Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother's Day weekend in Orange Walk and Corozal

Two more weeks of intense technical and language training had passed and we were due for a break from all the work, and eager for the opportunity to experience another part of Belize.  So this past weekend all 38 of us Peace Corps trainees were dispersed to every corner of Belize to visit current Peace Corps Volunteers to see how they work and live.  

I took a bus on Saturday morning to Belmopan, where I connected with Kathryn, another trainee in the education sector, and the two of us caught a bus to Belize City, another 1 ½ hours from the capital.  From there we rode the bus for another 1 ½ hours to Orange Walk Town, where we met Colleen, an education Volunteer who arrived in March 2010.  We brought bike helmets from the Peace Corps office and Colleen borrowed bikes for us to use on a tour around the town.  With a population of 22,000, the largely Hispanic settlement of Orange Walk is the largest town in northern Belize.  The town is a mix of Spanish, Maya, East Indians, visiting Mennonites and Chinese. Mexican influences remain strong and Spanish and Kriol are the most common languages spoken.   It’s even hotter up in the north than down in Blackman Eddy, but it seems to be a little drier, at least for now just before the rainy season begins.  

Colleen organized a “cocktail hour” at her comfortable little apartment on Saturday evening, inviting many Peace Corps Volunteers and Belizean colleagues.   I am so impressed with the way the Volunteers collaborate with one another, even though they work in different sectors.  The photo below shows a world map that a few Business/Organization and Health Peace Corps Volunteers helped Colleen and the children in her school to put on the school’s wall.  The children painted and labeled the map, and Colleen helped the teachers to include lessons in their curriculum to teach world geography.

Colleen is a speech pathologist, but she wears many hats as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  She works with autistic, hearing-impaired, and blind children.  She also trains pre-school teachers in 5 different pre-schools.  She sees many children with speech and language disabilities, and gives workshops around the country to Belizean teachers.  I was so inspired by her.

We also had the opportunity to see the work of another volunteer whose secondary project is to teach yoga to students with special needs.  The photo below shows the kids holding a pose described as “the frog”.  Several of the students are children with Down's syndrome.  

On Sunday we hopped on a bus heading for the northern-most town in Belize, Corozal, about an hour and a half away from Orange Walk.  Corozal borders Mexico and sits right on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.  We enjoyed our Mother’s Day afternoon lounging in the shade of the trees along the Sea, while sipping Belikin beer and eating juicy mangoes.  Corozal doesn’t have a large, sandy beach, but we were able to swim in the warm, green Caribbean waters and lie in the shade with sea breezes cooling us.  That evening we ate fresh shrimp ceviche, and sipped Belizean rum.  It was heaven!

On Monday we were treated to a day working at the primary school.  Below is a photo of the pre-school, where I had the opportunity to sing and play with the 3- and 4-year-olds.  I observed in other classrooms, and read aloud to many eager children in the school’s small, but cozy library.  Spending the day in this primary school  inspired me for working in my own assigned schools.  I’m eager to work with the children and teachers in my own site.  

We returned south on Tuesday morning, leaving at 6:00 am when a neighbor of one of the Peace Corps Volunteers offered to give us a lift in the back of his pick-up truck all the way to Belmopan.  Many people here are willing to give folks a ride, because cars are hard to come by in this country, and gasoline is more than $6.00 a gallon.  It felt like riding in a convertible in the hot morning along the Western Highway back to our Community Based Training site.  We have two weeks of training left in Blackman Eddy, with presentations, workshops and projects to complete before we leave our host families and learn our permanent sites.  Then we will complete our training in Belmopan at the Peace Corps office, and will swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers on June 11, at the Governor General’s home.  I look forward to that “graduation” ceremony, and to beginning my real work here in Belize.

I wish all my friends, family and former students the happiest of days as you enjoy spring and the last days of the school year.  I’d love to hear from you.  Love,  Ava