Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Dutton
Volunteering with Rise Up Belize! has been absolutely life-changing. I reflect daily on the few weeks I spent in Belize over the past two years. Belize itself is such a unique and wonderful place. The people exude a generosity and love that is simply incomparable to anything I have ever experienced outside of my time there. It’s like being welcomed into a long-lost family where everyone greets you with a smile, a warm hug, and well-wishes. The children especially are energetic, loving, and so deserving of the resources to follow their dreams in life.
My first trip to Belize was during the Summer of 2011. On the last day of the Rise Up Belize! summer camp, Marjani, one the students I had been teaching, handed me a letter that said: “Thank you for making us believe in ourselves.” When I first applied to volunteer with Rise Up Belize! my goal was to serve others, however I could never have predicted the profound effect that service would have on me. Spending time with, and teaching the underprivileged children of Belize has led me to realize my passion for teaching, especially on a global scale. Next year in college I plan to study the economics and policy of non-profit organizations, as well as elementary school education.
I’ve participated in two Rise Up Belize! service trips now. As a result, I feel much more aware of the world around me and the benefits I am blessed with. Rise Up Belize! instills the confidence and provides the resources that Belizean kids need in order to pursue their dreams. In turn, I have felt empowered to continue service to those deserving children around the world who are waiting for someone to believe in them.
Volunteer Spotlight: Maddie Dyer
When I was first accepted into the Rise Up Belize! service program in 2011, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew nothing about the culture, people, language or religion of Belize so naturally I was a bit nervous. I was grateful to have the chance to work with a great group of teen volunteers. Together, we created an amazing, comprehensive curriculum and organized plentiful supplies and resources for our future summer school students. When we finally arrived in Ladyville, I could not believe all our hard work and commitment had paid off. My teaching partner and I fell in love with our students’ eagerness to learn and with their vibrant personalities. Every day was a challenge as a teacher and I learned a lot about myself as a person. I learned that I am not only capable of patience and leadership, but that I have a deep passion for helping others learn and succeed. I remember feeling so proud of my students who went into the week of summer school not entirely understanding a concept, but ending the week as masters of it.
I decided to return to Belize the following summer 2012. My second experience in Belize largely reflected my first, but it was also different. I taught different kids with a new group of student volunteers in a different city. I found myself identifying my new students with my previous ones. Nonetheless, I developed amazing bonds with each of my students. At the end of the week, I cried as they all hugged me and asked to be my friend on Facebook. I still keep in touch with a few of them!
I don’t know whether I shall return to Belize to volunteer in 2013, but I do know that the two immersion trips I made have left a mark on me forever. I have realized how fortunate I am to have been born an American with a plethora of opportunities before me. I have learned that I am a leader, and that I want to use this trait to bring success and happiness to others. I may never change the world, but I can be content knowing that I have changed the lives of forty different children, thanks to Rise Up Belize!
Volunteer Spotlight: Jenna Pasut
The best thing that has happened in my life so far is participating in the Rise Up Belize! service trip. Honestly, words cannot describe what a joy-filled, wonderful, and amazing adventure I had. I am so sad to not be in Belize right now helping the children. But I will go back. Until then, I will hold my experience during the summer of 2011 close to my heart.
Belize taught me a lot about myself and the world. I learned that living simply is what I want for myself. Before my trip, I took a lot for granted: flush toilets at school, hot running water, a good education, access to any food I wanted whenever I wanted it, and much more. But from Rise Up Belize! I learned that happiness is within. The children we served, many in poverty, some without parents, still found happiness in the simplest of things. From them I learned that being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect, it means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections and strive towards true bliss. It’s a lesson I will cherish forever.
Volunteer Spotlight: Sarah Gold
I think that most young people in the United States take education for granted but I learned early what a difference education can make. Back when I was attending an all-girls private high school, I yearned to travel and see what was outside of the bubble of my life in Sacramento, Calif. In 2005, during a student council class at school, we were talking about the service project required for seniors. I knew I wanted to do something that affected people beyond my own community. I wanted to create a Spring Break Academic Camp for children in Belize. One of my teachers, Ms. Garcia, was from Belize originally and I knew that she had started a non-profit to help Belizean teachers. I also knew that she been interested in putting something together for Belizean children but lacked the time and resources, so I approached her with my idea.
Seven months later, after a lot of fundraising, lesson planning, and hard work, I arrived in Belize with eight other students, Ms. Garcia, and another adult chaperone. We brought backpacks containing school supplies for each child and plenty of books to upgrade the library at Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic School in Sandhill Village, Belize where we held our one-week academic camp. We taught 50 students—third through sixth graders—math, English, science and art. While cleaning out the school’s library we discovered six desktop computers donated by a service organization in Illinois. But since no one at Guadalupe school knew how to set up a computer and the service organization didn’t include funds to pay someone to set up the computers or teach computer basics, the boxes remained unopened for two years. We quickly cleaned the library from top to bottom, organized the books by age and subject matter, then set up and networked the computers. Then we added a computer basics class to our curriculum. We also painted the outside of the school.
My experience in Belize is something hard to put into words. It was clear to me that the Belizean children would never forget us. They were so thankful. I will never forget one student, Calbert, a sixth grader who confided that he aspired to be a lawyer. His family did not have the money to pay his high school tuition, however, so we provided a scholarship to cover one-year of tuition and all of his books. For him, this was life changing. Read Calbert’s story to see how Rise Up Belize! impacted his life.
Having worked at other non-profit organizations during and after my graduation from the University of California, Davis, I believe Rise Up Belize! is unique because we have the ability to help transform a nation. Working together with locals in a country of less than 350,000 people, our presence really makes a difference. Five years later I am still involved with Rise Up Belize! and I cannot wait to go back and volunteer again.
Volunteer Spotlight: Lynn Hester
The invitation to serve arrives at unlikely moments in life. After work one day in April 2004, I heard this message on my home answering machine from a friend: “Lynn, I know someone who is looking for elementary school teachers to go to Belize and teach a workshop to Belizean teachers. Are you interested?” My first thought was: ‘Are you kidding me? No way!’ But after encouragement from my friend I pushed forward. I contacted Joey Garcia, who was organizing the service trip, and enlisted in the adventure.
Joey had met with school administrators in her native Belize and said they wanted a workshop in math and science. So I collaborated with the other elementary school teacher volunteer Joey recruited and we created a lively workshop. We used hands-on methodologies because I think that this is the best way to learn any subject. Our workshop included innovative projects and learning strategies.
The three-day professional development training engaged the Belizean teachers completely. They said it was unlike any other training workshop that they had experienced. I was convinced we left them with a new sense of excitement about teaching.
I was hooked. From 2004 – 2009 I actively volunteered with Rise Up Belize, organizing volunteers, developing curriculum and teaching workshops. I have also supervised training programs and summer camps on site in Belize. It’s hard for me to describe the impact of being involved with Rise Up Belize. I truly believe I have made and continue to make an incredible impact on the lives of Belizeans.