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The Office of Social Justice Service-immersion Experience
Keyword: 2014
After departing the hospitable arms of the Pallotine Sisters at the Nazareth Retreat Center in Punta Gorda we found ourselves well into the remaining days of our experience in Belize…but we didn’t fret because just around the corner, another eye-opening adventure awaited us.
Belize - holding hands with a nun.
We traveled to the village of Hopkins, along the southern coast of Belize - on the Caribbean Sea. This village only had two roads in and out and virtually one main street. Here we were first exposed to an area where the division of wealth and extreme economics in Belize was self-evident. Hopkins, a beach town is divided into North and South Hopkins. North Hopkins is where the original village was established and the main living area for the locals and a fair amount of visitors. Though the nature is lush and the people are vibrant, North Hopkins faces challenges most villages in developing countries experience. As we traveled through and made our way into South Hopkins, we saw the strong emergence of visual wealth – large houses, beach-front resorts, mainstream restaurants, real estate offices and well-fed pets. This area is a target for tourists with a strong interest in vacation destination homes to buy or rent. The contrast between the two areas of the village was vast. This difference supported the opinion Leonard Lewis, a Belizean we were fortunate to have met, when he said the middle class of Belize is disappearing and ‘Belize is growing into a country with only very poor and the very rich’.
Lebeha Drum Center in Belize
After a hearty lunch we headed to the Lebeha Drumming Center for lessons by owner and Hopkins native, Jabar. Here we learned the basics about drumming and Garifuna rhythms. We were invited to return in the evening for dance lessons and the chance to show off our talents (or lack of = ME) in drumming. Jabar and his team were patient and shared their culture and talents with an open heart.
We also had dinner at “Love on the Rocks” – it is a tradition for Mount students to visit and feast here to celebrate an experience full of dedicated service, challenging discussions an camaraderie.
What I learned in one day:
  1. Music and dance is a great way of experiencing culture
  2. The economic disparity in Hopkins is extreme
  3. Vibrant, culturally sound communities are not dependent on high income levels
  4. Garifuna drumming takes practice and more practice
  5. A group that works hard together can also have loads of fun together
Christian Kendzierski, assistant facilitator of Encounter Belize and Mount director of media relations
Belize Sunset 2014 - Encounter Belize - Office Of Social Justice
Today was an exciting day! Not only did we get to sleep in for an extra half hour, but we set out to explore two Mayan ruin sites. Our first stop was at Lubaantun, which translates to “place of the fallen stones” in modern Maya. Lubaantun is probably best known as the home of the mysterious Crystal Skull, which was discovered in 1924. For many of us this was our first experience at a ruin site. The site itself was as massive as it was beautiful. Lubaantun holds three ball courts, which were an important part of ancient Maya culture. After exploring these courts we set out to see the rest of the site which included the Butterfly Plaza, and the Sacred Alter. We recollected on the steps of the Great Plaza where we hung out in the shade and admired the beauty of where we sat.
Mayan Ruins - Crystal Skull - Belize
After a quick lunch in the car we arrived at our next site, Nim Li Punit. Nim Li Punit is home to many amazing sites. The first thing that we noticed when we arrived were large stone columns called Stelas. Each Stela had its own unique carving which portrayed texts or pictures of the Ancient Maya. These Stelas ranged in size, but Nim Li Punit is home to the largest one in Belize! Nim Li Punit was named after this massive Stela, which stands 14 feet tall! The Stelas weren’t the only thing worth noting about the site. Nim Li Punit is a royal burial site! Many of these tombs have been unearthed by archeologists, but are on display to the visitors. After we all had our fill of exploring the ruins we headed back to the van.
On our ride back to the retreat center many of us were exhausted from such an exciting day. Even though we were tired the van was still buzzing with memories and stories from the last week. It’s hard to believe how fast this week has gone. Tonight we are going into town for dinner to celebrate our last night in Punta Gorda, and celebrate an impactful week of service. Tomorrow morning we travel to Hopkins to start the final leg of our journey! Make sure you stay tuned for more to come!
Jack Nash, Class of 2013
Though this is a long-standing trip for the Office of Social Justice, it is always filled with new experiences--different people to meet and different perspectives to see as we try to deepen our understanding of both Belize and the various cultural and social systems at play in this beautiful country. Yesterday while we waited out the storm in Blue Creek, many of us enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the Vice Principal of Aguacate RC school and, seeing the interest so many of us had in the education system, he invited us to his school to observe classes and speak with more students. We gladly took him up on this opportunity.
Classroom in Belize
Upon arrival in Aguacate, we split into three groups and went to different classes.  Because their new school is currently being built, the temporary classrooms are scattered throughout the village. Infant 1 and 2 (grades K and 1 in the U.S. system) used the community health post, Standard 1 and 2 (grades 3 and 4) in the church building, and Standard 5 and 6 (grades 7 and 8) in the traditional school room. Some group members went to the Infant 1 and 2 class and got the chance to help with reading and music while those who went to Standard 1 and 2 got to listen to stories that the students had written. Having worked in a middle school before coming to the Mount, I was eager to stay with the Standard 5 and 6 students and see what they were learning. I walked into a very vibrant classroom--friends talking, some studying and reading, but I was caught by surprise when the whole class stopped what they were doing, and turned to me to greet me with a loud “morning, sir!” This immediately took me back to the time I spent working at Broughal Middle School where I would be greeted with “hey mister!”
As the years winds down for them, today was filled with tests and quizzes; I was there for just four hours, but it that time, they took tests in religion, language arts, math and science! This gave me the great chance to talk 1-on-1 with their teacher, as well as take their tests to see how I would do in Standard 6 in Aguacate. I learned a lot yesterday--first, I still don’t know how to use a protractor very well, nor do I know the parts of a circle (apparently ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ are not parts of a circle). Second, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the peanut butter is just jelly on bread. Third, despite environmental differences the challenges that many teachers face in Belize parallel those in the states. Limited resources, absent parents, overcrowded classrooms and the stress of standardized assessments can greatly hinder an educator’s success in the class. Finally, educators around the world are agents of a relentless pursuit of justice for their students; empowering them to overcome odd within a system that all too often works against them. When I asked their teacher, Pablo, what his ultimate goal is as an educator, he said “students will choose to be what they want, but I want to help them be the best at whatever they choose.” I think, ultimately, this should be the goal of education, and one that I will carry with me back to the states.
Christian Quiz Bowl BelizeToday we went to the Blue Creek School to see the Christian Quiz Bowl competition. The competition was set up Jeopardy-style. There were four schools represented-Blue Creek, Aguacate, San Benito Pointe, and Santa Teresa. There were questions about the Bible and Catholicism. They began the event with the Belize National Anthem, a pledge to Belize and prayer. I enjoyed talking to the children who were in the audience with us; they were lots of fun! Claire and I also tried a drink called ideal for the first time. It was hard drinking juice out of a bag so I’m pretty sure I spilled most of it, but it was really good.
After the game was over (Aguacate won), there was a huge downpour while we had lunch in the same building. Some of the students were shy but many of them were happy to talk and laugh with us.
We also learned a lot about the schools here from the vice principal of Aguacate. He told us about the challenges that Mayan schools face as well as the development and progress that is being made. I am looking forward to visiting the Aguacate school tomorrow and seeing the students in a classroom.
Ashley Crosby, Class of 2014
Hello from Belize!!
Today was our first day of service and we were all very excited. For many of us, this was the part of the trip that we were looking forward to the most. I know I was. We arrived at the Punta Gorda Red Cross where their dedicated volunteer, Ms. Terry, greeted us with such warmth. We immediately got to work cleaning the inside of the PG Red Cross to prepare it for a new paint job. Some of us braved the hot Belizean sun and painted the outside of the building. At the end of the day we painted almost the entire building inside and out. Our first day was a great accomplishment not only because of how much we finished, but because the team worked so well together towards something good.
Students paiting building at Red Cross
Ms. Terry talked to us about the services the Red Cross provides to Punta Gorda. Not only does the PG Red Cross provide family emergency and disaster planning, it also provides testing and prevention of HIV as well as an elderly outreach program. Ms. Terry also wants to expand the Red Cross outreach to include adults with special needs. The PG Red Cross is an integral part of the community here.
Service group in Belize - Red Cross
Community service is such a beautiful and important part of this immersion trip. I am so grateful that we were able to do something good for the people of Punta Gorda. We often think of community service as helping people in our immediate community, but I believe that this thinking needs to be expanded. In these modern times we need to start thinking of ourselves as global citizens with our community having no borders. Community service is about helping our fellow neighbor, no matter where in the world they may reside.
So far this has been an awesome trip and I am looking forward to the week ahead of us!
Micahela Mobley Class of 2014
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