A warm breeze blows through my hair and music fills the air. As the salty aroma fills my nostrils I feel like I'm in paradise. And I am, but I'm not. As beautiful as Belize is, it is a completely different world than what I live in. Not just the weather but the civilization, the food, the culture. I knew that Belize wasn't a very affluent place but it is entirely different to know something versus actually experiencing it. I couldn't believe people live like this off of basically nothing. What was even harder to believe was how happy the people all seem. I look around and I think "I want this place to be the paradise that it should be."
I knew this wouldn't be easy, and we certainly couldn't fix everything in the short time we are here, but I was excited to be able to do as much as we possibly could. The elementary schools was the best place to start because although cliche, children are the future. I couldn't wait to start on the school garden at Chan Chen because I wanted to do something that would really make a difference. As of today we have spent 2 days at Chan Chen and the progress is incredible! I have never been so hot, sweaty, or exhausted, but I have never felt so good about a hard days work. I'm looking forward to see the "finished" garden tomorrow and hopefully get to see the future progress.
What I am not looking forward to is going back to the food in the United States. I'm not sure if being hot and tired makes everything tastes better, but the food here has all been SO fabulous. All I want to do is fill my plate full of veggies because they tastes so fresh. Tonight I had grilled fish and it was some of the best fish I have ever tasted. Even the corn tortillas are better here. I want to ask the cook how she makes them so that I can start making my own!
I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity and to get to spend the week in this beautiful country and learn from all of the people who live here and from all of the people in our group. I hope I am lucky enough to get to come here again and to go other places around the world!
To pick one day out of so many precious days to write about is very difficult. How is one supposed to pinpoint one moment that was of impact when almost every moment has that potential? Some impacts are immediate, while others take time. From so many instances, from so many beautiful souls, I've chosen to tell my story of one day and one such soul.
For the last two days I've been helping the Literacy group, at Chan Chen school with their Easter Camp activities. The children are phenomenal!
Each one has so much to give and their eyes glow with life. When we first started, the children were very shy and quiet but by the end they were literally screaming at the top of their lungs. In order to get the students to become more comfortable and relax a bit, we read an excerpt from a poem by reading it as loud as we could and acting it out. We also taught the children about rhyming and got them to come up with a list of things they love about their school. We plan to then use those words and rhymes to develop a school song. It was amazing to see how much the children had retained from the previous lesson. In addition, they were also much more outgoing and comfortable around us; I was spellbound to find myself clapping my hands to get their attention.
Working with children so much and spending so much time with them has gotten me to realize, even more, how truly pure and bright they are. Each one has their own beauty and their own charisma. There is no doubt that every single child and person has their personality and each is special in a unique and different way. No matter who it is, there are always instances in which people just glow with life. They have a spark within them, and it is up to them who they share that with and when.
The first time I saw this little boy, he was sitting in the literacy classroom writing down words that rhyme and writing a poem with them. It was completely different though. He was one of the students in one of the classrooms; he was one of the many beautiful children of Belize. However, when I later saw him on the soccer field he had come to life. He blew my mind at how great he had mastered the sport at such a young age. Tricks that grown soccer players can't attempt, he had learned at the age of thirteen. Seeing this, being a soccer lover, I was drawn to him. We played the whole break time and just did tricks and had lots of fun. There was no need to tell each other anything... about anything. Just sharing our love for the sport brought us so close. He was then very comfortable around me and we got introduced and chatted a bit.
From then on we had just become so close. He had such a spark and it shined through his dark eyes. He has so much love and is filled with life. Today, we came up with a hand shake and I got to know a bit more of who he is. He was wearing a couple of bracelets around his wrists and I complimented them. Later he handed it to me as a gift. After the camp, he left and returned soon after and just sat around, watching us. When we were painting a mural for the garden he joined us and helped. He is a funny boy and splattered paint all over me.
The thing that really stood out to me was what he said as we were finishing up the mural. I was painting and he came up next to me and said, in a quiet voice, "I'm gonna really miss you when you leave". It was so very sweet and at that moment I realized that our trip was actually coming to an end. I smiled, gave him a hug and said I will miss him as well when I leave.
Being so absorbed in everything and just soaking up all of the moments around me has taken so much of my energy and time that I have forgotten to count the days until I go home. I have been so afraid of letting go of any moment that may have true meaning to me. I've taken so much to living in the moment that I had forgotten to look even a day ahead.
We run through countless people in our lives. Some come and leave with time and some touch us in ways that we don’t even understand ourselves. They grasp our hearts and wrap around it, bring it to life with warmth.
The chan chin today we started off our bus ride squishing 20 people into our already hot and sweaty van and then off to our first day at spring camp
The students trickled in and lined up for our 8:30 camp about 40 strong at 9ish and split up to play soccer, red rover, all forms of tag and Simon (Kylie) says in the physical education group, learning about poems, rhyming, reading, opening up with shouting of the poems to get comfortable with their new teachers in the literacy group, journal making, creating and decorating the the art group, and expression of who they are inside, what makes them happy, and what makes up their "plate" in the healthy lifestyles group.
We snacked on bananas and shingling waters to hold us over until lunch when we were delivered some delicious chicken, rice and beans, coleslaw, bread pudding for dessert and then the rest of our team from Libertad soon after trying to forget about the tarantula found on campus!
Once the team was all back together and stuffed full we continued on the creation of Chan chins garden. Today we finished clearing the garden space and removing rocks along with relocating the soil into the flower beds which we had much progress with today and finished building and painting over 7 benches made from resources gathered around the school like the school chairs from a shed with broken attached desks which were removed and secured together, reused doors cut and legs attached. Tires were also gathered washed and painted today, all assortments of Easterish colors, "mint green" "sky blue" "peppy pink" and "mango squash orange". Our youth for the future friend joined us as well today Ruffin it in the dirt and soil along side us.
|Brooke and Alex (right) drinking water inbetween classes.|
Our first day at the Easter Camp was split between two elementary schools: one church-sponsored and named after the village in which it resides, Libertad, and the other one, government-sponsored Chan Chen, just a short drive from the town of Corozal. I was at Libertad today, leading the Healthy lifestyles class, today’s theme being “Healthy Eating.” Tomorrow’s focus will be on hygiene, and we will end the camp on the last day with healthy relationships/self-image.
I was nervous to begin today’s camp, as this is my first experience teaching, let alone my first experience teaching KIDS, let alone my first experience teaching kids in another country! So, I may have been as nervous as the first two adorable little girls that shyly walked up before camp started, scrunching their heads down into their shoulders like turtles trying to hide in their shells. They responded to our enthusiastic welcome with a little hand-covered smile, and told us their names while looking down at their toes. Zoiey and Jennifer ended up being two of the sweetest kids at the camp that captured my heart. The shyness level was unbelievably cute, and actually pretty common among the Belizean children!
The next group that arrived was the 3 siblings that had been hanging out on Saturday when we were “scoping out the site.” We had chatted with them a little bit about their favorite games and subjects in school, and Sue had won them over by introducing them to the magic of Angry Birds on her iPad. The oldest one, 10 year old Antoine, stood out the most in my memory due to his big, beautiful smile and love for books, his favorite, impressively, being Moby Dick! Today, right when he saw me, he let out an excited “Michelle!” and my heart just melted. I thought myself too boring for him to remember me, let alone be excited and actually remember my name when he saw me 2 days later!
Once things got started, the camp went by so fast! Three age groups (1st&2nd, 3rd & 4th, and 5th & 6th graders) rotated through four 45-minute classes: Art, literacy, healthy activities (P.E.), and healthy lifestyles (nutrition, hygiene, healthy relationships). The oldest group, like typical junior high kids, were a stark contrast to the youngest ones, in that it was more of a challenge to engage them. They’re at the “school isn’t cool” phase! So you might guess that the youngest group were the most into our activities, the most excited, and definitely my most favorite. I had the biggest smile plastered across my face the entire time, even when trying to stifle the chaos that ensued from their extreme excitement! They were so into every activity we had planned, and so polite and sweet. They seriously the most precious kids, I loved them so much!!
The second half of the day involved continuing our work on the garden at Chan Chen. Once again, I was blown away by the progress our incredible group was able to make in just a few hours. After the back breaking tearing apart of old outhouses for recyclable building materials, shoveling countless piles dirt, moving big rocks, and clearing areas for garden beds done Sunday, it was nice to see the garden begin actually looking like a garden today, and an exceptionally cute one to boot! With saws, hammers, drills, happy-colored paints and brushes, we suddenly had a multitude of benches made from the doors of the old outhouses, and tires to be used for planting beds, all painted the most adorable array of pastels. Simultaneously, with the help of our amazing Belizean Youth for the Future volunteers, there were suddenly planting beds recycled from the tin roofs of the old outhouses, bent into big rectangles, filled with dirt and ready for planting! Another bed was made from stacked cement bricks recycled from the old, demolished outhouses, and a third was made from stacking the huge rocks littered throughout the garden area and the perimeter of the play yard. All of this, in addition to the white and light turquoise painted compost bin we created yesterday, had made the garden really start to look incredible.
Tomorrow is our last day of work on the garden, and we are super pumped to put the finishing touches on the beds and finally be able to start planting! We are so excited to see our baby completed and ready to go, and hope that the school will love it as much as we do!
|Michelle with her healthy lifestyles class.|
These last two days I've had the honor of interacting with the amazing children of Chan Chen Primary School. I've been the leader of the Physical Activities section of our day camp and it has been such a joy. I've had fellow classmate, Kelli Soll, helping lead with me as well as a Youth for the Future leader, LuLu, who I deeply appreciate for all the help she's contributed. Belize has standards rather than grades. Each standard brings something new to the field when I am interacting with them. These children are so full of life and excited to be attending this camp which makes it that much more fun. The first day of camp the children were quiet and timid. In our debriefing discussion after the day Jonie from Peacework told us to not be mislead and that the children will warm up starting day two. She wasn't kidding. The second day it was like I met completely different children. They were full of personality and character. They were laughing and had the biggest smiles on their faces. To see them having fun and enjoy the activities we had them doing was the most amazing feeling. Although I've only spent two days with these children I already feel myself becoming attached. I'll be sad to say good-bye but my hopes are that I leave them with memories they will never forget because I know I will never forget them and the impact they have made on me.
|Kelli and Kylee (right) prepare for physical activities class.|