Karen Schmitt, SCNA, traveled to Belize in early February with the SCN Lay Mission Volunteer Program to build a home for a family in need. She stayed an additional two weeks to volunteer with the Sisters of Charity in the village of Las Flores. Here are excerpts from her emails recounting her daily experiences. Enjoy!
Days 2 & 3
We had a great day Sunday. We had an all day reflection with a great speaker on discipleship. The sisters and many of the associates in Belize attended. We ended with a Mass. It was a great bridge between the segments of my trip. Stayed overnight at SCN Center. We took the bus to Belmopan. That was the adventure part of my trip. Just the getting on the bus-lots of pushing and shoving.
I went to the school to be introduced to the pricipal and to look around. After dinner, I was expecting one woman to come to learn to knit. Well 3 showed up. It was slow at first as they only spoke Spanish. I ended up sitting on the floor and going real slow so they could follow my movements. They all 3 caught on and did well for session 1. They will return this evening for another go at it.
This morning I went to the school to tutor 5 children in reading. They are Spanish speakers learning to read in English. They are in 3rd grade but I found some easy picture books that they took turns reading. I will return to work with them on Wednesday morning.
I brought the hula hoops to school today and they were liked by boys and girls both younger and older ones. It was fun to watch them experiment with them. They even created ways to play with them that I didn’t show them. They are all so loving and always hugging.
People come and go from Sister Paschal’s house all day. I just had one little girl stop by after school just to talk with me. I gave her some bubbles, crayons and coloring books to share with her 9 siblings. Paschal and I went to the market today. I wish we had that in Memphis. Stall after stall of fresh fruits and veggies. I felt like a kid in a candy store. The folks running the stalls called us “Mommy”. Paschal said that is a term of respect.
Better get ready to fix dinner. Need to get ready for the knitting circle.
We got a surprise last night. One of my knitting friends brought us 2 ½ dozen eggs from her chickens. We had some yummy egg salad for lunch today.
We got ready for bed last night and Paschal tells me she has 3 frogs in her bathroom. They come up through the toilet. It was fun!? catching the frogs to let them outside. They had sucker feet so they could climb the walls. We did get them safely out and they have not returned….yet.
This morning I went to the preschool to do some music and dancing with the little ones. Fortunately my daughter had instructed me how to teach dancing when the kids speak Spanish. Since they were younger than the dances were written for, I just made up steps. They seemed to enjoy it. After 30 minutes they were ready for more and I was pooped.
I then worked with the same group as yesterday tutoring them in reading. I had a plan so it worked better today than yesterday. I went back after lunch because one girl had asked me to help her with reading, she really needs the help. Of course, another teacher wanted me to work with her kids too. So I had a girl in the 5th grade, and 4 boys in 3rd grade. It was a little trying but we got through it. They asked me to come back tomorrow. The problem is the books are written for Belizean schools but are written in the States. So the content does not relate well with the students. They are reading the words but I don’t think they understand what they are reading.
Ruth Ann and Louis are coming again tonight for knitting. Not sure it will happen but they have offered to take me to the Blue Hole this weekend.
Thursday and Friday, 2/16 & 17
I have gotten into a routine. Up around 7 followed by about 30 minutes of quiet reflection. We have breakfast and then I prepare for my morning reading group. They are from standard 3. They are preparing to take a national standardized test. They need the help as they are struggling. The books are written in the US for Belizean schools but use lots of American terms that the kids don’t understand. So sometimes they are not comprehending what they are reading.
I go home for lunch at 11:30. School lets out for lunch from 11:30-1:00. Children go home for lunch and some live far away. I return to school around 2:00 for the afternoon group, from the other standard 3 class.
Sister Carlette came home last night from Belize City. She and I went to the market this morning. We had to take a detour due to the PUP parade. The UDP will have a parade another day. For those of you that enjoy thrift store shopping, it is paradise. So many clothes sent from the US-cheap! Too bad nothing I liked fit me.
While I was at school this morning the librarian asked me to come after school Monday to work there with children having trouble reading. I had a new knitter last night. She picked it up quickly and will return again tonight. While at the market this morning, one of the vendors said she had a niece that would like to learn. So I am expecting her maybe Monday night.
The three of us will attend a funeral tomorrow in Dangriga for the husband of a long time associate. Fortunately Sister Barbara will pick us up on her way.
Long time catching up – 2/21
Sorry for the long interval between emails. We had computer issues, many viruses, hard drive crashes and big presentations due for class so I have not had access to a computer since Friday. I hope we are back on track.
We did get to the funeral Saturday in Dangriga. Sister Barbara took us in her car so we didn’t have to take the bus. It was a Garifuna funeral and was interesting. It starts with a viewing at the home of the deceased then the family walks to the church behind the hearse. Then the funeral Mass and then the family walks to the cemetery. The church was across the street from the sea. It was beautiful there. The Hummingbird Hwy is beautiful as well. We drove past the Sleeping Giant. You can really see it. Lots of citrus groves along the way.
Louis finished his hat and is now working on making beads. I made a feeble attempt to show him how to do it. He saw the directions and is making beads of his own creation. I can not tell you how talented this young man is.
I still have one or two knitters come every night. Yesterday I went to the Library to hold a reading session there. I will return for that again today. It is truly a slower pace here. I could (have) get used to it.
New activities are being added to my schedule every day. I have started going to the Library after school for about an hour to help some other children with reading. I still have 2 reading groups each day at school. Yesterday one of the teachers stopped me and asked why I had not been to her class. So today I am going at one for music and dancing. These children are in 1st-2nd grade so it should be fun. I hope I can survive it. After about 30 minutes I am really tired. I still have one or two knitters each night. Louis has moved on to making beads. He has come up with shapes that are not in the directions. He is really a marvel. He was going back to Guatemala in March but now says maybe he will stay. He is here now talking with Sister Paschal about helping to restart the sewing circle in the village. He can do anything artistic.
We got a brief shower this morning and now the sun is out. Not sure if it will be cooler or hotter today.
Tomorrow morning Ana Ruth and Louis and I are walking to a nearby river which they say is beautiful. It is where the women of the village go to wash clothes. It is about a 30 minute walk. I am looking forward to it. I figured I might as well see all I can see while I am here.
There is a neighbor that has a taxi service. We call him when we need to go anywhere. Mr. Patt is 80. He is so kind and watches out for Sister Paschal. A taxi ride is $5 BZ. That is the going rate for all taxis.
I do give Paschal many hugs and kisses throughout the day. How could I not? Plus I have to store it up for when I leave here.
Well I thought I was joking when I said another activity was added each day. But today I will go and tutor another group in reading. It is from a younger grade. How could I refuse?
The music yesterday was….interesting. We went outside because it is a tiny classroom with 35 kids to one teacher. It is the equivalent of 2nd grade. The teacher went to the office and left me with the kids. Several fights broke out and I just ignored it. After about 40 minutes I was so tired I announced last song. Then told everyone to go back in their class and I would get their teacher. One boy got mad at me and said he would not go back inside. I said I’m sure your teacher will be interested to hear this. Of course he denied it when she got back. She has her hands full.
I had a treat this morning as Louis and Ana Ruth wanted to take me to the river where the women of the village go to wash clothes. It is about a 35 minute walk, mostly flat until you get near the river. It was so beautiful there. The water was SO clear and clean. They think it is the Macal River but they were not sure. There was a current to the river. We waded across to a cave that Louis knew about. We did not go in. The water was cold coming out of the cave because it comes from the mountains. We got back on the trail along the river and came to a swimming spot. I had not expected to go swimming but it was so perfect. The water was cool and refreshing. There was a rock outcropping across the river and Ana Ruth swam over and jumped off the rocks into the water. She had to think about it the first time but did it 2 more times and thought less and less before jumping. It was good to hear her laughing like a carefree child. They were so protective of me. Taking my hand and helping me down the steep bank. One walked in front and one in back of me. She told me she wanted me to feel comfortable. Then she told me they were there to protect and serve me. I told her no I am out having fun with friends. It wasn’t a long walk but it must be carrying wet clothes for a 35 minute walk.
They talked again of going to the Blue Hole. It is only about a 15 minute bus ride away and they say it is more beautiful there. Maybe tomorrow….