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!