Giving Back in Jamaica
By Kathleen Powderley
When Shayla and Nathan of Nova Scotia were planning their destination wedding, they knew they wanted to give back to the community where they would marry.
Their destination of choice was Jamaica. They had their first romantic vacation in this Caribbean island, staying at the Riu Ochos Rios. “We chose Jamaica for our wedding because it is a place we keep coming back to,” said Shayla. “We absolutely love the culture. The people are so friendly and the food is amazing, and you just feel welcomed by everyone.”
They decided that instead of receiving wedding gifts, they would ask guests to make a donation to go towards a local school. What started out as a gift suggestion for wedding guests went nationwide after an online crowdfunding account went viral via social media. The initial fundraising goal was $1,500 but they raised $3,735.
For this couple, it was important for them to give back, as Jamaica – a country of beautiful beaches and lush parks – had captured their hearts for many years.
Shayla and Nathan were high school sweethearts who met in 2005 and went to prom together. Nathan proposed during a family trip to Disney World in April 2015. They started planning their wedding almost immediately.
To help them make their wedding dreams come true, Shayla turned to Sharon Loppie of Time 2 Travel, Travelonly, who is a Destination Vows specialist – and the bride’s mother. The wedding was held in May 2016 at the Riu Ocho Rios. “We wanted to rekindle that magical feeling we felt here when we first visited and share it with our guests,” said Shayla.
Riu Ocho Rios did not disappoint, thanks, in part, to the resort’s wedding specialist Keisha Adams. She was in constant communication with them prior to arriving and immediately upon arrival. The entire experience was made stress-free because of her attention to detail and her availability from the time they disembarked from the plane, through their rehearsal and right up to and through the ceremony.
The ceremony was held on the beach close to the bright blue water’s edge and shared with 60 guests seated on white covered chairs with spa-coloured ties around the back of each one. Each aisle was adorned with an elegant floral arrangement created by a local florist. The bride and groom, and their bridal party, were framed by a breathtaking floral arch created specifically to match their wedding colours, spa and coral.
To add a personal touch and extra meaning, Shayla and Nathan flew their pastor there to perform the ceremony, and they both wrote and read their own vows. They also added a sand ceremony to join the two families. Also known as a ‘blending of the sands’, the pouring of two different coloured sands together is used to symbolize the joining of the bride and groom or the joining of their families. “It was beyond our expectations and simply beautiful,” said Shayla.
In the days leading to the wedding, the couple and their guests visited a local school which Sharon had identified by working with the country’s Ministry of Education.
With the funds raised, they were able to bring more than 10 suitcases full of classroom supplies and six Samsung tablets. They also purchased and packed basketballs, soccer balls and volleyballs for the kids. And, along the lines of wedding favours, the couple made every child at the school their own surprise favour bag of candy and treats.
They brought their gifts and also presented a cheque of US$1,500 to the school.
“They had a hand-made welcome banner for us, the children greeted us with a beautiful welcome song and poem, and the kids were exuding excitement,” Shayla explained. “We toured and learned about the school and presented our gifts. At the end of our visit, we gave each child one candy bag and the smiles on their faces brought me to tears. Next to our wedding ceremony, it was the best part of our trip.”