Friday, May 7, 2010

Peace Corps Response Newsletter (Refugee)

Hello friends and family. Well it has been sometime since my last update. But, I figured I would share with you the article I finished writing today for the Peace Corps Impact Newsletter. It is meant to sum up my overall work in Jamaica and my overall feelings towards the program. I hope you enjoy it :-)

"Peace Corps Refugee"

By Eric Barnett
PCV Mauritania 2008-2009
PCRV Jamaica 2009-2010

My path to the Peace Corps Response was a little different than most. I was evacuated from Peace Corps Mauritania in August 2009 after 15 months of service. I was left feeling defeated, as if my Peace Corps experience and home was taken away from me for something beyond my control; I was essentially a refugee. Yet, I wanted to continue my service in some capacity and Peace Corps Response was my best option. What really appealed to me was being able to choose where I would be sent and the shorter time frame.

I am a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Jamaica and am assigned to work with the Negril area Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT). NEPT is the managing organization for the Royal Palm Reserve, an eco-tourism attraction in Negril. I was charged with developing a new marketing strategy and writing a new marketing plan for the Reserve, which has been a great transition from my work in Mauritania where I was a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer. Thus far my work in Jamaica has presented me with a unique challenge; because this is the first time my work is so environmentally focused. I have for all intensive purposes, become a conservationist.

The Royal Palm Reserve is a 130 acre nature reserve built in the Negril wetlands in the late 1980s. The Reserve is home to the largest stand of the endemic Jamaican Royal Palm and also boasts one of the largest flocks of the West Indian Whistling Duck, an endangered species. Being an eco-tourism attraction, the Royal Palm Reserve and NEPT are at the forefront of environmental issues in Jamaica. Subsequently, when creating the marketing plan, I have had to take into account completely new aspects, like sustainability.

My favorite aspect of the Peace Corps Response was being able start working almost immediately. Peace Corps recognize the fact that you are already well versed in cultural adaptation and gives you a greater degree of freedom. My training only lasted 5 days, before I was in Negril starting my assignment! Also, knowing that my assignment is only 6 months, the incentive to work is ever-present. A friend of mine basically explained Peace Corps Response as being the same thing as Peace Corps Graduate School and that’s really how it feels for me.

I am currently in my final month of my service with Peace Corps Response, and my experience in Jamaica has given a sense of closure for my overall service. I no longer feel as if I have had my life displaced and it has been truly wonderful being able to see my work through. In other words, this refugee has found his way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Work Everyday

So I apologize about the amount of time that has passed since my last blog update. Work has actually been pretty crazy as of recently. Which is really a nice change compared to my service in Mauritania. In Mauritania, being a regular Peace Corps Volunteer, I was expected to find work on my own. Which can be a really challenging task. Here in Jamaica however, being a Peace Corps Response Volunteer, my job is very defined.

So far the majority of my time has been spent on conducting market research (via focus groups, customer testimonials, and competition research) and also starting preliminary promotion for the actual Royal Palm Reserve itself. Also, I have set up a new blog for NEPT (Negril area Environmental Protection Trust) and the Reserve. Check it out at:

This will give you a better idea of what is going on with the organization I am working with and the activities I am working on here.

Finally, I wanna give big ups to Cyn Nishimura, thank you for continuing to follow my blog here on I really appreciate it :-)

Random Act of Kindness: Helped Sandy carry her bike up the flight of stairs to the office we work in.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Little Cottage in Negril (music video)

To all the people following my blog on facebook. I'm not sure if the video will show up when it transfers from my regular blog. If you can't see it, please go to:

Negril in a Coconut Shell

From a little cottage in Negril,
I wrote these lines to you.
From a little cottage in Negril,
I realized I love you still.

Its an amazing thing this time around to have a site that is actually popular enough to have a song and music video written about it. The song by Duane Stephenson, really does a wonderful job catching the essence of Negril...

To everyone in Jamaica, Negril is often referred to as the "Capital of Casual." The vibes of this city are much more mellow than what you find on the rest of the island, which is saying a lot since Jamaica as a whole is laid back.... The crime rate is significantly lower here and the people just seem to have a better outlook on life. Being surrounded by positive people is a true blessing everyday :-)

From the minute I step outside of my hillside Jamaican yard house, I am surrounded by the soothing aromas of jerk seasoning, cooking food, fruit, the sea, and ganja. They mix together and form the smell that encompasses the town. From what I have read Negril proper is only home to about 5000-6000 Jamaicans. Although, it does feel like it is a little bigger than that; I think mainly do to the number of Jamaicans who come to work here and the number of tourists who are in the area too.

Negril itself is divided into 3 distinct parts:

Beach End:
The first part is known as the beach end. This is home to the famous 7 mile white sand beach. It truly is an amazing site and dream to walk down. The sea on this end is perhaps some of the calmest ocean waters I have ever seen. It is a beautiful turquoise blue color and crystal clear. The beach road is lined of either side with hotels and restaurants. They start off with the smaller ones, that give Negril its "Capital of Casual" feel and eventually segway into the large resorts. The resorts are far enough away though that most people don't notice it.

West End / Cliff Side:
The second part is known as the west-end or cliff side. This part is known for its distinct sea-side cliffs, as apparent from the name of it. The cliff side is a little less touristy, but not too much. There if cliff diving and snorking into the deep blue waters that surround it. This is available at a good portion of the bars and hotels. I have tried the cliff diving and it is pretty spectacular!! :-) This side of the Negril is also home to the world famous Rick's Cafe (although I have yet to go there haha). Can be a little tough on a Peace Corps budget to live like a tourist. I am personally a fan of all the small local bars that run along the cliff side too.

The Hills:
Finally the third part (the part I live in!) is known as he hills! This part is built in the hills that are located behind the main drags of Negril. This is where the majority of the Jamaicans who reside in Negril, have their homes. It has a distinctly more Jamaican feel to it. Characterized by its lush green hills and beautiful little communities built into the hill side. Its such a peaceful place (with the exception of the 24/7 reggae music! amazing though haha).

So all three of these parts of Negril meet in the central round-about (pictured above) and form what is known internationally as the "Capital of Casual"

Random Act of Kindness: Cooked dinner twice for my land-lord Romaine. He actually liked my American cooking! I was pretty proud needless to say haha...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ok Jamaica, I am impressed…

So my first two weeks here in country have really been a completely different Peace Corps experience for me. From the moment I stepped off the plane and was immediately slapped in the face with some of the most humid weather I have ever experienced; to becoming familiar with my new Jamaican yard community and the workings of it, Peace Corps Jamaica has been a thrill.

In my mind, Jamaica is basically proving to be the anti-Mauritania. Jamaica is the Bugs Bunny to Mauritania’s Elmer Fudd. Of course I am speaking about the country itself and not the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is pretty much amazing no matter what country it functions in (Come on fellow RIM volunteers ;-), did you really expect me to forget my roots haha). So anyhow, from what I have heard and seen on the ground here, is that Jamaica is home to more churches and bars per capita than any other country in the world. Really kind of a crazy contrast when you think about it…then again you might not have to think that hard about it. Honestly though, that type of statement might explain Jamaica better than any other one. For me, it has been a country of two different worlds. The world the tourists experience (which is pretty awesome) and the world of the Jamaicans (also pretty fricken awesome). It’s just a matter of where you go…

Being in Negril, it gives me the opportunity to essentially see both sides of the equation. When I am on the main drag, many Jamaicans confuse me for a regular tourist and thus treat me accordingly (or they think I’m Jamaican…that is until I open my mouth). But basically, they will try to sell me something. Although I cannot blame-em; gotta make that money son!! (note: that was American slang, not Jamaican lol). However, when people find out that I am working here, it’s a new game. There is a good deal of respect that goes along with that. Also, the Peace Corps being popular enough that lots of people know about it is a new experience too. Kind of nice, not gonna lie.

So in a nut-shell so far, I have truly been enjoying myself. The other volunteers have been absolutely amazing to me and are doing their best to show me the ropes around the country. They have also been going out of their way to really make sure that I feel welcome and part of the group. That really means a lot to me. All in all I feel like I am catching on pretty quickly….all things considered. I would equate it to learning your second foreign language- it’s a little easier the second time around but still a challenge in its own right.

Dear RIM volunteers:

Two days ago I had a free dinner at an all inclusive resort on a business meeting and yesterday I had lunch on the beach while enjoying a cold Red Stripe (hate me haha)….

Love ya,

Hey I didn’t say being a volunteer in Jamaica didn’t have its perks! Oh it does and they’re great lol…

Random Act of Kindness: The organization I work for here is currently sponsoring a Clean Farming Initiative/Contest for local farmers. Yesterday we visited Ms. Nesbeth's farm near Negril and during our entire visit I carried her backpack for her. Chivalry is not dead ladies..

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On the Ground in Jamaica

Well its been two whole days since we landed on the ground in Kingston Jamaica. Myself and two other volunteers (Patricia from Massachusetts and Debra from Illinois) flew in together from Miami on Monday evening.

Normally when you join the Peace Corps, you have 8-10 weeks of training in country. Since we are working for the Peace Corps Response, our training has been reduced to 5 days!! We will be sworn in on Friday as volunteers...crazy I know, but gotta say its actually kind of refreshing....

So far, everything has just been truly amazing here. The staff so far has been amazingly nice and have been a lot of fun to get to know. On top of that, The Peace Corps office actually used to be a recording studio!!

Kingston itself actually reminds me a lot of Dakar Senegal. Which is great because it feels kind of familiar, but I also have to catch myself because I want to greet everyone in Wolof and French lol. I constantly have to keep reminding myself, no Eric they speak English. Kind of a fun lil challenge... although I do kind of miss having English reserved as a secret tongue amongst Americans...

Well, I should read some of my manuals. Its a lot more self teaching this time around. My next post I will go more into detail about what the country itself has been like so far. The culture is truly unique...

New Beginning in Jamaica Mon

So as most of you know, recently the Peace Corps suspended the volunteer program in Mauritania back in August. Since then, I applied for and got a position with the Peace Corps Response in Jamaica (where I am right now).

In case your are not familiar, the Peace Corps Response is basically the graduate school of the Peace Corps world. You had to have already served successfully in another country before applying. Peace Corps Response is meant to address very specific needs of an organization or country. In my case, I will be working with the Negril Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT) to help increase tourism to their Royal Palm Reserve in Negril Jamaica. Essentially, I will be helping them to rewrite their current marketing plan and find innovative ways to entice people to visit the reserve. I will be at this post for 6 months (Nov 30, 2009-June 2, 2010).

Anywho, please keep up with my blog and I will be keeping you updated mon...