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The Office of Social Justice Service-immersion Experience
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
After a wonderful night’s sleep, we arrived at Reyes’ home where we were welcomed to indulge in a delicious breakfast that consisted of some sort of fried dough called Jack Cakes, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and beans. This may have been my favorite meal so far, but I am still eager to see what other foods we will be tasting this week. After breakfast, Reyes took the group on a tour of his cacao farm. Along the way Reyes demonstrated his vast knowledge of the land and Mayan culture by giving us an overview of the different types of plants that may be used for food, art, and even medicinal purposes. I was very intrigued by the connection that the Mayans have with the earth and everything that springs from it. Nothing is ever wasted and even the smallest things, that many of us may take for granted, are given a purpose. Reyes’ cacao farm was a great thing to witness and we even got to taste the inside of a cacao pod, which was not chocolatey but fruity! It was pretty cool to find out that Reyes’ cacao farm had been in his family for many generations before him and that he plans to one day hand it down to his sons. After the tour of the cacao farm we were able to see the process of how a cocoa drink is made. Reyes’ wife is an expert at this process and even allowed us take part in it and taste the end result, which was delicious.
 
Belize - cocoa farm- chocolate drink
 
Although it was sad to say goodbye to Reyes and his family, after having spent a good portion of last night and today with them, I was very eager to see what our next destination was all about – Punta Gorda. My first impression of Punta Gorda was that it had a strong Caribbean feel to it. Our first stop in Punta Gorda was the Nazareth Retreat Center, the place where we will be staying for the rest of the week. It is very big and very beautiful. The sisters that we have met have also been very nice and welcoming. After unpacking and getting settled in our room we all went to grab lunch at Waluco’s, a great restaurant that surprisingly had many foods that are also common in America, such as burgers and quesadillas. I ordered some very delicious barbeque ribs. We ended the afternoon with a refreshing swim on the Gulf of Honduras.
 
Eddy Caiza Class of 2014
Hello from Belize! We are having an absolutely amazing time in this beautiful country, and we have been so lucky to meet some amazing people so far. I feel so fortunate to have been welcomed into several people’s communities and homes. We started off the day having breakfast at Julio’s, made by his wife, who is a fabulous cook! Then, Julio gave us a tour of the Maya Center Museum. We got to learn a lot about the traditional Maya culture. Julio showed us some of the musical instruments that the Mayans use, like the marimba and the harp. Next, Julio encouraged us to see how many people we could fit on the woven hammock (5 people) and then we got to grind up some sugar cane. My favorite part was learning how to dance in the traditional Mayan style, which came in handy later that day (more on that later!) Before we left, we got to take a look at Julio’s chocolate factory and sampled some of his delicious chocolate!
 
Belize - Mayan Dance
 
We sadly had to say goodbye to Julio and his wife, and drove to Blue Creek for some lunch at Coleman’s Café. There was a delicious assortment of chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, and more! After we ate, we changed into our swimsuits and met up with Silvano, who was our tour guide who took us through the Blue Creek Cave. I was completely in awe of the cave…I can’t even put into words how beautiful it was! The entrance to the cave was enormous! We put on headlamps and went swimming through the cave with Silvano as our leader. At one point, we all turned our lights off and sat in the complete darkness. It was beautiful—we couldn’t even see our own hands right in front of our faces. We kept making our way through the cave until we came to a waterfall, which we played in for a little bit before making our way back. I’ve never experienced anything like that cave swim in my life—it was incredible.
 
Next, we headed into San Antonio for our homestay. We each went to a different local family’s house for dinner. I went with Jeff and Juli to eat at Ms. Amelia’s house. Her daughter and law, Olga, was there as well, along with her daughter, Tanya. We also got to meet Ms. Amelia’s mother, who is 82 years old! Ms. Amelia and her mother wore beautiful traditional clothes that they had made themselves. A lot of the women I’ve met here make their own clothing, which is very beautiful and colorful. After dinner, we went to Reyes’ house, who is the head of the Toledo Ecotourism Association. Reyes and his son and a village elder played the marimba, while we danced. I absolutely loved it! That night, we slept in Reyes’ guest house, which was similar to many of the traditional homes, which have thatched roofs and no electricity. That was my first time sleeping with a mosquito net around my bed! I am just so amazed at how much hospitality the Reyes and his family and the other families in San Antonia have shown us. They have invited us to immerse ourselves in their culture, and I’m learning so much. I’m honored to be able to share in some of their experiences!
 
Claire McGrath Class of 2015
Group of students preparaing for Belize trip
A quick photo of our group, before we left. #Belize2014
 
Today was our first day in country! We had an adventurous day at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve. Julio and his wife cooked us a delicious breakfast including beans and Johnny Cakes. After breakfast we hit the trail and hiked for a few hours up to Ben’s Bluff where we could see for miles and had a perfect view Victoria’s Peak, the third highest in Belize! Oh course we had a photo-op with our Mount flag too! On our way back down we took a pit stop at a beautiful waterfall. Swimming in the chilly water felt perfect after a sweaty and hot hike. We worked together to get everyone under the waterfall and even washed up a bit with some bio-degradable soap! After hiking back down to eat some lunch, the group ventured down the road to explore the plane crash site before having some free-time.
 
I am pleased with the beauty of rural Belize and since landing we have been experiencing the culture nonstop! It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in the products at the grocery store. They have many of the same cereal, but they also have similar cereals with different names and mascots. The mixed tropical fruit jelly is also an amazing addition to our peanut butter sandwiches! Of course my favorite experience so far has been getting to know Julio and his wife and trying all of their traditional foods. I cannot wait to try many more foods each day, hopefully I will learn how to make some of it too!
 
Juli Good Class of 2015

Support crew in frot of Church

5 a.m. wake-up call from the head leader Jeff with his soft tone telling us to rise and shine. Getting up this morning was a bit tough but the only thing that helped me get out of bed and not ignoring Jeff was that today was the last day we were working on the church and we could not be late, and also seeing the beautiful sun rising in the sky. We all headed down to breakfast for the last time at 5:30 a.m. and talked about how close we are to being done with the church and how excited we are to just do our very best today!

While driving down the road right before we hit, what seems to be endless, the bumpy roller coaster to our village, we see Frankie, Wendell and other people from his crew off to the side. We ended up driving to the church garage for Wendell to bring back a spare tire for Frankie's truck. While driving on the rocky road to the village, we were all expecting to see Frankie driving slowly because of his tire, but he ended up getting to the work site way before us and not needing the tire....Click here to read more.

 
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