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.

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