As I reflect on my trip to Belize, my heart turns to scripture because what I learned and experienced on my trip can only be translated and felt through His word.
Family and friends have been asking me about my trip and it’s been difficult extracting the highlights of my trip because, to me, everything is worth highlighting. I went to Belize with the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville as part of an international learning experience trip for our education majors. Our team was comprised of 18 of our best teacher education students, two faculty members, and three support staff. We left early on Saturday, April 29th and returned in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, May 12th. It was a very long and emotionally and physically exhausting trip, but it was a truly life changing experience.
I wanted to share a screenshot of Belize on GoogleMaps for a frame of reference. See below:
Our first few days in Belize were excursion days. We crossed the border into Guatemala to visit and hike the ruins of Tikal in the Tikal National Park. The Tikal National Park is one of the largest archaeological sites of the Mayan Civilization. The structures were so advanced and it was amazing to see how progressive and intelligent the Mayan Civilization was for its time. It reminded me of Pompeii in Italy. If you’re interested in reading and learning more about Tikal and the Mayan Civilization, I recommend checking out this website: http://www.tikalnationalpark.org/
We did a little shopping on the Guatemalan and Belizean border before heading to Cardie’s (our hotel) in Independence, Belize. My days are running together as the weeks have passed since our return, but I think we arrived in Independence on Monday, May 1st. Independence is a bustling little town. There is one main road that runs through Independence with several breakaway neighborhood streets that lead to supermarkets, schools, and other local businesses. Our hotel, Cardie’s, was a modest place with only enough rooms for our travel group. There was an upstairs dining facility where we enjoyed homemade breakfast and dinner every day throughout the week. The wonderful ladies that worked in the kitchen also packed our lunches each day we traveled to the schools. Needless to say, we completely took over Cardie’s for the duration of our stay. Several us enjoyed our evening jogs to the port and rickety wooden dock overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Tuesday, May 2nd was our very first day in the schools. We divided up into two groups; Group 1 was assigned to teach in the Village of San Pablo and Group 2 was assigned to teach in the Village of Red Bank. See image below. For our first two days in the schools, I went with the San Pablo group where I completely fell in love and left a piece of my heart. The Village of San Pablo is tucked approximately 10 miles into the rain forest surrounded by hundreds of acres of banana farms. The drive into the village is a long, narrow, and bumpy drive down a dirt/dust road, but the stretch of banana farms along both sides of the road is hands down a site to be seen. I learned that the working conditions of the banana farm workers is terrible. It’s a physically taxing job in the unbearable heat of the tropics that pays very little. Now, every time I eat a banana I think about the workers in the banana fields on the way to San Pablo giving it everything they have to make it through the day.
The backdrop of San Pablo was breathtaking. I mean, God’s canvas just came to life as I was staring up at this mountainside soaking in the vibrant colors of the trees, flowers, birds, and skyline. It reminded of a scene from Jurassic Park and I was just waiting for a T-Rex to come barreling down the mountainside.
The three pictures above listed as “School Building” are just that…the school buildings in San Pablo. In Belize, free education only goes through our equivalent of 8th grade. If the Belizean students wish to continue onto to high school, they have to pass all their standard exams, seek approval and support from their family, and find/work for the money to continue seeking their education (similar to how we pay to go to college). A lot of families expect their children to make it through the 8th grade and then start working in the banana fields (or other labor intensive jobs) to help contribute to the household income.
What I loved most about the children in the schools was their excitement and enthusiasm to learn. I feel like students in the states enjoy being at school for the most part, but lack the enthusiasm to learn and expand their minds. In Belize, the students have a genuine appreciation for learning, for being and learning together, and for the opportunity to have an education. On Mondays, the school day always starts with worship in the church building. From there, the standards (grades) break up and go to their respective buildings. Each standard (grade) shares a room and teacher (1 shared with 2, 3 shared with 4, 5 shared with 6, and 7 shared with 8). Can you imagine our 5th graders being in the same classroom with our 6th graders? The learning disparity between the grades is significant (at least in the States), but unfortunately in Belize that’s their only option due to resources, space, and money. I was thoroughly impressed with the teachers and their ability to make the absolute best with what little they have.
Anyways, as I said, I spent the first two days at San Pablo, and then went to Red Bank with Group 2 on the third day. I’m not going to lie, I was really frustrated about going to Red Bank because I didn’t want to be anywhere but San Pablo loving on those kids. However, my experience at Red Bank turned out to be just as wonderful. I ended up assisting one of our UofL students in a Standard 1 and 2 classroom (I think those were the standards). The two of us were in charge of 40-50 four and five-year-old students. I say “in charge” but those students ended up being “in charge” of us. We tried teaching them their numbers but we couldn’t get them to sit still and pay attention unless we bribed them with Skittles. Finally, my student and I decided to take the kids outside to play duck-duck-goose, which turned into a chasing game. Teachers versus kids. There is a video out there somewhere of me being chased by 50 four and five-year-old kids that inevitably ended up with me being tackled to the ground and mobbed by the crazy firecracker energy of these sweet babies. Here are a few photos from my time at Red Bank:
That weekend our group took a day trip to Placencia , a tourist town, to go snorkeling, shopping, and to gather our physical and mental energies to tackle the week ahead of us. It was certainly refreshing to have the time to relax, but all of us were anxious to get back to the schools to spend time the kids. For me, I wrestled with sincere guilt being in Placencia “relaxing” knowing the families and kids in the villages we were serving didn’t have the same opportunity. The families and kids deserved the time to relax much more than I did, but I enjoyed reflecting and being in raw thought nonetheless.
I returned to San Pablo for the remainder of our time at the schools (Monday through Wednesday) and tried to enjoy and appreciate every last second I had with the precious children. It was a bitter sweet experience getting to know and love these kids knowing I would leave them at the end of the week. Wednesday, May 10th was our last day in the schools and there was a somber feeling in the village knowing the seconds were counting down to goodbye. If you know me, you know I’m not much of a public crier, but saying goodbye to those precious souls brought out every possible tear stored inside me. My heart was so full having met them, gotten to know them, and shared invaluable moments together. There were a handful of kids (you can probably tell which ones based on my pictures below) that easily hugged me goodbye ten times. I told a few people that asked about my trip that I have never felt a hug the way I have felt their hugs. When they hug you, they mean it! In closing, it is safe to say that I had an unBELIZEable time and a very humbling life changing experience.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures:
The end. ❤