Monday, April 15, 2013

A Final Thank YOU

Thanks to everyone who made the inaugural 2013 Boise State University - Corozal Belize Peace Village a tremendous success.

College of Education - Diane Boothe, Dean
College of Engineering - Amy Moll, Dean
College of Health Science - Tim Dunnagan, Dean
Honors College - Andrew Finstuen, Director

International Learning Opportunities Office - Corrine Henke, Director; Diana Gardner

Peacework - Steve Darr, Executive Director; Joni Valencia; Kate Raum

Faculty - Karen Breitkreuz; Shawn Dunnagan; Sara Fry; Aileen Hale

Corporate Sponsor - McKinstry

and of course...

 many thanks to all the great students that made the 2013 trip a successful, fun, inspiring experience.

Until next year....  "Peace"


Student Highlight - Michelle McCowin: Working with the Belizean Community Healthcare

Michelle McCowin

There were two nursing students in our group, Megan and I, and we were blessed with the amazing opportunity to spend one of the Easter Camp days shadowing a Belizean rural community health nurse. Megan went on Monday, and I went on Wednesday, the last day of Easter Camp. Megan didn’t tell me much about her experience because she “didn’t want to spoil the surprise of it all,” so I really had no idea what to expect.
Dawned in my BSU scrubs uniform, I  met with Professor Dunnagan (Shawn) and Dr. Breitkreuz (Karen) 6 am Wednesday morning, to meet our driver at the Corozal Community Hospital. When the driver arrived, Karen went off to do her thing with the head nurse of the area, while Shawn and I got in our driver’s surprisingly nice, new-looking, and air-conditioned truck. We had no idea where we were being taken to. The driver told us we were picking up one of the nurses and then heading to the clinic at the village of Concepcion. We ended up driving around for over an hour, as there was apparently a few things he needed to drop off, which was fine because the scenery was awesome. We got to see sugar cane fields, orchards with papaya and coconut trees, and the old abandoned sugar cane processing factory, so were happy.
When we finally arrived in Concepcion, my first impressions were “Wow, this clinic is small!” and “Wow, these women are really nice!” The 3 women at the clinic were “community health workers,” (CHW) which are similar to certified assistive personnel (CAP), with some special community health training. They have a focus on health promotion and teaching, where a CAP would not.
There were already a few women and their babies waiting to be seen when we arrived. One of the CHW’s had just gone through a  mini-training course on health promotion for pregnant women and new mothers, so she set up some visual aids and began presenting (in Spanish) a lecture on breastfeeding and transitioning an infant from milk to solid foods. Just a few weeks prior, we’d discussed breastfeeding in-depth in my Maternal/Pediatric nursing class, and I was happy to see that everything she was teaching was spot-on. (I could translate only part of what she was actually saying, but all of the information was on the posters, in English.)
After she was done presenting, I asked why the women were still waiting. Apparently, we were waiting for Nurse Terry to arrive, who had all of the supplies, as this is a “mobile clinic.” Nurse Terry is not an RN (registered nurse), but has been a nurse for 30 years, and says when they’re short-staffed, they aren’t going to tell her not to give someone stitches who needs it, because it’s “out of her scope of practice.” Nurse Terry sets up the mobile clinic once per month to do “well-baby exams,” which include filling certain prescriptions (including nebulizer treatments for breathing disorders), giving vaccines, weighing and measuring the children and babies. She also does prenatal exams, which include breast exams, a pelvic exam including a pap-smear, and recording the fetal heart rate.

Nurse Terry and Michelle

 The CHW’s open the clinic once per week when Terry is not present, to offer blood sugar testing for the many diabetic patients in the area. They want to offer blood pressure testing as well, but they do not have access a sphygomanometer, the instrument that reads blood pressure. For the mobile clinic days, they measure height, weight, and blood sugars, as well as work on health promotion with the patients, while Terry does everything else.
My first impression of Terry is that she was a little bit intimidating, but there was a warmth about her, which radiated from her big smile. She was very “straight-to-the point,” but had a sense of humor at the same time, and very open to teaching me anything I wanted to know. She asked me what level I was at in school, and I told her my experience and what skills I’d practiced so far in the clinical setting. The first patient we saw needed a nebulizer treatment, and she asked if I’d ever given one. When I said “no,” she replied, “Well, today you will.” I gave a startled “Oh! Well, ok then! I mean, are you sure that’s ok?” I was not expecting to have the opportunity to participate in the care, I was expecting only to be observing, so it caught me a little off guard. She must have sensed my feeling of terror, because she calmly said, “Well you have to learn at some point, don’t you? Come one, I’ll show you how.” So she walked me through it, which was super awkward for many reasons,  my hands were shaking like crazy, I could hardly read the prescription from the doctor (that “doctors have horrible hand writing” stereotype rings true in the states, and in Belize, apparently), and all of the tools and packages and syringes looked just slightly different than what I was used to, so it was a little nerve-wracking.

Afterwards, she congratulated me on a good job, and told me I didn’t need to be scared, because “Everyone has to learn, someone had to teach me, too, so I understand. You’re learning, don’t be afraid about making mistakes.” I remember feeling so lucky at that point that we’d been set up with her, because she seemed to be the most supportive nurse I’d ever worked with, and was so open to teaching. When the next patient needed a vaccine, she asked if I’d ever done one. I told her yes, but not to any children, and she said again, “Today, you will.” I was beaming! I had Shawn phone Dr. Breitkreuz (the only nursing faculty on the trip) to see if it was ok, and when she gave us the green light, I was giving immunizations left and right! By the end of the day, I couldn’t even count how many I’d given. I also got to spend some time with the CHW’s measuring heights and weights of the children and babies. This opportunity was so incredible for me, because for our pediatric/maternal nursing course where we’re in the hospital, we mostly just observe our nurses, because we are switching units every week. I may not have gotten an opportunity to practice any nursing skills on children at all before graduation, if not for this day. It was quite a special day.
Things started slowing down, as the transition between the child and baby appointments and the prenatal appointments began. There wasn’t as much that I could do for the prenatal exams, since pap smears are out of my “scope of practice,” so I was doing more observing for these patients. At one point, as a patient was changing out of her clothes for the pelvic exam, Terry handed me a bag of fresh chili-lime seasoned mango, and asked me to try it. I was pretty grossed out, since we were in the examination room, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I washed my hands and tried it out. She then sent me away to go have shawn try some, and I took this as a hint that she wanted me to check out what they were doing for a while. Shawn had been hanging out with the CHW who was seeing the diabetic patients and taking their blood sugars. This is Shawn’s specialty area, so she was having a ball learning about the dynamic of diabetes in the area. I sat down with them and talked about what she’d learned so far, and learned that the diabetes rate was an alarming nearly 50% in the village. We asked why they think it is so high, and found out it was much of the same reasons as we have in the U.S.: mainly diet and lack of exercise. Their diet consists of large portions of rice and many sugary drinks, and they expressed that people are eating less and less vegetables as people are losing interest in having home and school gardens. This made me feel good about the fact that we are building sustainable vegetable gardens for a couple of the schools. I hope our gardens will make a difference in the kids’ diets and health.
No patients had been coming in for about half an hour, so the CHW offered to take us on a walk and show us around the neighborhood. Though I saw the first legitimate “shack” houses, some of these houses kept the most neatly groomed yards with beautiful flowers and trees and bountiful vegetable gardens. She showed us the cemetery, which, though littered with trash (that’s a whole other issue I could get into), was absolutely beautiful with the raised graves and bright flowers adornments.
By the time we made it back, it was about time to leave. Shawn wanted to get back to the community fair before it ended, and I didn’t blame her for wanting to leave a little bit early, because she didn’t get to do any hands-on stuff like I did, and was probably a little bit tired of sitting around there. So, we bid our farewells, and as I was thanking Terry, she said something along the lines of “Oh, you’ll forget all about me and Belize.” I smiled and said “No, Terry. I don’t think you realize what this day has meant to me. I seriously will never forget today, and I will never forget you for giving me this amazing opportunity,” and I meant it.  She just looked at me and grabbed my hand and looked like she was about to cry and said “God bless you. You are welcome back any time you want.” I gave her a big hug, and we said our goodbyes.
As I was walking to the car, the magnitude of what I just experienced hit me. Seeing so many beautiful children and smiling mothers who trusted me with their children’s care, working with such a great woman who was such a patient and warm teacher to me and gave me reassurance that I was okay and the confidence that I would be a great nurse, seeing the beautiful neighborhood and cemetery and asking the women all sorts of questions I’d had about all the little details of life in Belize, being terrified at my first immunization to feeling like a pro by the 5th, these things stirred up so much emotion and so much thought within me, these are the experiences life is about. I knew in that moment, that this day had changed me, and I would never be quite the same as before I came. As that beautiful thought was running through my head, I suddenly had this strange burning sensation in my eyes and sinuses. I had a moment of gratitude for my sunglasses, so I could shamelessly and slyly let a couple of tears run free and be able to raise my eyes up to have one last look at this life-changing place, to keep it in my memories forever. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dr. Karen R. Breitkreuz - a visit w/ Mrs. Magana

In addition to the Easter Camps, School Gardens, and Community Fair, our Peace Village effort created additional partnerships within the Health and Agriculture communities of Corozal.  Dr. Karen Breitkreuz, one of our lead faculty for the trip, provides a view from our Health Science and Nursing partnership 

A Visit with Mrs. Magaña

Mrs. Magana

Imagine, if there was no doctor in your community?

Imagine, even if there were a doctor, you had no money to pay if you went to see them?

Imagine, well you probably can’t, but imagine if no one had ever told you to wash your hands or brush your teeth, or what to do when you caught a cold, or were bitten by mosquitoes.

Imagine, there was no chicken soup at Grandma’s house for those colds, and no clean water to wash the wounds.

This was the situation in Corozal District of Belize about 25 years ago.   There were people, and they were fishing, and marrying, and having families, but medicine and health were concepts for others, not their community.   Then entered an NGO (a non-governmental organization); an organization who decided to train community health workers. 

This story is true, and this is the story Mrs. Magaña told me when I was able to visit with her last week.  Mrs. Magaña was one of the first; one of the first Community Health Workers that is.  The NGO came in, and she volunteered to teach others her village to be healthy.  For five years, and without pay, Mrs. Magaña worked tirelessly to learn all she could and to help others in her community have healthier lives.  Then the NGO project ended.  The government had started taking over healthcare, a hospital was being built in one of the bigger villages (Corozal), and community health-worker jobs were being transitioned.

Mrs. Magaña’s efforts, however, had not gone unnoticed.  She was asked to take the lead as the Community Health Educator and be paid to coordinate all of the other health workers. 
Now Mrs. Magaña is a conscientious lady.  She knows when she’s in over her head and she knows how to get the job done.  So she talked to the person offering her the job, and said she’d only take it, if they trained her.  She insisted.  They agreed.

So for the past 20 or so years, Mrs. Magaña has coordinated and trained all of the Community Health Workers in her district of Corozal.  When someone in the village is sick and can’t pay for the doctor, the Health Workers go door-to-door to raise money to pay for the medical care.  They check in on those who are sick at home, they encourage healthy nutrition in diabetics, they follow up on newborns and pregnant mom’s and encourage health at many levels in the community, and they help to run local village clinics for all those who need more medical attention. 

When the community needed a public health clinic Mrs. Magaña said, she gathered her community health workers and asked them who was married to a mason, and finding a qualified participant, they gathered supplies and built a clinic.

I had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Magana this week.  My students had the privilege of going to the villages with her Community Health Workers, and even assisting in various aspects of patient care.  The phrase that one student used when describing this experience was “awesome”…

Mrs. Magaña is one of the many humble, inspiring and dedicated people who I was privileged to meet in the village of Corozal this week, and who invited us to return. 

Words cannot adequately describe how much respect I have for this Mrs. Magaña, and so many of the others I met in Corozal.   Words don’t seem to do justice to the deep impression a meeting like that has.  It is humbling, and also inspiring to see such dedication.

Someday soon I hope to return, and take more students, and further our collaboration.
Until then and for now I must say, Thank you Corozal.

Thanks to all who made this inter-collaborative Interdisciplinary experience possible!

With profound respect,

Dr. Karen R. Breitkreuz Ed.D., M.S.N., R.N., C.N.E.

Nursing students Lyn Ages, Megan Hull, Michele  Williams, and Dr. Breitkreuz

The Belize Zoo

Boise State University's 2012-13 Campus Read is "The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw" by Bruce Barcott.  It is the story of Sharon Matola's passion and commitment to protecting and preserving the indigenous animals of Belize and their habitat.
Our class studied the Last Flight and our last stop in Belize was the Belize Zoo
Although the Zoo was closed to the public, Sharon and her staff graciously opened the zoo for our group and provided a guided tour which included many behind the scenes areas.  Below are a few photos of our memorable visit to the Belize Zoo.
Our Pat the Great Cat team presented Sharon their education trail materials they prepared for the community fair

The national animal of Belize, the Tapir, or Mountain Cow

Junior Buddy doing his "ally up".  Junior Buddy is one of 13 Jaguars at the Belize Zoo. 

Field Master giving a high five

Sharon and Lucky Boy.  Lucky Boy's story is a touching and amazing story that can be followed on the Belize Zoo facebook site and will soon be the topic of Sharon's next book.
Thanks to Sharon and her wonderful staff!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cultural Excursion - Lamanai Ruins

Our trip included a cultural excursion to the Mayan Ruins of Lamanai.  The trip included a long river boat ride, medicinal trail tour, and a tour of the ruins.

The High Temple of Lamanai.  The ultimate stairmaster.

Jaguar Temple

Students monkeying around

Driving the boat is no monkey business
see no, speak no, hear no
 Feeding a spider monkey from the boat


Corozal Community Fair

This year's trip is the first of many towards the development of the Boise State University - Corozal Belize Peace Village.  Our goal is creating long term relationships with schools, health care providers, and other community partners which enrich the lives of all participants.
Our last day in Corozal included a community fair.  Students and parents from Libertad Methodist, and Chan Chen Government and community members were invited to the Corozal village square for games and exhibits representing the activities conducted during the 3 days of Easter Camp.
Arlene, Haily, and Alex were the student team organizing and coordinating the community fair activities.

Activities included planting seeds
Here's an exhibit nutrition and personal hygiene.  Megan and Chris demonstrate advanced teeth brushing techniques.

Steve Darr, Executive Director for Peacework observes how to make playdough
Dancing at the Community Fair
Our literacy team had children fishing for the ABC's

Members of the Dept. of Youth Services (Youth for the Future) were presented certificates of appreciation

A skit on brushing teeth was a big hit

Our Pat the Great Cat team created an interactive education trail.  The team later presented their materials to Sharon Matola, Belize Zoo Director.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Student highlights: Sara, Beth, Sydney, Lauren, Kelli, Keith, Matt & Veronica

Sara Williams

Big black birds on a green sea. A dock with boats loading and nets being cast.  The morning sunlight streaming through the clouds to flicker and dance across the water. Coffee to welcome in the day. Holding Beth's hand to walk across coral to enter the ocean after a long hot day of work and then crab-walking back across the coral to dry land. When I think back on Corozal, these will be the images that come just like the sun upon water, flickering and dancing.

Connecting country lines, that do not border, with hearts and minds. Beautiful, wide open eyes filled with wonder, earthy shades looking to me with sparkle. Little arms embracing, little voices calling "miss". Little smiles magnifying my own. New avenues of perception opening each day of all the people around me, their beauty, their talent, and growth striking the chords of my heart. These moments at the school of Libertad flood an already bursting heart.

Heat and sweat, strength and endurance. Breaking down buildings. Fire ants pouring out of concrete. Changing "junk" into beautiful benches, tables, a compost bin and garden beds. Using a handsaw for my first time. Working side by side with the youth and people of Belize. Jokes and laughter. New friendships. New bonds. Coconut water straight from the coconut. Water from plastic bags. Together we built something; the start of a garden.  Time will tell if it is lasting, in my mind the memory will be.

Of all the significant moments here documented in one way or another, or perhaps slipped through the cracks, the ones with the people, either those we came with, or the ones that we leave behind, those are the moments that come to the forefront of my mind.

Sara (right) with a new Belizean friend from Youth for the Future.
Beth Kotts

Life's Little Lessons

What a great week!  I am so thankful for all the blessings I have in my day, the people around me here, and at home in the states.  Besides the Belize heat, the kids and this experience has just melted my heart.  This has been a humbling experience.  I just hope I am able to express everything I have learned here. 

At the end of camp today I was feeling leaky in the eyes.  It could be a combination of being emotionally, physically, and mentally fatigued but, I think I've cried 5 times today.  The first time, the kids were giving us all hugs and hanging out for one last memory with the BSU leaders at the end of camp today, when a group of girls grabbed me.  I found myself sitting on the sidewalk along the school with six beautiful little girls who just wanted to find out more about me.  They wanted to see what my kids were like as they searched for pictures through my phone.  They wanted to see pictures of snow, my pets, and what my house looked like.  I am embarrassed and humbled, I guess, because I do have so much more. I am very blessed and fortunate and they just make do with what they have. The Belizeans are a grateful and happy people.  They show complete joy in their lives, their blessings each day, and all they do.  I want to be more like this.

Later my team and I at the Libertad school, pulled together a donation for tuition scholarships. I donated the last $25.00 I had in my wallet.  Together we pooled $253.00 with out any hesitation, to give 51 kids the chance to go to school tuition-free for a year.  $5.00 a year is all a child pays for tuition each year at Libertad.  I pay more than this in school lunch for my kids everyday.  I am really touched by everyone's generosity.  Next, my credit card is blocked and I have no access to cash for today.  Upsetting yes, and I was stuck on why stuff happens to me like this.  Later I was just disgusted with myself because of how spoiled I am as a US Citizen.  They are worried about getting tuition for school, and I'm worried about souvenirs... Funny how life gives you little lessons, I've had several today.  I hope I can tech my kids and have an impact on them.

Finally, dinner tonight we shared experiences that were moving to us.  Kelsey shared a poem that one of her students gave her.  It was called Everyday.  I am amazed how much it touched all of us at the table, the way this child expressed himself, and the way we all grew love for these kids.  How amazing.

When I go home, I have many pictures and stories to share with my kids.  They have been really active in finding out about where mom is going and what I'm doing here. I hope they are humbling to them and I hope they are coming with me on my next trip.

In end, as we wind up our trip, I am excited for the new friendships I have formed.  I am excited to see the transformation in myself once I am home and share with my kids.  I am extremely excited to see what is in the future for this class and their groups ahead.  I can't wait to work on the Libertad garden. I cant wait to come back to Belize and share this with my kids.  Just know, whoever follows us....  Go big or go home!  We set the bar high and you have some really big shoes to fill.

Beth is all smiles with her new friends at Libertad. 
Sydney Morris

Today was the last and final day of our spectacular Easter camp and after sharing our experiences with one another it was obvious that the past three days spent with the children of Corazol will remain in our hearts for many years to come. Although I have only been here for less than a week it's amazing how many eye opening moments I have been privileged to have. Waking at six this morning I looked out my window to find the blazing orange sun rising from the horizon of the bay. No matter how many times I watch the sun rising or setting, it still amazes me how beautiful it is. Today was the first day I woke up without an alarm and I found it quite refreshing as it left me less tired and energized throughout the day.
We then arrived at Libertad as it was slightly bitter sweet being the last and final day of the Easter camp; however, it was exciting to be apart of something so enjoyable for all the kids. By the third day we were now all able to see how much the kids attitudes had changed, being most apparent in the older standard 5 and 6 groups. During the first day of camp it was difficult to encourage them participate and have fun. Each day got a little better as they continued to become more comfortable around new people. It's so easy for the younger kids to love you and become attached to you because of their young and loving nature but the older groups seem to be more hesitant. During one of the breaks I was talking to one of the girls in standards 5 and 6. She was asking me questions and freely sharing information about her life with me. As I talked with her I thought about how quiet and reserved she had been the first day. It made me think about all the new friends I had made within the group of us from BSU. At first we too were reserved until we came to know each other better. As the trip moves along it becomes more enjoyable with each day as our new friendships become connected with all of our experiences. It's trips and friends like these that mean the most because they were acquired through special moments throughout the span of our lifetime. Today I said goodbye to one of my newest friends Suhey. She was apart of the youth for the future group that has accompanied us throughout the past few days. Even though she was only 15, almost 5 years younger, I enjoyed getting to know and spend time with her and gaining yet another friend that I will have for the rest of my life. Leaving Corazol tomorrow I look forward to the last few days I have left in this beautiful country.

Sydney (far left) on a tour of Corozal with her new friend, Suhey (in blue), Chris and Alex.
Lauren Haggerty

Our last night in Corozal snuck up on us quick. I can't begin to fathom that our trip is coming to an end. As I reflect on our brief, yet undeniably life-changing, stay in Corozal I am overjoyed by all the amazing experiences fellow classmates and I had. I am leaving Corozal with a completely different outlook on life. The people I encountered here are inspiring and the way they live their lives is contagious. They make do with so much less than most of us can imagine and they do it with smiles on their faces. It makes me wonder why we ever need more.

On a lighter note, both Easter camps we hosted were better than expected. Each day there were more children and each one was just thrilled to be there. Our garden at Chan Chen turned out fabulous and I can't wait for the children to be able to enjoy it. The community fair was a hit and I think that people of all ages learned and benefitted from our presence.

One of the most impactful moments this trip for me was on the last day of the Easter camp. A boy handed me a letter that he wrote and it said how much he loved having visitors and that he remembers all of them in his heart, mind, and soul. He asked me to write him and I was just so touched. I didn't even expect him to remember my name let alone go home and write me a letter. It's amazing how much love these kids have for everyone and everything. It's refreshing. The friendships and memories I made here will be apart of me forever and I am so grateful for them. Words won't and can't do this experience justice.

Alex, Lauren (middle) and Sarah pose at Lamanai. 

Kelli Soll

I began this service-learning project with a positive attitude and am leaving Belize with much more enthusiasm for social responsibility and global citizenship. 

My significant takeaway:  We all can utilize our strengths, understand our skills, be passionate about our interests and apply our personalized character sets to the best of our ability outside of our comfort zone in order to make a difference.  After all, life only begins when you leave your comfort zone.

Here’s why: I took the understanding of who I am and what I want in the world to become a teammate to my peers in a service learning project, a temporary member of the Corozal, Belize, community, and service-learning agent who entered the Chan Chen primary school for three days. 

I was given the extremely fun and rewarding opportunity to work alongside Kylee with physical activities classes for three days.  It gave me the chance to connect with children doing what I love most – not sitting still and being outside.  The moments I had on the field with the children are lifetime memories.  From the little girl, Jasmin, who came up from behind me in the middle of a soccer game only to hold my hand while we played, to Roland, the young boy who told me he loved playing basketball with me and can’t wait to play again.  I grew up playing basketball on a boys’ team as a young girl and felt like I was not only acting as an older role model to the boys on the basketball court, but Roland let me feel like a kid again (on the inside), too.  I’ll always remember the young girl who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, only to learn  we have the same interests in natural resources.  How fun to have something in common with someone so much younger and from such a different culture.  I am so thrilled she is already looking forward to going to the university.

We are now headed back to Boise and my understanding and passion for service learning has been grown and my perspectives on the world, as expected, have changed.  I purchased a morning coffee at the airport nearly worth the same amount of money that could put a child through one year of primary school at Libertad in Belize.  My mind will be full of those comparisons from this point forward. 

It’s an experience like this that changes your life and I am beyond grateful for the students and faculty, family and friends, and Boiseans and Belizeans involved.  I struggle to put my ample appreciation into words.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Veronica and Kelli (right) at the community fair.
Keith Leonard

9 days ago I was in Houston, Texas about to embark on a time killing adventure to the gulf coast with 4 travelmates I barely knew. With a layover in Houston due to airplane complications, the 5 of us developed an urge to explore this uncharted territory. We set off in our newly acquired, reasonably priced rental car to the soundtrack of The Lumineers on repeat, emitting from Bower's cell phone speaker. The unexpected antics of the evening would unknowingly set the tone for our entire journey. Arriving at the beach in Galveston, Texas, we explored jetties, piers, shops and restaurants finally settling in at a late night open mic in a second floor bar perched above a fishing pier gift shop. When a trio of vocalists wielding a cello, guitar, and tambourine began to supersaturate the air with a groove-soaked reggae sound, I knew I was in the right place. After several promptings for open mic participation, I swallowed hard, said, "what the hell", and grabbed a guitar. After explaining who we were and that we were on our way to Belize, I thanked them for setting the island mood, and sang the few songs I have committed to memory. Our hosts were more than gracious, asking me to play more, and even offering me a complimentary CD. With my material tapped, I thanked our coastal friends and we went on our way.

I left that bar excited that my arm had been sufficiently twisted to swallow hard and push beyond my comfort zone. I wondered how I could take this mentality and put it to work in Belize in the days to come.

Over the course of our time in Belize most of our original plans were pushed aside by new. Sometimes it really is true that the only constant is change. With a background in construction, and several similar experiences with foreign service trips, this was nothing new to me.
In order to respect the wishes of the minister of the church partially funding Libertadt school, we were not able to commence garden work on Sunday as planned. With extremely limited time allocated for each school, we made the call to postpone this project and refocus all of our efforts onto a school garden at Chan Chen government school.

The concept that was new to me, or maybe just out of practice, was taking a step back out of a leadership role. I was a part of the team planning the Libertadt garden, now serving as labor to assist the Chan Chen garden team. Although the Chan Chen team, led by Matt did a phenomenal job leading us, I did find that it was hard at times, to remain in the background and let others feel out their role. That being said, everyone seemed to find their role, leading in various capacities, and ultimately pull off an extremely successful week.

The garden project, along with the 3 day Easter camp both encountered many setbacks and changes. The entire team stepped up to every challenge, and probably exceeded even our own expectations. I felt privileged to be a part this new group of friends, and proud of the work accomplished in partnership with school and community. I'm excited to see how the remainder of the class will pan out as we debrief, and plan for those taking the class in the years to come.

Keith (left), Jordan, Beth and Chris at the Belize Zoo.  "We live in a beautiful world."
Matt Holden

The last 11 days have been a complete blur of mental images, camaraderie, momentum, pride, sweat, dirt, blood, tears, late nights and early mornings, lessons learned, water, sun, disappointment, hope, jaguars, tapirs, crocodiles, and…perspective.

I will take away comfort in the fact that with the help of others, and a whole lot of give-a-damn, that making a difference is possible. Or better put, a group of people united are a catalyst for change. Whether that change takes place extrinsically or within ourselves, I witnessed first-hand that we all have that capability. I hope we can all hold on to that power, and take it with us…I also hope that we all learned what we could about the virtues of humility, acceptance, charity, and gratitude that we saw in many of our new Belizean friends.

I will take away thankfulness at the opportunity of not only getting to know everyone, but for the chance to act as a leader in our garden project. I learned so much, like being a decision maker isn’t the easiest thing to do, but with a lot of effort and some amazing people (Jordan, Kelli, Keith, Beth, Sara May, EFRAIN…or Jeff the tractor driver, VP Escalante, Dr. Songer, Chris, Tomas, Sue as Safety Officer, Bauer, Carrie, Hailey, my Professors, Nick the teacher, Joni for logistics [but not as your D.D. – bless her heart], and really just everyone) on your side, anything can be accomplished. I will always remember how well our team operated, and I hope that we had fun and liked the way things turned out. I appreciate being able to see everyone at their best on this trip, and how rare of an occurrence it is to see the amount of effort that transpired over this spring break.

Finally, I will take away love. For new brothers and friends, for ingenuity, for a view I’ll never forget, and for Belize.

Michelle, Sara and Matt on the boat tour to Lamanai.
Veronica Roper

I have always loved animals. I was originally going to write about the amount of dogs I saw on the streets until we went to the Belize Zoo on our last day in the country. I have working in animal husbandry and conservation for years so being able to see the amazing things "The Best Little Zoo in the World" is doing for the animals was a blessing. We were able to see an assortment of animals all native to Belize.

It isn't everyday you get to high 5 a Jaguar! Sharon Matola the Zoo's Director called a huge crocodile out of the water and he came to the sound of her voice. AMAZING!

We were able to see behavior enrichment with macaws, tapirs, otters, jaguars to name a few. It is remarkable to think what hard work, dedication and passion can accomplish in conservation efforts. The Belize Zoo is truly an markable place. 

When we went to the ancient Mayan ruins we took a boat ride up the New River. We saw crocodiles in the wild, a spider monkey, all sorts of birds and fruit bats.   

This trip was a wonderful experience to not only serve the people in the community but to be able to learn and experience the countries natural beauty. 

Veronica giving a jaguar a "high five" at the Belize Zoo.