Tanya Ashley wanted to do something. And with the help of her fellow Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) members, she's helping to make a difference.
Ashley, a senior political science major, recently returned from her home country of Jamaica, where she was part of an effort to restore a popular tourist rest stop near Faith's Pen, a village of 500 people.
"It's a rest area that has about 30 cook shops where people can stop and get food. The people cook it right in front of you," she explained. "It's losing traffic, though, and the tourist businesses is down to about nothing."
There are several reasons for that. A superhighway a half mile from the stop is being constructed that will allow people to bypass Faith's Pen completely. "The opening of the highway has been delayed indefinitely, so we have some time to help the businesses become more sustainable," she explained. Adding to the problem are windy, narrow roads that tourist buses shy away from.
Faith's Pen is located halfway between Ocho Rios, the country's tourist center, and Kingston, the capital and businesses center of the country. Over time, it became a popular halfway point rest area.
Ashley and five other SIFE members went to Faith's Pen on Oct. 5, where they spent five days taking stock of the situation, and coming up with solutions.
"I was born in Jamaica, and my dad and I were brainstorming one day about what kind of project we could do that would directly help businesses. I had been to Faith's Pen before, and had an idea what was happening," she said.
While in Jamaica, the group did marketing research - they interviewed vendors, customers and others to get a better understanding of the current clientele. A group will return in December and tackle the physical labor. "They'll be painting, cleaning up, training the vendors and then they'll return in the spring to see what was sustained from the December trip," said John Gochenouer, professor of business administration and SIFE advisor.
Culinology Director Michael Cheng will accompany the group in December, where he'll work with the vendors.
The rest area and its cook shacks are in disrepair, said Ashley. "They sell authentic Jamaican food - jerk chicken, curry goat, and the national dish, ackee and saltfish," she said. "The vendors are very aggressive; they'll come out and tap on your window, trying to get you to buy their food. Most of the places make the same type of food."
The SIFE group will get some financial help from several Rotary clubs, including the Marshall Sunrise Rotary Club. That money will go toward getting the restrooms up and operational. "Imagine going to a rest stop here and not having the restrooms work," said Gochenouer.
They've also partnered with the campus Marketing Club and the Student Hospitality Organization. The entire effort will involve making Faith's pen more presentable and sanitary, as well as marketing the location with the aid of billboards, brochures, menus and maps.
"We'd like to get fruit stands in there, also, plus some souvenir shops, and maybe include some evening entertainment," said Gochenouer.
"We'd like to enhance its reputation, make it so it's more of a destination, versus a convenience point," said Gochenouer.
Faith's Pen is well known in Jamaica, but has seen tourist businesses decline in recent years. Cleaning the place up, getting the infrastructure improved and helping the vendors in marketing and promotion efforts will hopefully bring it back to a viable, vibrant place, said Ashley.
"The people there have nothing. They have no vehicles, and they live in the mountains. They walk down to Faith's Pen to work every day," said Gochenouer.
You can see in Ashley's eyes her determination to help a well-known part of her native country. "It's an impoverished area, and if things don't get better, it will disappear."