Thursday, March 30, 2017

That's a wrap! We ended the Belize 2017 program last night with a reunion. Thank you for another wonderful program!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Learning to serve Belize.

You can learn a lot about a country by its place names. There's so much about language that we take for granted, etymology being pretty close to the top of the list. A quick look over a map of Belize will reveal to you places like Orange Walk Town and Yo Creek. Double Head Cabbage and Punta Gorda and the Vaca Plateau. Lord's Bank is next to Ladyville is next to Middlesex is next to More Tomorrow. Teakettle and Crooked Tree and Bella Vista. The deliciously named Sapodilla Cayes. There's a place called Shipyard 20 miles inland (nomenclature, we discovered, owing to the fact a big Mennonite community of boat builders and sorghum farmers have staked their claim to that section of the river.)

At first glance Belize looks as though it's been rendered by a 6 year old whose palette was limited to the classic Crayola 8-pack. The land is green and the water is blue and the sky is populated with full-figured white clouds. The houses are red or yellow or orange. The roads are either black or brown depending on whether or not they've been paved. 

This is an oversimplification, of course. There are a hundred variations of shade and texture and sheen to any landscape once it becomes familiar enough. The Inuit have an infamously large vocabulary to describe types of snow, for example. It's simply a matter of knowing what you're seeing and paying close attention.

There's a pretty straightforward analogy here to how we experience new places. We tend to come in with our rough historical outlines and lists of current statistics and word of mouth preconceptions, all of which have some value but only up to a point. Even over short periods the world has a way of unraveling itself before us and revealing the myriad layers of complexity that lie beneath the surface of our biases and perceptions. There is much to recommend the combination of travel and service that we facilitate in the ISLP program, but the acknowledgment of this complexity is certainly way up there. Like so many lessons of real import, it tends to be the kind of thing that needs to be learned again and again, and in that way becomes a lifelong practice of sorts.

One of the surest ways to be reminded of just how wonderfully diverse and interesting and complicated the world is is to interact with the people that call that place home. Our clinic and our classroom have been amazing opportunities to share our skills and gifts and knowledge, but they've also been labs in which we ourselves have been tested. We've learned about one another as a group and have also been asked to reassess how much our individual worldviews have space for information that goes beyond the dangerously broad strokes of the general.

We know a lot more that we did before about two places called Dangriga ("land that is divided by a river") and Independence, much of this knowledge coming in the form of Belizean students and teachers and patients and assistants and hotel staff from both of these towns. This is perhaps the most important kind of knowing, so actual and relatable and pressing, so essential to any effort to make our world a better place.    


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Belize 2017: 32 students and 8 faculty/staff went to Belize to teach students in local schools and provided services in a dental clinic. The students and faculty were from a variety of disciplines including nursing, law, dental, communication and criminal justice. Lesson plans included crime prevention, personal safety, dental hygiene, setting and achieving goals and STD and pregnancy prevention. The group also visited the Lamanai Mayan Cultural Site,the Belize Zoo and explored South Water Caye on an island expedition. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

First Day in Belize!

The meeting time was four a.m., a middle-of-the-night mark associated with dissociation. Students individually walked in with their set of luggage, past swooshing automatic doors, to find  other team members. It’s four a.m. — a time of night when your brain is still trying to adjust. So they make the small talk like its been done this past month, with heavy eye-lids and encouraging smiles. Sleeping on the plane was the focus for four a.m.

I don’t think there were any good or bad expectations for our travels, at the time of departure most can only bear to think of the destination in mind — and getting there no matter what it takes. Although, I’ll say through the security checks, and lay-overs and check-ins, this group made opportunities out of “just waiting.” By the end of the day it was clear, as we sat on the edge of the pool with our feet in the water. This is more special than a ‘spring break.’ I heard conversations about relationships, jobs, plans for our future and the plans for this week, until the reggae, sun and students trickled out.

We met for dinner, and picked up where we left off. The Caribbean moon hung low on a string, lower than the patio lights. We were sent to bed with “homework,” the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech by David Foster Wallace. I’m sure each student will interpret in his or her own way, as they should. I think Wallace summed his advice best when he said, “The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

Maybe we were supposed to go to bed tonight thinking about the ways this trip will affect us, and more importantly how we will affect those during our service days. From what I saw today, I hope we have no problem building each other up and recognizing our strengths, and being able to care and send our best back into this community.

Maggie Little - Belize 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

Belize 2017

Student Reflection

UofL students and faculty have been preparing for months, extending their schedules and communicating with members of other majors and their own. With orange suitcases in tow, the team is ready to leave for Belize! 

I think many students have feelings of both excitement and anxiousness. Will our lesson plan go alright? How receptive will the students be? 

But for most, curiosity of another culture drives away all those worries. Many students have been out of the country before, but this trip will offer a more immersive experience. Natalia Dickerson, a nursing student a part of the program said, “This is now my time to step into someone else’s shoes being able to experience the environment and what they are doing every day.” 

Week after week, we’ve come together on Tuesday evenings to share our lesson plans and fun facts about ourselves. It’s unanimous that when in a room together, it gives a “good vibe,” as a few professors have put it. 

Exploring Mayan ruins, coastal reefs, and watching Garifuna dancers will all be new to us, still shots to hold in our lives. But I think the most anticipated memories are the ones we will make among ourselves and the people in the international community. 

Maggie Little - Belize 2017