said. “The world would be a better place if everyone were more like the people in Jamaica.”

Although many natives speak the Jamaican Patois language, they also speak fluent English, which helped bridge the cultural gap between the two groups.

Junior music therapy major Jasmine Andrews paints the nails of an infirmary patient in Harmons, Jamaica. Photo courtesy of J.Andrews.

“We really were able to apply the knowledge that we have gained from our Seton Hill professors, especially when we were in the infirmary and in the classrooms,” Andrews said. “Music was a great way to engage both of those populations.”

One activity that stuck out to McMeekin was participating in a faith walk around Harmons with a villager called “Big Man” to interact and pray with villagers.

“It was very intimate and really gave us a chance to get to know the people of the village and their struggles,” McMeekin said. “What I found was that a lot of the struggles that they have are the same struggles that we have. Here we are in a completely different culture, away from home, and yet they still have the same struggles and things that we do every day here.”

Another opportunity that McMeekin enjoyed was partaking in the Meals on Heels program, where families in the community would prepare meals for the people who provided them with food and eat together.

Seton Hill University students and faculty pose by the entrance sign to Harmons, Jamaica during their mission trip from March 4-11. All of the students who participated were music majors and had the opportunity to conduct music therapy sessions with students in primary school and infirmary patients. Photo courtesy of A.Nash.

“I think what always sticks with me when I come back is that the people have nothing, and yet they have more joy than people who seem to have everything,” McMeekin said. “Some of them don’t have basic running water, they don’t have a toilet, they’re lucky if they have food every couple days, and yet they’re so joyful, and we were complaining because we didn’t have our cell phones for the week. It really puts things into perspective.”

McMeekin said she is already planning next year’s trip, and she is considering going to an orphanage in Haiti. Along with McMeekin, Nash and Andrews said they would encourage students to participate in future trips, regardless of their major.

“There’s something that you can get out of it, whether it’s traveling and experiencing a different culture, or just helping people, or even the spiritual aspect of it,” Nash said. “Being on mission compound really allows a lot of reflection to find yourself or find God or anything you might be looking for.”

Published By: Paige Parise

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