I discovered Divas in Paradise after doing my rounds through ‘black travel goals’ IG, and knew I had to find out more from its brilliant founder and managing director: Jade Whyne.
Divas in Paradise is an international team of collaborators and entreprenuers all coming together to curate bespoke travel experiences, in different tropical settings, to divas from around the world… sharing, inspiring and having fun!
Enjoy the interview!
1. So, Jade, who are you and what makes you smile?
I am a global citizen who runs a travel company offering volunteering and empowering experiences, predominantly to the Caribbean. What makes me smile? Let me think… Travel!
Tell us a bit about your background working with NGOs and charities.
I’ve worked with a number of NGOs and Charities in Jamaica, Ecuador and here in the UK; Mainly designing and delivering workshops to young people in areas relating to violence prevention, sexual health, relationships and business enterprise.
I hold a degree in International Development and my initial goal was to work in a field that caters to helping people. It was while working on a project in Kingston, Jamaica – delivering a violence prevention course – that I had a sort of light bulb moment. Tourism is the island’s biggest employer and earner, yet most locals don’t have the qualifications to participate in the sector – as a result, the benefits don’t filter through. That’s how V2 started – giving participants an opportunity to see Jamaica from a local perspective, ensuring we employ local staff and make sure the money spent reaches the local economy.
So, I’ve done a bit of digging and discovered that you also manage ‘Volunteer and Vacation’. Tell us more!
Yes, I started V2 Volunteer & Vacation in 2013; we offer volunteering experiences in the Caribbean. V2 operates in Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, we have volunteering projects in: animal care, social and community development, teaching, equine therapy and veterinary medicine. When participants are not volunteering they enjoy a unique holiday, visiting top attractions and hidden gems. V2 is all about allowing people to discover the Caribbean and give back to local communities.
Divas in Paradise launched in 2016, catering to a sisterhood of conscientious women who love to travel, learn and most of all support and uplift one another. We curate bespoke travel experiences in different tropical settings so we can soak up the sun! What’s different about Divas in Paradise is that we offer sisterhood workshops (can you see a pattern here with me and workshops?) Each workshop is run by an inspirational diva, an expert in their field, who delivers an interactive and engaging session working on some of the issues that impact us most; black love, self-love, careers and family
What has been the biggest challenge running these volunteer programmes?
There are no particular challenges. However, managing volunteers’ expectations is probably the hardest thing that we have to do. The idea of the Caribbean vs. the reality of living there is quite different. We work very hard to ensure volunteers are prepared and informed about what life is really like in a tropical paradise.
What has the general feedback been like?
All participants have genuinely loved the program. Of course, everyone has had their frustrations and challenges, like adjusting to the different ways of managing time, in other words the ‘soon come’ mentality.
Overall, volunteers come back feeling rewarded, having learnt about a different culture and a lot about themselves also. Most of our volunteers have a changed perspective, which I think is one of the most powerful things; breaking stereotypes and changing opinions. Imagine if Trump did a V2 experience in Somalia or Yemen lived with a local family, learnt about their culture, gained a real perspective and saw that not all Muslims are terrorists!
Where in the Caribbean are you from?
I was born in the UK but spent my childhood in Jamaica.
Where are your top 3 must-see places to visit in the Caribbean, and what would you recommend for those who have never been but want to have an ‘authentic’ experience?
Obviously, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba. If you have never travelled to the Caribbean before book with a small local company, these are the best at providing an authentic experience whilst ensuring you are safe and providing you with some of the comforts of home. There are some amazing companies out there providing some truly immersive and engaging experiences.
How did you manage to collaborate with the ladies of ‘CURLture UK’ for the upcoming ‘Divas in paradise’ trip to Trinidad and Tobago?
The power of an email! I sent over an email and the synergy just happened from there. Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to connect. See other people/businesses as collaborators and not as competitors.
And speaking of travelling: which country/city is your absolute favourite, or one you’d love to visit but haven’t yet?
Not sure I have a favourite city or country; I do love Trinidad – the food and the landscape. I would love to go to Morocco and Costa Rica.
Have you had any really horrible experiences as a traveller of colour, and do you have any tips for solo women of colour travellers who are hesitant about extensive international travel for these reasons?
Out of all the places I have lived and travelled Spain has to be the worst experience I’ve had – the stares, comments and overall treatment. However, there is a cool sisterhood group called Las Morenas de Espana that provide a community of women of colour living and travelling in Spain. See anywhere you want to travel to? Someone of colour has been there and is able to give you some tips.
My overall advice is to be aware of the local and historical constructs of your race. For example in Latin American it’s common and not seen as offensive to call someone ‘negrita’ (a word for black stemming from the word ‘negro’). Women of colour are also hyper sexualised, so do prepare for stares and sexual advances.
In Spain, for example, I am perceived to be Dominican, an immigrant group that has its own negative stereotypes. Being aware of what your skin represents is key to travelling overseas! In no way should it stop you. The more we travel, the more people become used to seeing us, and we become seen as tourists and not as rare strangers.
How important is sisterhood to you?
Sisterhood is everything to me. Sisterhood to me means a social and professional network of women who you can reach out to, who support you and can help uplift you. Being able to call a fellow diva to look over a corporate brochure or ask her to shout out an up-and-coming event on her social media is invaluable.
Would you say there has been a rise in travellers seeking to get more of that ‘off the beaten track’ experience?
Travel is now more accessible and affordable than ever before. We want to connect with locals and the places we visit. Today, it’s all about discovering and immersing ourselves in new destinations. I think the generation before was too busy working hard to pay a mortgage that the annual leave was all about relaxing and pampering at a hotel. Millennials want to experience more; we want to see what lies beyond the hotel and what life is really like.
Cornmeal porridge or banana porridge?
Hominy porridge! But if I have to choose between the two its banana porridge. I still have nightmare about being forced to eat cornmeal porridge as a child.. Like why does everyone else have corn flakes and I got to eat this? Wickedness!
Ha! Curry goat or Oxtail?
I’m a vegetarian so Chana (curry chickpeas) all the way!
Sorrel or rum punch?
Sorrel with rum.
Arroz y pollo or chicken and fries?
Quorn chicken and fries.
We’re ready to let you take us under your wing! Where do we sign up?!
Elisia Traveller has been granted permission to use these images.]
Jade has a BA in International Development and an MA in Caribbean and Latin American studies. She has experience working with NGOs and charities.