Upon arriving to Belize, I was very anxious about the opportunity to engage in the study abroad program. I completed a review of the available literature related to women’s healthcare, gender roles and the social issues affecting women in Belize before departure in order to complete the required research proposal. My work revealed the need to explore the existing strengths and needs in the system of healthcare available to Belizean women.
Once we touched the ground in Belize – I immediately experienced changes! The instant pull of gravity shifted to heat directly into the plane. As we walked to gather our bags, we were welcomed by the Beya Boys as they played the harmonic sounds of the Punta. We were then faced with deciphering the puzzle of how our luggage would fit into the van? The joke: How many AUM students and faculty does it take to place 16 pieces of luggage into a 15 passenger van…the answer 15 + 1 Belizean. We received assistance from a local who quickly packed the luggage and us into the van.
Our first day started off with special greetings by the students of the University of Belize. We had a special collaborative project exploring the historical site of El Pilar. We were to be hosted by Ms. Cynthia Ellis, sister of the author of Traditional Medicine: A Belizean Perspective. We explored the day by hiking and learning more information about natural healing and remedies (ehtnomedicinal practices) used within the Garifuna and Maya cultures. My twenty minute Zumba lessons were no comparison to the physical requirements of the trail. It was a workout for all the students but the scenery was priceless. After visiting El Pilar, there was a meal prepared for us to partake in. As we were introduced to the Maya version of vegan tamales, we were given the opportunity to learn more about the students from the University of Belize. Tiffany was a student I met who was a primary education major. We talked about the similarities and differences between American and Belizean society. I even learned a few Creole words to take along with me – like “gyal” for girl, “bail up” for boiled food, “da” for it is, and “brok dong” for a popular folk music and dance style.
As the next few days were followed by many adventures. We visited the Gulisi Museum, as we learned more about the history of the Garifuna culture. We were able to view a documentary and enjoy displayed artwork which depicted the journey of the Garianagu people. Our instructors, Mr. Ciego and Mr. Sabal were introduced to the group and they answered any questions we had about the tradition or modern day culture of the Garifuna people. We also visited Marie Sharp’s Pepper Factory, the Belize Zoo, and the Blue Hole National Park.
The touring of the University of Belize was one of the next tasks on our list to complete. We visited the main campus in Belmopan, where students all over Belize ride the bus to attend. I was so impressed with how beautiful the campus was. We visited the International Center, Wellness Center and many different areas of the campus. At the Wellness Center we were introduced to the head nurse, Ms. Gloria Wagner. I was able to collect documents and pamphlets related to the issues and healthcare concerns of citizens of Belize.
We left Belmopan, and traveled to Punta Gorda to experience the city like never before. The annual celebration of the Cacao Festival arrived the weekend of our stay. We were given the opportunity to see the process of how chocolate is made. The cultural fair of Lubaantun was next on our list. We got to witness many cultural practices such as the Deer Dance and groups from all over.
We soon found ourselves relocating in the city of Punta Gorda, to a hotel called the Sea Front Inn. The hotel was uniquely a reflection of the Belizean culture. Each room was decorated to represent local wildlife, many of the same animals found within the Belize zoo. For breakfast we enjoyed a mouthwatering breakfast that was fulfilling. We traveled around the city and explored many shops that showed various aspects of the culture and met many of the locals.
As we took this expedition I can say I learned lifelong lessons. The culture of Belize is enriched with mixed races and languages yet they are a people of one – Belizeans. When I first arrived I found myself feeling empathy for the citizens of Belize because of the lack of access to services that I have grown to believe are necessary. And in fact, women and young people in general have are lacking quite a bit in the area of services (access to higher education, organized activities for teens, reliable transportation, nursing and social work professionals ). Despite all of that, some of the resources that I used to believe were absolutely necessary for survival like big supermarkets, fast food restaurants, automobiles and microwaves don’t seem to detract from the joy and peace that many Belizeans seem to have in their (the conveniences) absence. Happiness is not tied to conveniences, but sometimes when you lack them – you seek contentment in what’s available. There were a couple of lodging spaces that were not the standards we were used to. But because they weren’t, my roommates and I found other ways to enjoy ourselves and take care of one another rather than complain. This was certainly a growing experience for me!
I do feel that certain social program, especially within the healthcare, need to be more developed. Within with women’s healthcare, geriatric care, and men’s healthcare there are opportunities for improvement. In contrast, I think Belizeans can teach more developed countries the concept of unity. As we traveled across the country we learned about all the different cultures represented in Belize and the how these cultures manage to respect one another. In fact they share their foods, language, dress, and dance in a directed effort toward one beautiful rich Belizean culture.
That is something to aspire to – one people for one country!