Friday, March 24, 2017

A Trip You Can’t Top - Service Learning in Belize

After spending two college Spring Breaks at home on the couch, I decided that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and use college as an opportunity to experience new things. Last Spring, I learned about an opportunity to complete a ten-day course called “Educational Leadership in Service- Learning: Belize” through the College of Education and Human Sciences at SDSU. This Spring, I completed that course over my Spring Break with eleven other SDSU students and twelve Brookings community members. I never expected this trip to have such an impact on my life that I would shed a tear when I had to part ways with these amazing people who became like family over the course of this trip. Not only the people that I served with impacted me so greatly, but also the children, adolescents, and adults whom I met and worked with while in Belize. It has been eleven days since we have returned and I am still trying to process this life changing experience.
I had two goals for this trip. The first was to learn about educational system and culture of Belize. The second was learn to be humble, optimistic, and appreciative. On just about every day of this trip, I became closer and closer to fulfilling these goals. We started our journey in Corozal, Belize and worked with children aged 2-14 that came from households with drug addict parents (see picture below). A retired principal in Belize puts on a vacation bible school program every Sunday for these children so that they are reminded that someone cares about them. I could see on their faces that these children were so appreciative for someone to give them attention and they jumped for joy when we handed each of them a new t-shirt. It was so fulfilling to spend time with these kids but so heartbreaking to watch them walk back to their dilapidated homes at the end of the day. We have so much and they have next to nothing.

Next, we traveled to Succotz, Belize which is a smaller town near the Guatemala border. The SDSU students spent their time at the Nazarene primary school and high school, while the community members helped repair a building owned by a local church. I thought most of my time would be spent working with the high school students in their classes, but we actually worked side-by-side with them while building a fence for the school’s sheep. I found the interaction I had with the students in this setting just as fulfilling as working with them in the classroom. They taught us how to use machetes and how to efficiently dig post holes by hand and we taught them how to communicate while working with a group to accomplish a task. I did get to spend some time in the classroom both teaching students how to sew and in a math class! Actually, myself and two other students got to teach a lesson on area and perimeter to a ninth grade math class. Students in Belize are only required to attend school until they are fourteen so these students chose to go to high school and were so eager to learn!

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There are no public schools in Belize; there are only Christian schools that have a small tuition fee per semester. Students can earn scholarships based on need as well. At the beginning of each week, the high school students gather around the flag pole and have a ceremony where they pray, sing the national anthem, recite a pledge (my favorite line from this was “I am the hope of Belize”), and sing Christian songs. At the primary school, the teachers have devotions at the beginning of the week to pray. We got to observe both of these traditions. My faith is important to me so it was really cool to see that their faith is present in every aspect of their lives. These teachers were so dedicated to making sure that their students were set on the best track possible to live a good life in Belize. The principal was so passionate about introducing new skills to her students such as sewing, agriculture, cooking, and more. These students and teachers were truly inspiring!

Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, sky, outdoor, water and natureThis blog post only scratches the surface of the things I experienced while in Belize. I could easily write ten pages about it. I didn’t even get to the food, sight-seeing, laughs, interactions with locals, bus rides, and so much more! If you are an SDSU student or a Brookings community member and have the slightest interest in participating in something like this, go on this trip next year! It exceeded my expectations and I feel more humbled, optimistic, and appreciative as a result of this trip. I will forever cherish the memories and relationships I made while serving in Belize. Some of the Belizeans that I met have even added me on Facebook so it will be neat to stay in touch!

-Stephanie Schmidt-