Wow. It is hard to believe that the 2012 trip has come and gone - especially since it was my third and last time down to Belize with the W&M group. Having the perspectives of 5 returning upperclassmen (Me, Lauren, McClain, Erin and Meredith) and 9 new underclassmen/upperclassmen (Ashby, Meghan, Christina, Marisa, Punya, Patrick, Owen, James and Dom) made the trip that much more dynamic, and I can honestly say that I learned and grew more on this trip than on any other I had participated in.
Our first week (1/2-1/9) down in Belize was spent on Caye Caulker, an island off the coast and accessible by a 45 minute water taxi north from Belize City. While on the island we sought to organize a 3 day “Holiday Camp” (aka “Camp Awesome”) running from 9-11 and 1-3 that catered to children on the island ranging from Enfant 1 to Standard 6 (roughly ages 4-13). The camp was comprised of 4 stations: Health/Games, Environmental Awareness, Art, and Reading. The breakdown of activities in each station was as follows:
- HEALTH/GAMES - stretching, relay races, tag, etc.
- ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS - mural painting, knowledge of local flora/fauna, geography, tie-dye
- ART - Bracelet making (and lots of patience!)
- READING - story telling, letter writing (for a future pen pal project), and a photo scavenger hunt around the island on the last day
The camp was run in the classrooms and on the playgrounds of the only primary school on the island, Caye Caulker Roman Catholic School (CCRCS) under the support of the Principal Mrs. Beatrice Chan. The stations were run in 55 minute rotations, with a 10 minute break in the morning and the afternoon sessions for snacks (bananas, shilling waters, biscuits). The camp was also supported and orchestrated under the guidance of youth leaders from Ocean Academy and Joni Miller, who is a founder and director at OA.
Even after posting fliers around the island advertising our camp, on the first day of camp we only had 10 children. The attendance on the second day of camp doubled to 20 children. And that number nearly doubled again on the third and final day of camp to 39 children.
On the island the team also: spent a day on the nature reserve up north replanting mangrove seedlings and collecting litter through FAMROCC (Field And Marine Reserve of Caye Caulker), donated boxes of children’s books to the small public library on the island, and raked leaves at the public children’s park down near the spit built by Chocolate and his wife Annie (Chocolate is the man responsible for the creation of the manatee and marine reserve surrounding the island).
Some fun stuff we were able to work in during our time on the island was a snorkeling day trip in the Hol Chan Reserve (where we swam amongst bright sea coral with sea turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays and tropical fish), and we attended rooftop yoga at sunrise/sunset nearly every day.
Some more characters we met on the island included policeman and marine reserve ranger Kent Thompson and Tony Aguilar, a member of FAMROCC and the head of the guides on the island.
The entire team agreed that even though we enjoyed our week on Caye Caulker, only 4 days of work in the schools in Bermudian Landing was not enough time. Since our trip last year, the school district has undergone a complete transformation in the areas encompassing Flowers Bank, Bermudian Landing, Double Head and Rancho because of the government takeover of religious schools. Mrs. Marilyn Stevenson (our point of contact) is now the superintendent of the “Belize Rural School District” which is comprised of 4 Belize Rural Primary Schools (BRPS) at “sites” in Flowers Bank (formerly St. Stephens now Enfants 1, 2 and Standard 1), Bermudian Landing (formerly Saint Isabella and now Standards 2 and 3), Double Head (formerly Double Head Cabbage and now Standards 4, 5 and 6) and Rancho Dolores (now Enfants 1, 2 and Standard 1). There is also a Belize Rural Preschool in Bermudian Landing and a Belize Rural High School in Double Head (Forms 1, 2, 3 and 4). The team was fortunate to spend our first day inland taking tours of each of the schools at each sites (returning members were lucky to be able to see familiar faces from St. Stephens last year who had been redistricted to different sites…) Keep in mind that government policy now prohibits cameras and pictures taken in schools - as such, we were unable to take any pictures of the children. A bummer yes, but the policy was enacted this past summer for very good reason.
Here is the team’s general take on the recent government control of this school district: it seems as of right now to be a very good thing. Even though the children in the area had longer bus rides to get to their respective schools, the government paid for their transportation. The government also provided the students with a drink and snack everyday at break and what seemed to be delicious and well-rounded lunches cooked by local women in the canteen at each site (and for those who were wondering, what used to be Teacher George’s house at St. Stephen’s is now their canteen - it looks like all of that cleaning last year paid off!) Each school has 3 classrooms, 3 teachers, a guardian teacher (a retired teacher who seems to fill a substitutive role), and a warden (who patrols the school grounds and requires visitors to sign into a book). The children we had formed bonds with for the past 3 years in Flowers Bank seemed to show signs of better nutrition and the state and stock of the classrooms was better than perceived in years past.
We spent mornings in Double Head, separating into groups of 4 to work in the Standards 4, 5 and 6 classrooms where we provided one-on-one tutoring and individualized instruction while being mindful of our presence (the last thing we wanted was to cause distraction the first week the children were back to school after the holidays!) We ate our lunches on the bus on the way to Flowers Bank where we spent the afternoons reading and playing with the youngest groups of children while repainting and repairing their swing set, picnic table and newly constructed septic toilets out back (they flush now!) With monetary donations, we donated $200 of school supplies and sporting equipment, bought the Flowers Bank site a new water Rotoplas they needed for their canteen and we tiled the unfinished floors of the canteen at Double Head (the dust had been an issue with the preparation of lunch for the children).
The week flew by and before we knew it, it was Friday and we were graced with the company of Mrs. Marilyn at dinner at the Howler Monkey Lodge.
We spent Saturday in an area right outside of Belmopan at the Actun Tunicil Muknal Cave (ATM cave for short). We had a 45 minute hike through the jungle (which included 3 river crossings!) and then spent 3 hours in the cave, complete with helmet and headlamps. The guides broke us into 2 groups of 7 and during our time in the black darkness of the cave we swam through water 10 feet deep, climbed over jagged rock structures, squeezed through the most narrow of underwater rock formations and padded through the upper chambers in our socks, stepping within inches of broken Mayan pottery and skeletal remains of sacrificial rituals. It was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie - definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life (I think the team would agree!)
We had hoped to canoe down the Belize River on Sunday, but unfortunately, the on-again off-again downpours prevented us from doing so…Instead, we had an epic soccer game with Josef and Jusef out on the field across from the Community Baboon Sanctuary and had dinner with the Peace Corps volunteer from the sanctuary (coincidentally her name was Shannon and she had gotten her Masters in Public Policy just 2 years before at William and Mary - what a small world!) The team thoroughly enjoyed picking her brain about her experience in the Peace Corps and her 2 years in Belize.
Lauren and I are so very proud and excited to announce that the leaders for next year’s team will be: Meredith Dost (‘13), Ashby Gaines (‘13) and Christina Phang (‘14). By spring break at the beginning of March, they will have chosen 5 new team members to fill the spots left by our 4 graduating seniors in order to round the team out to a full 15 once again. We can’t wait to see the direction the team takes under your leadership in the next year!