Thursday, August 22, 2013

Belize, Belize, Home on the Caribbean Sea

I recently spent time in Belize City, Belize through a program with my employer. And what an incredible trip it was! Every summer since 2008, PwC has partnered with an organization called Peacework to put on a week long summer camp in Belize City to teach middle/high school students about financial literacy. The program has grown over the years, and this year we sent over 400 PwC staff and interns over a two-week period. There are several different tracks in the program ranging from teaching kids to teaching teachers to mentoring PwC scholarship recipients.

A few facts on Belize City:
- population of 75,000 (which is a quarter of the total population of Belize)

- 40% of population is under age 15

- English is the official language, but Kriol and Spanish are often spoken too

- students must pay tuition to go to high school, and as a result only three quarters of students go on to attend secondary schools. Of those students, less than one half graduate.
 My Trip:
- when we arrived on Sunday afternoon, we split up by school (we taught at about 8 different schools) and had a chance to meet our co-instructors from across the country and get organized for the week

- bright and early on Monday morning, we boarded big yellow school buses and headed to our schools. My school was James Garbutt Primary School, and (like most other schools) it did not have air conditioning. It was SO miserably hot. The air pretty much always feels like when you shower and forget to turn on the vent. My co-instructor, Caroline (an intern from Alabama), and I had a class of about 10 students ranging from age 8 to 13. The kids were adorable but the day felt a bit unorganized and crazy. I left on Monday afternoon feeling a bit frustrated and disappointed, like we weren't really connecting with the kids. But we had been warned the day before that we would likely feel this way on Day 1 so I tried not to let it get to me. We all went out to dinner then headed back to our hotels to review our lesson plans for Day 2.
- Once again, we boarded the big yellow buses on Tuesday morning for another fun-filled day of teaching! Caroline and I were happy to see that our students actually remembered most of the vocabulary words from the day before, and Day 2 went very smoothly. Our classroom really got into a groove and it was a great day! We taught them about saving, budgeting, entrepreneurship, leadership skills, planning for their future etc. and they were so eager to learn! On Tuesday evening, we attended a recognition ceremony to celebrate the first class of graduating PwC scholarship recipients.
- Day 3 was our final day at the schools. We started the day with a few more lessons, and ended the afternoon with a "business fair" where students could showcase the [imaginary] businesses they had created during the week. The students were awarded medals and we celebrated with cupcakes! We had been there just a short time, but it felt like much longer and there were lots of tears (from both students and teachers!) when it came time to say goodbye. 
All of us were touched by the trip, and as one PwC partner put it: we went to Belize with intentions of teaching children, but found that, in fact, we were the students and they were the teachers. I left with a much greater appreciation for all of the blessings in my life, and I truly was inspired by my students who had nothing but were joyful about everything.

The toughest moment of my week:
On Day 2, I noticed that the sweet little boy in my class, Brandon, had only eaten a few bites of his lunch (we had lunch catered in every day, generally rice and beans with some sort of mystery meat, that sat in boxes in our classroom for at least an hour before lunch and goodness knows how long before they got to our school). I asked him if he didn't like his lunch, and he said that he was saving it to take home to his Aunt. We had been warned that the students might do this, and that we should encourage them to eat their whole lunch and we would provide an extra lunch for them to take home at the end of the day. I did just that, and Brandon scarfed down the rest of his lunch, not leaving a single crumb. On Day 3, I noticed again that Brandon had only had a few bites. I reminded him that he should eat and he could take an extra lunch home. His eyes welled up with tears as he told me that the previous afternoon, he had accidentally left his extra lunch on the sidewalk, and the ants had ruined it so he had nothing to take home to his family. He was adamant that he wanted to save his lunch safely in the comfort of our classroom - and he didn't let it leave his sight the whole rest of the day. My poor sweet Brandon.
The proudest moment of my week: 
On Day 3, we decided to play a review game. We split the class into two groups and asked each group to use their spirals to create 5 review questions to ask the other team and we would keep score on the board. They LOVED this game and went above and beyond the 5 questions we asked them to create. They continued back and forth asking each other questions well beyond the time allotted for this exercise. But it was so rewarding for Caroline and I to see how much they had learned and how excited they were about it. I really couldn't have been more proud of my bright students!

Would I do it again? Absolutely, I'd leave tomorrow if I could!

Would I change anything about the trip? Yes - I would have hugged all of my kids just a few seconds longer when we said goodbye!