Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Independence Day, 50th Anniversary, a Waterfall and a Zoo

Belize celebrates Independence Day on the 21st of September.  Last year this tiny Central American nation celebrated 30 years of independence from Great Britain.  This year, on Belize's 31st anniversary, Peace Corps Belize celebrated 50 years of service to the people of Belize.  We celebrated in several big ways this year, and I was fortunate to be a part of the planning and execution of these celebrations. 

Below are photographs of the Independence Day parade in Belmopan, the capital.  The entire Peace Corps Belize group of Volunteers and the staff from the office participated.  We designed a “float” (actually a flatbed truck decorated with streamers, balloons and signs), and carried banners and flags as we paraded with our Belizean friends through the streets of Belmopan. 
 On our Independence Day "float"
Kathryn, me, Kelly and Jennifer
Jessica and our "float"

Nina Hermandez, our Peace Corps Country Director

The following day we Volunteers, some Peace Corps staff, teachers, and parents of a school in Belmopan all participated in a community service project.  We assisted in the construction of a library at the Garden City Primary School.  One of my fellow Education Sector Volunteers, Miguelina Cuevas-Post has been organizing this project alongside teachers, the principal and parents of the school for months, and now it is coming to fruition.
 Barbara and Sharmaine and I organize the books for the library
Breezie, Porter and Jay make concrete.
The floor is laid.

Peace Corps Belize also celebrated our 50th anniversary in grand style at the US Embassy.  I will leave the telling of that event for when I receive from Peace Corps the photos that will illustrate it for you.  We were not allowed to bring cameras, cell phones or any other electronic devices into the Embassy compound, so there was only one designated photographer, and he has not given the photos to us yet.

I met two new friends recently and have learned a tremendous amount about Belize while in their company.  They are two young women from Mexico, Brenda and Abril, who are working on their Masters’ theses in International Ecology, and are staying here in Belize for six months.  Brenda is writing a management plan for a small national park nearby, and Abril has been studying frog species in the district of Toledo.  Brenda approached me to ask if I could help her continue to learn English, and although I agreed, I believe I have learned more from her than she has from me.

Recently Brenda led us on a hike through the Billy Barquedier National Park where she has been doing her work.  She hopes to help the community develop plans to make this lovely spot an eco-tourist destination and has given suggestions for its conservation. 

With Brenda and Abril I also visited the Belize Zoo, and I learned much more about the fauna of Belize than I had known before.  In 1983 Sharon Matola, a biologist and circus animal tamer, started the zoo as a last-ditch effort to provide a home for a small collection of wild animals that had been used in a documentary on tropical forests.  She soon discovered that the Belizean people knew little about the animals that inhabited those forests, so she decided to develop a wildlife education center.Today the zoo keeps animals that are orphaned, born at the zoo, rescued, rehabilitated or sent to the zoo as donations from other zoological institutions.  This little zoo receives over 10,000 school children a year to bring them closer to their natural heritage.  It is the most charming zoo I have ever visited.

Lucky Boy, the black jaguar who was rescued from a resort in the southern region of Belize where he had been kept, but mistreated.  He was malnourished but he is gaining strength and will soon move to a new enclosure that the zoo is building especially for him.
The ocelot
Brenda and Abril pose at the entrance of the zoo.
The tapir--Belize's national animal--a distant cousin of the rhinoceros and the horse.
I was given the opportunity to feed Bullet Head, the blind tapir that was rescued after being shot in the head.
Scarlet macaws
Harpy eagle
Jabiru stork
Blue-crowned mot-mot
A baby boa constrictor
The keel-billed toucan
The puma
The peccary--a smelly one!
Junior Buddy the jaguar
In my opinion, this is the most beautiful animal in the kingdom!