For those of you who don't know us, we are part of a non-profit organization called Help-International. Every year Help-International sends teams of young adults to impoverished areas such as Uganda Africa, India, Thailand, Fiji, El Salvador, and Belize with the goal of empowering people and fighting poverty. Volunteers come with a variety of experiences, skills, and knowledge and use these tools to locate needs of an area through direct communication and work with partner organizations to help create projects of sustainable impact. We are the Belize Team. Twenty two individuals from various backgrounds with one common goal. We are excited for the adventure and experiences that await us as we use our skills to help strengthen the world around us.
My name is Calvin Skinner. Raymon Burton and I are the country directors for the Help Belize 2010 team. As country directors we handle administrative duties such as living arrangements, aligning partnerships with local NGOS, financial affairs, and act as a source of communication between the organization and individual volunteers. As country directors we have had the opportunity to be the first two of our group to travel to Belize in order to meet with partner organizations and locate housing.
First Impressions of the start of an Amazing Journey
The first three days of our stay in Belize were in Belize City. We have found housing with an American Couple (the Dunfords)serving as senior missionaries for the LDS church. They have been so nice to us and have really treated us like we were their own family. We have had a lot of fun getting to know this couple and are extremely grateful for all the generosity and support they have offered us through out the week.
In the first 3 days of Belize City we looked for housing, met with 5 different non-profit organizations, and met friends of the Dunfords. From these experiences we have learned the following:
1. "Exemplifying the principle of service"
One of the first non-profit organizations that we met with was the local hospital in Belize. We were very impressed with the facilities at this hospital, but what impressed us more than anything was the attitude of the public relations officer, Collete Montejo, that met with us. Before coming to Belize we had emailed various hospitals letting them know that our organization was coming to Belize. Many of them never responded to our requests. This particular hospital responded quickly and the meeting we had with this man was nothing short of inspiring.
We sat down and told him that our organization consisted of a group of students with a variety of skills and talents that wanted to work with their organization to help develop projects to fulfill the objectives their organization has set up to give improved health care to the Belize people. Collet was very excited. He told us that when he was younger, he was presented with a similar opportunity to give service in a foreign place and told us it was what sparked his interest in the medical field. He said he was excited to give volunteers a similar opportunity that was given to him earlier in his life.
He talked to us how he has tried to design his life in a way where he could serve people. The hospital he works with manufactures it's core principles and processes around that value. In the conversation he asked us where we were staying, and soon realized we did not have a place to stay. He looked pensive for a moment, and then made a phone call to another worker in the hospital. He hung up the phone and said, "I think I can help you." We traveled together to a building the hospital used to use for office space. It was full of files and medical information. He told us, "if worse comes to worse, we can move these materials and you can live here with your group." We were very impressed with the kindness and the sacrifice that Collette was willing to make, to help us strangers get our footing here in Belize. We did not need to take him up on his offer, but our conversation with him strengthened our understanding of the principle of true service to our fellow man.
2. Exemplifying the principle of Hope: Dorthy Menzies orphanage, Mrs Augustine and Dorthy Menzies
The second organization we met with was equally inspiring. The conversation was interesting, engaging, educational, and unforgettably uplifting.
We asked Dorothy and Mrs. Augustine, "What do you feel are some of the major problems facing Belize people?"
Mrs. Augustine and Dorothy's response gave us an insight of Belize City's history. Dorothy (a very young energetic 70 year old woman) said that she remembered a time when she could leave her house with her doors unlocked, when people didn't feel nervousness when walking into heavy crowds. When she wasn't afraid to leave her house at night. "Things have changed here" she told us. She told us that the major change started a generation ago when there was a growing hype about the "opportunity" that was available in the United States. Many parents left their children with their parents (grandparents) and headed off to the United States with big dreams of fortune. The children were left to be raised by single moms or elderly couples that didn't have the energy to raise and teach their children. This generation also began to grow up during a time where drug trafficking from Columbia to the United States began to increase. Many youth with inadequate supervision and means began to get tangled up with drugs. Drop outs from schools increased, and the beautiful culture that Dorothy remembered began to mold into something different and scary.
You can feel it in the atmosphere in Belize City. As you walk down the streets, you feel a strong sense of "caution." You can't help but to double check your back pocket to make sure it is buttoned, hold your bag extra close, or feel a need to look like you know where you are going. Even the locals feel it here as they walk into the center of town, making sure not to wear any excess jewelry that can be torn off as people bike past them.
Mrs. Augustine told us her views of how important the unit of a family is in the development of a culture and society. To have a father and mother that work together to instill values and principles within their children. "The family is where culture and society are made," she said. She then talked about her work in the orphanage and her role as a caretaker. She told us that a lot of the children we take care of have grown up without parents. I hope that I can have adequate influence upon them where they learn correct principles. I know that here in Belize City, the statistics are against me, but I know that every time I have seen an orphan leave here and become some one, my job, my life, my work, it has all been worth it. I never give up hope, and I just keep on working to create a better tomorrow for these kids."
Raymon and I left this meeting with a great deal of awe and admiration for these two ladies we met in the orphanage. We talked about our feelings of gratitude for growing up in the families that we did and talked about the examples of the "fighters" here in Belize City that have found a way to overcome the obstacles and create lives for themselves that bless all those that come into contact with them. The conversation lit a desire within both of us to be fighters through out our lives in our own culture.
We have met around 5 organizations in the first two in a half days of being in Belize City. We have been so impressed by the desires and determination that directors of these have showed to us and their friendliness and flexibility in wanting to work with us. Unfortunately, we have found Belize City to be a place that is fairly unsafe for our volunteers, so Raymon and I made a trip to Belmopan and San Ignacio to look for more organizations and houses in these areas.
Our one night and one day trip to Belmopan was exciting. We met with two orphanages and an organization called "George Price's center for peace and development." This particular organization has a museum that was attached to it that talked about the life of a famous person in Belize's history: George Price. Without getting into to much detail for the sake of time, I just wanted to say that I was very impressed by the life that this man lived. One of my favorite quotes that I saw while looking through the museum said, "Always write down what you promise people, never leave something so important to your own memory." He was a leader that stressed service and charity, and was one of the major fighters of Belize as the country was gaining its independence to become is own separate entity.
Belmopan was drastically different from Belize City. It was very peaceful, and we saw joggers running in the street as the sun was going down, and a few kids riding their bikes home from school. It was a totally different atmosphere than what Raymon and I felt while in the City. Belmopan is the capital of Belize and home to most of the country's administrative body. As we walked around, it was very very quiet. The only part of the day that seemed to demonstrate that the city had life was during rush hour when employees would be leaving or coming home from work.
While in Belmopan, I talked to our inn keeper for about an hour about her life. I found out that she was a single mother raising her daughter because her husband had gone to the states and never came back. She was very kind to me and I could tell she was a very strong lady with a very pure and determined heart. She told me her husband went back to the states to find "more opportunity and happiness". She talked to me about how she has been able to find a great deal of happiness through raising her daughter and that how she feels bad for her daughter's father for not realizing what truly brings happiness. It strengthened my idea of the importance of family and the role a loving family can play in our happiness as we develop very special relationships of love and trust with each other. A lot of people leave their family for a "better" or "more free life", not realizing at the time; they are leaving behind a very special gift that God has given for our ultimate happiness.
Changing topics, while in Belmopan I had the chance to get a hair cut. The barber shop was called "celebrity cutz" and was run by two teenagers. The hair cut was probably one of the best I have ever gotten. The boy gave me a "fade" and took a razor blade out and cut the edges of all the hair around my head. The boys in Belize do all sorts of crazy designs in their hair, from step "side burns" to "ant trails" going around their heads. I didn't get a crazy haircut although there was a part of me that wanted too. I do not mention this experience just to tell about a sweet hair cut I got, but also of the uncomfortable conversation I had with the boy as he cut my hair and the thoughts it provoked in my head. I started off the conversation talking about Lebron James and Basket ball, but the conversation changed as a pretty young woman entered and left the barber shop. The boy then started saying things that were inappropriate talking about the girls in Belize and perverted thoughts of how he felt about them. I didn't smile or laugh at anything he said, where as earlier in the conversation I was smiling and laughing a lot with him. I believe he could sense that I wasn't like him in that regard, I changed the subject, and the subject was dropped. When Raymon and I walked out, Raymon said "I have grown up in a family that values and respects women, it makes me sick the attitude that is often prevalent in many societies (including our own) where men treat and think of girls as toys. It upsets me when men don't treat girls with respect for who and what they really are." I agreed with Raymon and was grateful that he verbally expressed his feelings as I walked with him. The conversation I had with him caused me to think through out the day at the negative effects that such attitudes have caused upon the world. I believe that perverted attitude that is prevalent in many societies is the cause of much sadness in the world we live in today. Its sad to see the pornography industry flourish as it perverts and pollutes the minds of millions everyday. Self esteem and self identity of men and women are being thrashed as a result of men not being true men. Let us not ever catch ourselves doing, saying, or thinking things that diminishes our perspective of the beautiful identity and potential that all women and men have.
In Belmopan, we also looked at some houses. We met a lady that was willing to rent us a room, and told us she would be our cook too if we chose to stay with her. We ate lunch with her and the food was AMAZING! It was sooo good! Maybe it was because Raymon and I were starving at the time, but the meal hit the spot! Unfortunatly, she was driving a rough bargain. We were deciding to make a decision between the two houses we found in Belmopan, when Raymon and I just had a feeling that we should go to San Ignacio before making a final decision.
If glory was compared to the brilliance of the stars, the moon, and the sun.... Belize City would be the stars, Belmopan the moon, and San Ignacio.... beauty beyond description... would undoubtedly be the sun! Riding on the buss through the beautiful green mountains was quite the experience. We finally got to San Ignacio and found a town that felt very a live with energy and culture. Unlike Belmopan and Belize City, San Ignacio is found in the very foresty/jungle like atmosphere; home of a large population of spanish/english speakers. Upon getting off the bus, I said to myself "man it would be soooo cool to live here!" But thoughts of not having a house or non profit organizations to work with, made the idea feel very unrealistic. We had worked so hard early in the week and had made many amazing contacts with very cool opportunities to serve... and we had the choice of several houses to choose from. It just didn't seem realistic that we would ever be able to turn down those opportunities for a place that we had not yet researched... with the dead line of volunteers coming in just 5 days. Miracles began to happen.
A woman by the name of Mrs. Kay came to pick us up with a man name Mr. Gibs. Mr. Kay and Mr. Gibbs were contacts that were given to Raymon from other members of the LDS church. I have been amazed at the hospitality that has been given to us by the Dunfords, Mrs. Kay, Mr. Gibs, and other members of the LDS church. Although HELP International is non-denominational organization and has no focuses dedicated to the spreading of any particular religion, Raymon and I and many of the volunteers are members of the LDS (The church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints) and we have relied heavily on members of the church for help in finding non profit organizations to work with, rides, and lodging. It's been amazing how we can be complete strangers to an area, but have been welcomed like family where ever we have gone by the members of the church.
Mrs Kay, Mr. Gibs, Raymon and I talked for a quite a while getting to know each other and then Raymon and I asked if they knew of any non profit organizations we could contact and organize a meeting with. Mrs. Kay told me to call a friend named Omar Rodriguez. We called Omar that night and met with him right away. Omar is a police officer, but before his job he served for various NGO's through out San Ignacio. In some way or another, he was connected with about 12-14 organizations that he felt would be desirous to work with Help International and our volunteers. We told him we needed to find housing, and he told us that we could rent his upstairs... four bed rooms, large living area, and a shower in every room for just 200 dollars a month!!! That was far cheaper than any other option. Raymon and I were very grateful that we were guided to Omar and grateful we had not made any living decisions before entering San Ignacio. It's a beautiful, friendly, safe place in need. A perfect place for our volunteers to have an unforgettable experience.
It's getting late, but Saturday and Sunday have been spent organizing, writing emails, updating this blog, communicating with volunteers, and hanging out with the coolest young hip elderly couple on the block, the Dunfords. We went to church on Sunday with the Dunfords and it was quite the experience. It was a meeting where people could share their feelings about various beliefs they hold. I had the opportunity to speak, and spoke a lot about the opportunities I have written on this blog. Sister Dunford also shared some of her thoughts on her missionary service out here with her husband. They are such good people, we have really been blessed by their example, kindness, and generosity towards us.
The funniest part about church was when men of the church got together in a meeting to discuss a mothers day dinner the next week. It was absolutely hysterical. The leader stood up and was like "ok what do we want to cook for our wives and the mothers of this branch?" "beans chicken and rice" ".... and cake" "Does any one know how to bake a cake?" (no one raises their hands) ... (eventually a man raises his hand) "I can have my wife make the cake!" ... "we can't have your wife make a cake... we have to make the cake!! its mothers day!" "oh, your right" ... "does any one know how many servings a turkey provides for "..... (again the group goes silent)... hahaha eventually the leader brought in his mother and she trained all of us on how to pull off a mothers day dinner for the women in the branch. hahah you really had to be there. It was hilarious. We also got to ride in the back of a truck with some of the kids from church. We all sung Bob Marley's "everything is going to be alright" at the top of or lungs. It was pretty funny.
That was week one... Other volunteers will probably start updating this blog once they get here. I'm excited for the adventures to be had, the service that will be given, and the life lessons that will be learned. I'll try to update the blog with pictures once I'm not afraid of looking like a tourist that is begging to get robbed. :)