Testimonial by Chris Panetta, one of our long term volunteers


From the very first moment we set foot in Jamaica we were awestruck with the beauty of the island, its culture, vibe and most of all the warmth of its people.

Like many, our early visits were pretty much confined to soaking up the sunshine, tranquility and taking in the laid-back vibe of the beautiful resorts on the island. We discovered Couples Resorts on our second trip to the island and, from that moment, we knew we had discovered something truly unique and special – a place that we would long to return to year after year for over 15 years now. Our desire to return to this incredible slice of heaven only intensified as the years went on often returning “Home” two, sometimes even three, times a year when possible. Being an avid photographer, my visual senses often would go into overdrive during our trips as it seemed everywhere I turned or looked there was something of beauty or interest that I felt compelled to capture for personal remembrances and to share with others. My eyes were fascinated by the ever-shifting light, color and natural beauty within the resorts. Capturing it all became somewhat of an obsession and it seemed at times I could barely walk 20 feet without having to stop and take a picture often times much to the dismay of my wife…thanks for being patient and supportive of my passion over the years, Deb.

As time went on, we began stepping outside the gates of the resort, at first just to visit some of the local eating establishments and attractions. Never did I imagine these first experiences outside the gates would lead to an ever-greater desire to explore and capture what I now think of as the “real” Jamaica. I found with each trip a yearning to go deeper into the country to explore the natural beauty, see its people as they really live and to learn more about their culture and customs. This desire ultimately culminated in an all-day adventure exploring beautiful coastlines and coastal towns before turning inward to go through the back roads, mountains and interior of Jamaica between Negril & Ochi. What an awakening that trip was for us. My (our) perspective of Jamaica forever changed on that day, not only from how much natural beauty existed outside the walls of the resorts in the countryside, but also a realization and appreciation for the simpleness and challenges of life outside the place we all call paradise and home. Yet perhaps one of the greatest impressions left upon our minds from that adventure was a realization that there is truly genuine warmth and an almost unbreakable spirit of optimism and hope in the people of Jamaica despite many having so little. It’s hard to explain, but, in what so many might see as difficulty and sadness, we witnessed so much happiness and gratitude for life and family.

Over the years prior to my involvement with the Issa Trust Foundation, we had developed several deep personal relationships and connections with some in Jamaica. Real relationships built on mutual respect for each other that last to this day. We have been welcomed into their homes to meet and celebrate with their family & friends and they have, likewise, been welcomed into ours. We have prepared meals together, sitting at the same table with their children and, likewise, they have here with our children, grandchildren and friends. We have been invited to join in celebrations of life & death and have always been welcomed by so many with open, loving arms. This is the true spirit and warmth of the Jamaican people we have come to know. It is these early relationships and experiences that surely helped form a foundation of understanding, awareness and compassion that would eventually prepare the way for my involvement with the Issa Trust Foundation.

Perhaps no other event would more dramatically influence and change the course of my personal destiny than a chance meeting of two other resort guests who were planning to take school supplies to the children through the Couples / Issa Trust Foundation School Excursion Program. I was fascinated by their eagerness and sense of responsibility and grateful for the invitation to join them. The next day, with camera in hand, I boarded a bus with them and several others and set off into the hills outside of Ocho Rios to get a firsthand view of school life of the children of Jamaica. We spent several hours together touring the school, speaking with teachers and administrators, sitting in classrooms with the children as they did their lessons. I remember being completely overwhelmed by the stark contrast of my own school life as a child as compared to theirs and how very little the students and teachers seemed to have in terms of resources, equipment, supplies & facilities and how antiquated or broken everything seemed to be that they did have. It was like stepping back in time…way back in time. My eyes and heart would soon become filled with joy as the children exploded out of the classrooms into the courtyard for recess / lunch, almost seeming oblivious to us as they darted about us with so much enthusiasm and happiness going about their business. Girlfriends walking arm in arm while groups of boys chased each other around the courtyard, everyone gathering at the community drinking fountains to quench their thirsts and interact before darting or skipping off elsewhere. I remember thinking to myself children are children everywhere…. their eyes wide open to the world, full of happiness, wonderment and hope. I couldn’t help but wonder what might become of them in time when they would one day face the harsh realities and challenges of their world that lay ahead which for now seemed so distant in their minds. I will never forget their initial shyness, their ultimate curiosity and their eventual openness to us being amongst them. It’s such an incredible feeling when you earn a one child’s trust and suddenly find yourself surrounded by so many smiling curious little faces. I still carry that same feeling of joy with me to this day every time I get to go see them. It was during these moments here that I took my very first of what would eventually become many thousands of photos of the children of Jamaica, and it was here that I first became familiar and appreciative of the amazing work being done by the Issa Trust Foundation. I would leave this experience with the children with an even greater consciousness of the struggles of others and a greater appreciation of who and what the Foundation is and does for the children and people of Jamaica. Thank you, Elizabeth & Steve, for your humanity and opening my eyes on that day and for your ongoing amazing friendship.

Upon my return home, I reviewed and processed the photographs I had taken and thought the images might be useful in helping tell the story of the Foundation so I reached out to Diane Pollard, President and CEO of the Issa Trust Foundation asking if she might be able to put them to some good use. She gratefully accepted them. With this first experience with the children and Foundation still fresh in my mind, a short while later I learned of an upcoming Vision Mission and reached back out to Diane asking if I could volunteer my photography skills to help capture the event. Mission budgetary constraints however at the time did not afford for her to offer me that opportunity. I so deeply wanted to be part of the amazing work being done that I decided I would reach back out to Diane again and offer to pay my own way and expenses to be a part of the effort. I am so very thankful she decided to accept my offer. Thus, began what has been an incredible 5+ year journey and friendship with one of the most inspiring motivated persons I have ever had the privilege to meet and work with.

It would be impossible in such limited space to speak of all the incredible and emotional experiences of the many medical, educational, vision, and general humanitarian related missions I have been on with the Issa Trust Foundation since that moment. So let it suffice to say a picture is worth a thousand words and I hope I have served the Foundation well in this capacity of helping them visually convey the needs of the children and people of Jamaica as well as assembling and sharing the extraordinary visual stories of the Foundation’s humanitarian efforts. I am truly incredibly blessed and fortunate to be a part of such an amazing organization and cause.

Without a doubt, these have been some of the most gratifying and fulfilling moments of my life. I am in constant awe of all the amazing people I have had the privilege to meet and work with on this incredible journey. So many unsung heroes who give so generously and unselfishly of their time and / or resources to make life a just a little better for others. It is an honor to call so many of them dear friends. I encourage you all, no matter what cause you choose to support, to consider being a force of positive change in the lives of others less fortunate. Reach out, volunteer your time, your skills, your knowledge and your resources for the betterment of the next person. I assure you no matter how slight the gesture of kindness it can come back to you tenfold and change your life in ways you could never imagine possible and most certainly result in a change in the lives of others forever.

God willing, I will be back in person as soon as we are able, to continue documenting the good work of the Issa Trust Foundation, Couples Resorts, the Issa family, Diane Pollard and all of the amazing people of the Foundation who so generously give of their time and all of you who contribute to the well-being of the children and people of Jamaica.

With utmost respect and gratitude. One love.

Chris Panetta, Photographer/Videographer

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