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Voluntour Vacation on Jamaica’s South Coast

What happens when a group of NYU engineering and pre-med students hit Jamaica’s South Coast for their “Alt” Spring Break? Lots of Good Things!

PHOTOS: NICHOLAS A JOHNSON PHOTOGRAPHY

lexandra “Ali” Seidenstein is a faculty member of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, the founder of Kids Who Care, Inc., and a yoga teacher who spent three years in India, volunteering at children’s hospitals and orphanages. Ali, who grew up in New Jersey, is also an extended member of the Jakes family, having grown up coming to Treasure Beach with her family. Through the years, she saw firsthand the challenges faced by the small, but resilient, farming and fishing communities on Jamaica’s South Coast. That left an impression. 

These days, Ali spends more time in Brooklyn, at NYU, then she does far afield. Yet, it was while working with the bright, ambitious, and laser-focused engineering students that she realized many of them hadn’t yet had the chance to see the world as she had. One idea led to the next, and Ali enlisted her colleague, Sara-Lee Ramsawak, to collaborate on an alternative spring break volunteer trip to Jamaica’s South Coast. Students would come from NYU’s pre-med program (Ali and Sara are pre-med committee members) and the school’s Vertically Integrated Project group, FarmBytes. These pre-med and engineering students would stay at Jakes and visit the nearby schools and clinics. “I’ve always felt that these experiences are vital to individuals, and the global community,” says Ali.

How did it go? Here, in her own words, Ali tells all:

“My hope for this trip was that the NYU pre-med and engineering students would be able to provide attention, information, and care to the Treasure Beach community. I have deep familiarity with this area because I’ve been visiting Treasure Beach since I was a kid in the single digits. Through my close relationship with the Henzell family, I felt the BREDS foundation and Jakes would provide the perfect backdrop for cultural immersion and a platform for meaningful service for the NYU team. The group of students Sara and I brought down were mostly part of the vertical farm research team I mentor called ‘FarmBytes.’ The students created lessons around their vertical farm development, along with a small prototype they designed, built, and donated to Newell high school.

For the entire group, the magic of this trip happened in its unexpected moments, which left Sara and the students feeling that, in fact, Treasure Beach gave us even more in return that we had planned for. From day one — stepping in for teachers on strike at Newell High School — to finding ‘new heroes’ in nurses at Newell Clinic, to time spent listening to Jason tell us about BREDS with the ocean crashing behind us…I hope our group will continue to reflect on all these experiences throughout their lives.

Since returning to New York, many of the students have told me (as I expected might happen) that the kids at Newell High School and the people of St. Elizabeth taught them more than they thought possible. Because of this, they are already wanting to get more involved with volunteering. Truly, this was what I had hoped for from the start.”

This voluntour itinerary included three days volunteering at Newell High School, Newell Clinic, Southfield Clinic and, for the pre-med students, one day in the operating room in Black River Hospital. Next year, the plan will include NYU students to teaching at Newell High School (in particular, math, computer science, and physics). Additionally, Ali and her group plan to get more involved with EduSport, at the new Sports complex. As for Ali, she plans to teach yoga to kids and adults in the Treasure Beach community.  

Students on the trip included:

Anant Amar

Kelli Brush

Riccardo Consolo

Aria Dandawate

Amanda DiTrolio

Nelson Pereira

Avi Zurlo

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