Last week Jamaica celebrated its national Labour Day (May 23rd). Not knowing differently, I assumed the island holiday would play out similarly to the American Labor Day I always knew: characterized by rest, cookouts, and time with family and friends.
Both Jamaican and U.S. Labour/Labor Days recognize the working class for contributions made to overall country development and prosperity. But, it took me until day of, after quite a few “what are you doing for Labour Day?” conversations to realize the island celebrates in a way specific to Jamaican culture.
Yes, banks, restaurants, and schools close, but instead of idling, people give their free time up to engage in meaningful community projects. Projects that, to be honest, wouldn’t likely be possible otherwise.
I spent Labour Day how I normally would, caring for the residents of Mustard Seed Communities (MSC). However I noticed that town did not have its normal congested, everyone-on-the-move, Tuesday morning vibe.
The fruit man in Mandeville Center, after peeling an orange in perfect Jamaican fashion, said I was lucky to have caught him. He was just heading to repaint his former primary school with a group of alumni. “Gotta give back to the roots,” he commented with sincerity. Shortly after, as I passed through Spur Tree, a group of men mended an old pothole in the road (one of many, many potholes in Jamaica). And when I arrived at Mustard Seed, a group of women and children from a local parish came to renovate our residents’ dorms. (My little friend Malique, pictured below, was thrilled to see new faces painting his bedroom)
I could give multiple accounts of service from that day, both witnessed and relayed, but each were driven by one collective purpose: to create a better life for our children and children’s children to thrive.
Through observation alone, Jamaica has shown me many truths about living and happiness: there is intrinsic value in hard work beyond a working salary. Small and humble acts of kindness are often the most meaningful. There are teachings found in every interaction, from your morning taxi driver to the clerk at the corner store to your closest friend.
Jamaica’s Labour Day, in essence, reinforces these truths. But what I love about the holiday is that it also reveals a greater truth, one that Jamaica holds in such high esteem that it shapes the country’s national motto: we as “one people” are infinitely more impactful than we ever could be as individuals.