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And Suddenly She Started to Sing: Music Therapy Majors Build Houses & Friendships in Jamaica

“This was a life-changing experience for the students and many came back realizing how blessed we are to be living in a country with so much,” says Music Therapy Instructor Sarah McMeekin in reference to Seton Hill’s 2018 spring break trip to Jamaica. From March 4-11, fourteen Seton Hill music therapy majors, one vocal performance major and two instructors lived, worked and worshipped with the people of Harmons, Jamaica. The trip was planned through an organization called Won by One to Jamaica, which seeks not only to help those in physical poverty by providing jobs and opportunities, but also to help those who struggle with social, emotional and spiritual poverty. 

“It breaks my heart to know that I’ll probably never get to see them again.”

  During their time in Harmons, Seton Hill students helped build two houses for families in need. When they weren’t working on the houses, they spent time in the schools and the infirmary for disabled adults, hauling rock, or working in the greenhouse. Each morning began with a bible study and devotion service, often led by a Harmons resident. Each night, the community held an event to bring everyone together, ranging from bingo night to a worship service to a dance party. 

The infirmary, which consisted of two buildings with about thirty beds each, had no walls, divisions, or even curtains to provide patients with privacy. Janie Wilcox, a junior music therapy major, notes that many of the patients were lonely and just wanted attention. “They wanted such simple things,” she says, “—to hold hands, sing, hear scripture. It was heartbreaking to see the conditions they were in, but they were so happy to spend time with us making music.” The music therapy students brought drums so the patients could play them and sing songs that they knew. Since music holds such importance in Jamaican culture, it worked well to help the students connect with the people of Harmons.

Janie recalls how music impacted a blind woman in the infirmary who never talked or sang. Since the woman was so intrigued with Janie’s ukulele, Janie showed her how to strum the strings. “Eventually I decided to put the ukulele down,” Janie says. “I reached for her hand and I started to sing ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ We moved our hands up and down to the beat of the song, and suddenly she started to sing with me. I know that for some, this may not seem like a big breakthrough, but there were people who didn’t believe in her ability to speak or sing. Once I showed her that I did believe in her ability, she showed me what she could do.” 

Music therapy played a part in the schools as well. Sophomore music therapy major Bridget Deveney helped lead a session in which the students made up songs and dances about different emotions to share with the class. 

Both Bridget and Janie emphasize the impact the community had on them. No matter where they spent their time in Harmons, the people were always welcoming, sharing stories and jokes. 

“The most important thing that I learned was that everyone has a story,” Bridget says of her experience. “Each one of us who went on the trip and all the people we met there has a story about their lives, and even if you don’t get to know someone, remembering that their lives are just as complicated and full as yours has helped me develop better relationships with people.”  

After spending so much time with the people, leaving wasn’t easy. “I fell in love with the people of Harmons, Jamaica and there’s a piece of my heart still there,” Janie says. “It breaks my heart to know that I’ll probably never get to see them again, but I loved every moment that I got.” 

Find out more about the Music Therapy Program or Spring Break Service Trips at Seton Hill.