Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 2011
Participating in all activities that our District Education Centre Office supports is one way to integrate into my community and help out my colleagues in the education field.  On the second of December I participated in a parade here in Dangriga to commemorate National Disabilities Awareness Day, sponsored by NaRCIE, the National Resource Center for Inclusiveness Education.  The parade through the streets of Dangriga was the culmination of week-long activities designed to sensitize parents, teachers and students to the existence and needs of students with physical and developmental disabilities.  I helped carry the NaRCIE banner, walking behind a Dangriga fire engine blaring its siren.  Behind us were students from many schools in Dangriga, including several Special Education students from the one school in the area where there is a center devoted to working with children with either physical or learning disabilities.  Most children in Belize who might qualify for special education services are not able to receive assistance from a specially trained teacher, but the Ministry provides a trained special education coordinator for the entire Stann Creek District who travels to all 38 schools to support teachers in their efforts to include students in regular classrooms.  Here in Belize “inclusion education” is the norm. 
 My colleagues from the Ministry of Education, Therese, Ora and Tanya
Marching in the parade
The beginning of December marked our ninth month since arriving in Belize, but only the sixth month of our service as sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers working in our permanent sites.  At this juncture, the Peace Corps brought all 36 of us together for a “Reconnect” and “In-service Training”.  The first day of our week together we traveled to Belmopan with our Belizean work partners for a workshop on developing our work plans based on a participatory analysis of our Belizean partners’ needs and goals.  The following two days were spent with our fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in workshops ranging from “Stress Reduction” to “Budgeting”.  We received even more training in “Safety and Security,” a major concern for Peace Corps worldwide.  We reread and recommitted to our original goals and expectations, and generally commiserated with one another by sharing our successes and challenges.  On the last day several Peace Corps Volunteers stayed in Belmopan for optional language training.  The original teacher who had worked with the intermediate and advanced Spanish learners during our three months of training was not available, so Peace Corps asked me to step in.  I was thrilled!  I was given the enviable task of designing and teaching a 4-hour immersion class in Spanish to ten of the most motivated students I have been given the privilege to work with.  Imagine ten confident, eager, driven, animated adults who are clamoring to learn to speak Spanish in order to work with students, parents, hopeful entrepreneurs or villagers.  It was a Spanish-teacher’s dream class.  We reviewed practical uses of grammatical constructions and applied them to communicative situations Peace Corps Volunteers might encounter in their sites.  We read Pablo Neruda’s poetry and an article in the Spanish version of Cosmopolitan magazine.  We listened to music, and learned lyrics to children’s songs.  Our 4-hour class culminated in a spontaneously-acted telenovela (Spanish soap opera), based on the descriptions of a tangled web of characters devised by this diabolical instructor.  I had a blast!  Feedback from my fellow PCVs showed a desire to receive continuing instruction of this kind in the future.  All will depend on our ability to come together in a central location for such an endeavor.  I hope Peace Corps will grant us that opportunity again.

In my primary project with the schools I continue to work with small groups of students who are struggling with reading.  I also conduct workshops for teachers and instruct them in ways to differentiate their classrooms to include the students who are not on grade level in reading.  One of my most enjoyable experiences in the school of Nuestra Señora de Bella Vista has been helping to conduct the bi-monthly Family Literacy Workshops.  Mrs. Juanita Batun, the Literacy Coach from the Ministry of Education in Belize City, had asked me to work with her to develop workshops for the parents of students in the village of Bella Vista, so we began in early November to conduct these workshops with 60 parents, mostly mothers.  The majority of the participants are recent immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, speak only Spanish, and many have not learned to read in either English or Spanish.  Mrs. Batun was able to secure a grant in order to provide materials for the parents, and she asked me to be her translator.  We have conducted five workshops so far, teaching the parents the alphabet in English, instructing them in the importance of working with their children at home, and providing materials that they have constructed with glue, scissors, paper and fabric in order to work with their children at home.  We have been pleased with the enthusiastic attendance and the teachers remark that many parents are beginning to feel more comfortable visiting their children’s classroom.  Our goal is to encourage the parents to be as involved as possible in their children’s education.  It’s quite a challenge in this little village, with no library, no bookstore, and few opportunities for the families to enrich their children’s education.  Most of the parents are either employed in small cottage industries, or work in the banana farms.  They are some of the warmest, more welcoming people I’ve met here in Belize.
I'm helping out by holding the baby while the mothers sew "reading mats"

Every Wednesday when I travel to Bella Vista I travel on the teachers’ bus at 6:00 am, travel and hour and a half to get there, and leave at 4:00 pm to arrive home at 5:30.  This past Wednesday, however, I remained at the school in the evening to help out with the Christmas Pageant.  All schools in Belize are expected to raise most of their own funds, by charging a small fee at the beginning of the school year, and by conducting many fund-raising activities throughout the year.  The Ministry of Education only funds the salaries of the teachers and distributes textbooks; the individual schools must raise all other funds.  The Christmas Pageant was one such fund-raising endeavor.  I helped to sell snacks and drinks while watching the children perform songs, dances, poems and skits.  Here are some photos:
Bella Vista Christmas Pageant

And here's my favorite little "host brother", Shemar:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 19, 2011       Garifuna Settlement Day

Before describing the celebrations of Garifuna Settlement Day, I offer here a brief description of Garifuna culture and history:   

Herded aboard slave ships in West Africa, a group of Garífuna forebears were likely destined for New World mines and plantations when they wrecked off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1635.  They found refuge with the island’s Carib and Arawak Indians, immigrants from South America.  The two peoples blended through marriage, creating the Garífuna culture—Caribbean fishing and farming traditions with a mixture of Native South American and African music, dance, spiritual beliefs and language.

The Garínagu (Garifuna people) prospered and coexisted peacefully with French settlers who came later in the 17th century. Then English colonists began to arrive and demand land. The tensions eventually turned to war. Hopelessly outnumbered by British troops, the Garíngu and their French supporters surrendered in 1796. The British exiled the Garínagu to the island of Baliceaux.  They were imprisoned there in appalling conditions, and more than half died. The following year survivors were shipped to Roatán Island off the coast of Honduras. According to legend, the Garinagu hid cassava, a mainstay of their diet, inside their clothes, where it stayed alive watered by the sweat of the tightly packed captives. They planted the cassava on Roatán, where it grew abundantly. Soon the Garínagu established fishing villages along the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize. Each year in Belize, when locals reenact the arrival of the Garifuna people in 1832 to Dangriga, they slip out to sea in boats, then ride the surf onto shore, waving palm fronds and banana leaves to symbolize the plants that sustained their ancestors. This ritual, rich in music and dance, helps sustain Garífuna culture.
Sunrise in Dangriga on Settlement Day, November 19, 2011

Reenactment of the landing of the Garinagu in Dangriga

Me in my Garifuna dress with Marie and Michelle

Me with Miss Cas, Jemeiah and Shemar outside the church after Garifuna mass
Drumming, dancing and singing Garifuna songs

The Garifuna language is losing ground to English and Kriol, but the National Garifuna Council and schools such as Gulisi Primary School encourage young people to maintain their language, culture and music.  Each year in November in preparation for the Garifuna Settlement Days, several towns with large populations of Garifuna people hold pageants to determine contestants for the Miss Garifuna/Belize final pageant.  The winners of each town’s pageant are young women who best exemplify the values of the Garifuna people.  The judges interview these contestants, who also must perform traditional dances, reenact scenes from daily life in short skits, and give a speech in Garifuna.  I was present for the final pageant in which Miss Garifuna/Belize was chosen for 2011.   
Miss Garifuna/Belize Pageant 2011
Garifuna Settlement Day Parade

Pen Cayetano and the Turtle Shell Band

During the week leading up to Settlement Day, November 19, there are many contests, musical presentations, feasts and celebrations in the schools.  However, I was unable to participate in these this year, as I was treated for pancreatitis in the hospital in Belize City for those five days.  My colleagues in Dangriga filled me in on what I had missed, and welcomed me back home when I returned on Friday, November 18.  That evening there were parties throughout Dangriga, with drumming, dancing and a lot of drinking.  Hundreds of visitors flock to Dangriga each year on that night to party all night long and stay awake until dawn on the morning of the 19th to witness the reenactment of the settlement of Dangriga. Due to my recent hospitalization, I was unable to participate in the all-night party, but I was present for the 6:00 AM sunrise reenactment, the parade and the Garifuna mass.  I hope to participate fully in next year's festivities.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Two Trips to the Cayes
This past week I was fortunate to have two opportunities to visit three cayes that are just off the coast here in Dangriga.  Cayes (pronounced “keys”) are ramparts that consist of chunks of dead coral and other debris that form on the windward edge of the coral reef platform.  Some have a small sandy beach, and grow coconut palm trees and mangroves.
Leaving Dangriga behind
Heading out to the Cayes with the students

On November 3 I was invited to help chaperone a group of 20 Dangriga primary school students on a field trip to the cayes.   About a half an hour by boat from Dangriga are several cayes, only a few of which are inhabited.  Our group traveled to three of these cayes with a young marine biologist from Canada, named Donald, who lives and works on the most densely inhabited, Tobacco Caye. 

Red Mangroves

We first landed on Twin Cayes, where there is a station for a couple of Belize Fisheries Ministry officials.  Their job is to patrol the waters of the Marine Preserve to insure that the fishermen take only the species allowed by Belizean law, and only the prescribed number of conch, lobster and fish so as to not upset the delicate balance of the ecosystem.  Donald led us around the caye teaching us about the mangrove forests and sea grass that filters the silt that travels from the mouth of rivers and empties into the Caribbean Sea.  He showed us the three types of mangroves that grow on Twin Cayes and the children were taught to identify them and describe the importance of the mangroves for the health of the coral reef. 
Brown boobie (in mangrove tree); the great frigatebird (flying)

Our next stop was Man-o-War Caye, which is a bird sanctuary.  Donald explained to us that we would not disembark, and we should not make any loud noises or sudden moves.  We had arrived during the mating season.  The two species of birds that inhabit this caye are the brown boobie and the great frigatebird, two birds that live in a symbiotic relationship with one another.  The great frigatebird does not dive into salt water, so it eats the left over parts of fish from the brown boobie’s catch.  We witnessed the mating rituals of the great frigate bird, especially the inflation of the male frigate’s huge red throat pouch that is especially designed to attract females. 

Tobacco Caye
The students from Gulisi School drumming and singing on Tobacco Caye
Time for swimming
A fishing vessel passing Tobacco Caye

Our third destination was Tobacco Caye, the most densely populated caye off the coast of Dangriga, with a population of around 20 people.  There are a couple of small tourist hostels, but no hotels, shops or resorts.  Tobacco Caye is about the size of an American football field, but only a few buildings have electricity from generators or solar panels.  The students found some drums and maracas, and immediately made their own music.  They also enjoyed swimming and canoeing for a few hours before we were whisked away back to Dangriga.
My Ministry of Education colleagues at our retreat on Tobacco Caye
Hanging out with my colleagues on Tobacco Caye

I returned to Tobacco Caye two days later for a retreat with my colleagues from the Office of the Ministry of Education in Dangriga.   Our retreat was facilitated by a Catholic nun, Sister Caritas, who led us in a workshop designed to improve our ability to work as a team.  We were fed a wonderful meal of red snapper and had a few hours of R & R together before we had to return to civilization.  I am fortunate, indeed, to have these opportunities to visit and explore the beauty that is Belize.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October, 2011

The school year is finally in full swing.  In September Belizean school days are so frequently interrupted with national holidays, children’s rallies and teachers’ union meetings that not much gets started in the schools until October.  Now that October is here, I am busier than I have been since arriving in Belize.  I have been assigned to five schools in the Stann Creek District that are piloting a literacy program, and I have spent the last month learning how to find the buses to travel out to these schools and getting acquainted with the teachers and principals. 
I will describe what my weeks have looked like for the past month, but by the time you finish reading this blog post, my schedule may have changed.  I will continue to meet with teachers and principals to determine which schools and teachers need assistance.

On Mondays I travel by teachers’ bus to Hope Creek Methodist School.  I should explain that most of the schools in Belize are managed by churches.  There are a few government schools, but Christianity is the official religion of Belize, and Christian prayers are recited even in the government schools.  There is an official prayer of Belize, and in all schools students and teachers pray and study religion in the mornings as part of the curriculum.  The government of Belize pays the salaries of all teachers of Belize (except for a few exclusively private schools), no matter the denominational affiliation, so all schools are under the auspices of the government’s Ministry of Education while most are administered by various denominations of churches.  This is difficult for our American minds to grasp, but there is no separation of church and state in Belize. 

The teachers’ buses that I ride out to the schools are cast-off ancient, rickety American school buses that pick up all the teachers who live in town, and transport us out to the villages.  The village of Hope Creek is only about nine miles from Dangriga, so it doesn’t take me very long to get to the school on Monday mornings.  I leave at 7:15 and begin working with the teachers and principals.  At Hope Creek there is one young teacher completing his internship so I am considering working with him.  Only a small minority of teachers in Belize have a Bachelor’s Degree, another small number have an Associate’s Degree, some have a smattering of training in Internet-based and summer courses, and an even greater number of teachers have only a high school diploma.  Recently the Ministry of Education made it mandatory for teachers to receive their certification within five years of beginning their teaching career.  As a Peace Corps Volunteer I am expected to work with both experienced and new teachers to promote the development of literacy. 

In the little school in the village of Hope Creek there are many students who enter the primary grades speaking little or no English.  On one Monday while I was there, three little Guatemalan siblings were registered by their mother, and neither the 9-year-old, nor the 8-year-old, nor the 6-year-old had ever stepped inside a school.  Belizean schools have many challenges in addition to language barriers.  There are few resources, especially in the villages, where there is less likely to be a public library than in the towns.  In fact, there are few bookstores in Belize, so schools rely a lot on donations of used books from the States, Great Britain and Canada.  The Ministry of Education does provide text books in all subjects to the students, but children must bring their own pencils, notebooks, crayons, and some schools expect them to bring toilet paper and copy paper for the teachers to have in their classrooms. They must all wear uniforms.   None of the schools with which I work has a school library, although some teachers accumulate their own picture books and storybooks and display a small classroom library.  One of my five schools has no functioning copy machine.  Only one of the five schools has internet access, and most of the students have no access to computers either at school or at home. 

On Tuesdays I board a different teacher’s bus at 7:15 and travel to a more distant village in a lovely little valley up the Hummingbird Highway.  This is a Baptist school, with the enchanting name of Light of the Valley.  Here I have begun to help a Standard 2 (third grade) teacher learn how to assess the reading levels of her students.  She has a group of children who are significantly behind the rest of the class in reading, and has asked for assistance in developing intervention strategies for improving their literacy skills.  At this same school I am also working with a young teacher who is beginning his first year of teaching Infant 1 (Kindergarten).  There is another Infant 1 teacher in the school who is a very effective teacher, and so I substituted for this beginning teacher so that he could observe this other model teacher and learn from her.  He reported that he learned a great deal from observing her, and they now are planning lessons together.  What I learned by substituting for him was that this young teacher has a challenging job.   Two of the children have special needs, and one has Down Syndrome.  I spoke Spanish to the children who didn’t seem to understand the story I was reading, and discovered that over half of the class is non-English speaking.    After my attempt at substituting for him, I gained a fresh understanding and respect for the challenges he faces each day. 
Morning assembly at Light of the Valley Baptist School
Miss Logan's Infant 1 class at Light of the Valley Baptist School

Wednesdays are my longest days.  I board the teachers’ bus at 6 am and return at 5:30 pm.  The Roman Catholic school of Our Lady of Bella Vista is in a village 1 ½ hours from Dangriga.  With a student population of 995, it is the largest primary school I am working with.  The Literacy Unit to which I am assigned focuses on Infant 1 to Standard 2 (Kindergarten to Third Grade), and in Bella Vista that means 14 classes.  This village grew up quite recently around the various banana farms that are in the southern region of the Stann Creek and the Toledo Districts.  The banana workers are mostly Guatemalan and Mayan, the languages they speak are Spanish and Q’eqchi, and the population is very transient.  Both parents (if there are two parents) work long hours on the banana farms, and children are frequently unsupervised at home.  The teachers at Bella Vista report that this situation has created a lot of vandalism in the school, and a lack of parental support for teachers. 
Our Lady of Bella Vista Roman Catholic School

The village of Bella Vista has many other challenges, as well.  There are frequent problems with the village’s water supply, and there have been reports of outbreaks of cholera.  There is extreme poverty and lack of proper nutrition.  The school is overcrowded and there are not even enough chairs and desks for the children.  I have developed a great respect for these dedicated teachers who work under such difficult conditions.    

On Thursdays and Fridays I am closer to home.  The two schools in Dangriga that I visit on those days are Christ the King Anglican School, and Epworth Methodist School.  I ride my bike into the Ministry of Education office in the morning and walk over to both of those schools to assist teachers in developing intervention programs to work with their lowest functioning readers.  Two of the teachers are interested in developing before- and after-school tutoring programs very soon.   Before I begin to help with those upcoming programs, however, I have been asked to conduct workshops on teaching the writing process in two schools not included in the literacy pilot program.   
Christ the King Anglican School

Finally, after three months of intense training with the Peace Corps beginning in March, then two and a half months of sitting for endless hours in the Education Ministry office, I am excited that I have actually begun to do the job I have been sent here to do:  work with teachers and kids.  I still need more time to establish rapport with the teachers so that they feel free to reach out to me.  Only a few of the teachers have asked me for specific help in teaching reading to their students who have fallen behind.  I feel so fortunate to be given this opportunity to do what little bit I can to ease these hard-working teachers’ burden.  Without teachers’ aides, or extra materials to work with their students who are below grade level, they are frustrated in their efforts to reach all of their students.  I am relieved to finally be working in my primary project and I hope I will be of use to the teachers of Belize. 

Here I am with my Ministry of Education colleagues as we prepare a chicken barbeque fund-raiser for one of our colleagues whose daughter is undergoing chemotherapy.

Friday, September 23, 2011


September is the month of national holidays in Belize.  The very first weekend was Carnival.  When all of you in the States were celebrating Labor Day, I was standing in sweltering heat enjoying the dancing, costumes and LOUD music of the annual Carnival parade in Belize City.  This is the big kick-off to an entire month of patriotic holidays.  I’ll let my photos do the talking for me.

September 10 was the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day.  This battle was a short military engagement that lasted from September 3 to 10, 1798, off the coast of what is now Belize.  However, the name is typically reserved for the final battle that occurred on September 10. The battle took place between an invading force from Mexico, attempting to claim Belize for Spain, and a small force of resident woodcutters called Baymen, who fought for their livelihood assisted by black slaves. After the final two and a half hour battle, ravaged by sickness, the Spaniards withdrew and the British declared themselves winners.  On this day politicians deliver speeches, mainly in Belize City. 

However, I was not there to hear the speeches, as I was in the district of Cayo in a nature preserve where I was fortunate to see two of Belize’s national symbols in the wild.  In every classroom in Belize, teachers display the five national symbols:  the tapir, the black orchid, the keel-billed toucan, the mahogany tree and the flag.  Here are photos of the black orchid and the toucan.  I have also included the national butterfly, the blue morpho, although it is not one of the symbols.

The blue morpho butterfly
The keel-billed toucan
The black orchid

The most important national holiday in the month of September is Independence Day, on September 21.  This year’s celebration was especially significant as it was the thirtieth anniversary of Belize’s independence from Great Britain. This year’s celebration was bittersweet for Belizeans, though, because the “Father of the Nation”, the Right Honorable George Price, the country’s first Prime Minister and architect of Belize’s independence, passed away just two days before Independence Day. 

Several older Belizean friends have recounted their memories of the grand celebrations that took place back in 1981.  My friend and colleague, Therese Ariola, recalls the first Independence Day “bashmen” (Kriol for “party” or "celebration").  She described for me her excitement as a young student in the Teacher’s College of Belize City at the prospect of her country’s transformation from the colony of British Honduras to the independent nation of Belize.  She also recalls her fear during the riots, when opponents of Independence fought against their fellow countrymen.  

My host “mom”, Miss Cas, recalls memories of George Price’s stirring speeches heard on family radios that rallied the new nation to separate from their colonial masters.  She was the mother of young children at that time, and remembers the fireworks and celebrations in the streets.

On September 21st 2011, I had the privilege of participating in the Independence Day parade through the streets of Dangriga.  The Ministry of Education office where I am based decorated a “float”, actually a cattle car pulled by a semi-truck.  We put up dozens of Belizean flags, balloons and colored fabric, along with banners identifying our float.   We snaked around the streets of Dangriga at an excruciatingly slow pace, while blasting the Belizean punta rock song “I am Belize” from the gigantic speakers on the “float”.  In spite of the oppressive 90 degree heat and the three hour duration of the parade, we had a lot of fun tossing lollipops to the children along the parade route.  And I felt honored to be asked to participate in this momentous occasion.
Yours Truly on the float with some young Belizean friends

The Belizean flag

My friend Therese Ariola

I wish you all a lovely Autumn!  Please keep in contact.   I love to hear from folks back home.

Monday, September 5, 2011

More workshops, another camp and an adventure weekend

August 2011

Preschool teachers are an especially creative and lively bunch, which made my experience with them in workshops in August particularly rewarding.  Preschool is a vitally important step toward progress in literacy in Belize, especially because most children begin primary school unable to speak English.  Many have learned Spanish, Garifuna, Qe’qchi or Kriol at the parents’ knee, but the official language of instruction in Belizean schools is Standard English.  So if students have the benefit of beginning preschool at age three, they will be exposed to the language which they are expected to learn to read and write.  However, there are only 32 preschools in the Stann Creek District, and not all of them are free of charge.  In the entire country of Belize only 43.7% of children attend preschools.

I was privileged to be asked to help out with the preschool teachers’ workshops, even though my primary project focuses on elementary schools.  We are encouraged, however, to develop secondary projects.   My favorite workshop with the preschool teachers was a practical one:   reading aloud to children, something near and dear to my heart.  After modeling for them, and providing tips, each teacher demonstrated for us.  They were such hams! 
Every afternoon during the week of workshops, the teachers participated in make-it-take-it workshops and inspired each other to develop their own charts, games and visuals for use in their classrooms with shoestring-budget materials. Teachers in Belize are not given money for use in their classrooms, so they are extremely resourceful at using whatever they have available to them to make their own charts, books, games and learning centers.

The following week I had the opportunity to work with the public librarian in developing a “camp” for children to attend.  The theme was “seeds, plants and healthy eating habits”.  Each child planted radish seeds in little plastic cups and in the two weeks of the camp, they saw shoots come up through the soil.  I played my guitar, taught songs and games, told stories and read aloud to 20 enthusiastic youngsters.  Two of my Peace Corps Volunteer friends helped on a couple of days.  Kirstin and Cathy are both volunteers in the health sector, so they conducted two creative activities on healthy eating habits that the kids enjoyed very much.  We took a field trip to the local open-air market and the children were given money to purchase fruits and vegetables.

On one special weekend in August, a couple of new friends, Holger and Kerstin, arranged for us to stay at Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Jungle Adventure Lodge.  Holger is a volunteer consultant with the Belize tourism industry, and his wife, Kerstin, is volunteering with the Red Cross.  They invited my friend Linda and me to attempt three adventures, and I am astounded that I actually had the courage to attempt all three.  And surprised and thankful that I actually survived!  The first was called “The Black Hole Drop,” a 300-ft. repelling adventure into a sinkhole in the middle of the jungle.  Our guides reassured us of their experience and emphasized their record of safety, so we timidly leaned back and repelled off the precipice down into the cavern, where the other guides had gone before us and prepared a delicious lunch. 

Our next day’s adventure was a seven-kilometer river trip in and out of caves, while floating on inner tubes.  We paddled down the river using our arms as oars, so it was quite a workout, but the water was cool and refreshing and the caves so impressive, that we didn’t even notice the burn in our muscles.  At the end of the 3-hour journey, a huge buffet lunch awaited us.

Following our repast, we were hurled through the rainforest on ziplines.  The zipline adventure was a hoot and not at all scary; just a whole lot of fun.  I feel so thankful to have these opportunities on weekends.  I am the luckiest Peace Corps Volunteer ever!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Homesickness, Camps and August Workshops

Every Peace Corps Volunteer experiences homesickness at one time or another, but I was foolish enough to believe that I would be immune to that particular malady.  When I was much younger and was an exchange student in Costa Rica and then in Mexico City, I did not experience homesickness--not even once--so I did not recognize that black cloud when it descended upon me here in Belize.  It felt at times as if I were mourning the death of someone dear to me.  It was a physical pain in the pit of my stomach that caught me off guard at the most random moments.  Tears dribbled out of my eyes and I was powerless to hold them back. 

Today, as I write this, those inexplicable feelings are no longer plaguing me, but when they return, at least I will not be broadsided and perplexed.  I dealt with those uncomfortable feelings in various ways, and some of my methods were actually successful--temporarily.  I called, texted and emailed family in the States or I contacted Peace Corps friends here in country.  That was a temporary salve.  I walked, rode my bike and did my zumba exercise, and all those physical activities were exceptionally helpful in transforming my melancholy, although it slithered back into my thoughts as soon as I sat somewhere alone for more than five minutes.  I wrote in a journal, which gave me some perspective, at least on an intellectual level, even if the heavy feeling in my body continued to overwhelm me at times.  I finally kicked the blues away after spending lots of time with Peace Corps Volunteers who have been here in Belize for at least a year.  Their empathy and patience helped me to begin to feel normal again.  But “normal” is a little different from the “normal” I brought with me to Belize.  I feel myself changing.  Perhaps that is what is meant by adjusting.  I am just beginning to connect with some of my Belizean colleagues and acquaintances, and that is helping to transform those inexplicable pangs of sadness.   I am also spending more time engrossed in good novels and even movies that we Peace Corps Volunteers pass around on DVDs.  I am sure those uncomfortable waves of ennui will return in future episodes, but I will have more weapons in my arsenal to fend them off.

Although the Peace Corps does not allow us newbies to spend the night away from our site for the first two months, because of work obligations, I was given permission to spend some nights away.  This change of scenery probably contributed to the dissipation of my homesickness.  Also, I stayed at the homes of two experienced Peace Corps Volunteers whose recounted experiences provided me with a wider perspective and gave me hope.  My work with the Ministry of Education took me to Belize City for two days and nights to attend workshops to instruct me in the manner in which the Ministry expects us literacy Volunteers to train teachers in our sites.  The workshops were excruciatingly long, but valuable.  I spent two days with bright, committed Belizean teachers who were also being trained to mentor their colleagues.

A day later, I traveled with my Peace Corps friend Barbara to a small camp outside of San Ignacio to participate in Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).  The camp was organized by a committee of Peace Corps Volunteers who had been planning this camp for over 11 months.  There were 20 girl campers, most of whom had never spent a night away from home.  They hailed from two different regions of the country, so it was a marvelous experience for the girls to make friends with girls from different cultures.  Barbara and I led the campfire songs and assisted the other counselors with games and activities. We even ate smores!  I look forward to participating in the planning of Camp GLOW for next summer, and I hope to start a GLOW club in Dangriga.

Learning to dance at Camp GLOW
Barbara and I led the campfire songs

After helping out at that camp, Barbara and I traveled to Georgeville, a small village where another Peace Corps Volunteer, Jenna, was conducting a Reading Camp.  We also helped Jenna with singing and games.  I came away from Jenna’s camp with ideas that I hope to use this coming school year either in classes, or in summer camps

At Jenna's reading camp
Fun games at Jenna's camp

I was grateful to have the opportunity this month to be invited by my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Cathy and Steve to help with their projects.  I facilitated a workshop with a group of dynamic and involved community women, POWA (Productive Organization of Women in Action) on Non-formal Education.  They are being trained to work in the community promoting literacy.

Workshop with the POWA women on Non-formal Education

On one Sunday Cathy and Steve invited me to go with Steve's counterpart and a nurse from the Dangriga hospital out to a banana farm about an hour from Dangriga.  Our goal was to measure blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the Spanish-speaking migrant workers and their families.  They had asked me to go along to translate.  It was wonderful to be able to use my Spanish.
The banana farm

During the first two weeks of August teachers throughout Belize are required to attend workshops in order to maintain their licenses.  In our town of Dangriga we have been conducting workshops in the rooms of Ecumenical College for all the teachers of the Stann Creek District.  I was asked to facilitate a workshop for primary school teachers on teaching the writing process.  From feedback that I received, it seems that the workshop was practical and helpful for them, and I truly enjoyed interacting with an enthusiastic and committed group of primary school teachers.

This week I am helping out another of my colleagues here in the Education Ministry.  Therese, the Preschool Coordinator, has been so warm and friendly to me since I arrived in June, and she asked me to help facilitate workshops all week with 26 of the preschool teachers from the Stann Creek District.  I conducted a short workshop on reading aloud to children, and will do another one on storytelling tips and techniques.  Next on the agenda is a two-week “camp” at the public library.  I’ll report on that in the next installment of this blog.

I hope all my friends and loved ones are surviving the heat of this year’s summer in the US, and that you’ll continue to write to me and keep me in your thoughts…