Sunday, March 25, 2012

Anniversary!

Fu We Dog says HELLO
March 24 marked the one-year anniversary of our arrival in Belize. Bright-eyed with hope and wet behind the ears (even at our ages of 61 and 63), we stepped onto the tarmac at Goldston International Airport near Belize City.We had already spent a year and a half going through the application process, pushing, pushing, waiting, waiting for faster processing and admittance into the ranks of the elite few who are chosen for Peace Corps duty. I think that all of us in the group had high expectations and plans to save the world. Even though we had been told during orientation and through various emails, "You should not have expectations of what you can do in Belize," it is human nature for someone in our position to want to feel useful and needed.

One year later, here we are with a VERY different outlook. We have been through the "honeymoon" phase of service early on, and we've had some pretty deep low points, too. At the risk of jinxing our situation, I do believe that we are on a long-term upswing now, one that will last us our last 441 days of service (but who's counting?). We have integrated well into our community, with more than just a nodding acquaintance with many people, and a close relationship with a few special friends. Our neighbors treat us like . . . neighbors! We still get some folks who think we're tourists, but that's rare. As for our outlook on work in the Peace Corps, we have met with reality and survived.

Steve is such a disciplined and positive person that he just forced himself to carry on, even while we drifted in the doldrums of the PC seas. (Oh, I worry about my imagery here. Are you gagging yet?) I have always used the "One Day at a Time" philosophy when confronted by a bad situation. However, I did set myself a deadline for improvement in the work situation (as in - OK, I'm outta here), and would have acted upon it if there were no change. We are pleased to say that all the waiting has paid off!

Our project assignment is to update and revise the training manual for Community Health Workers, and to insure that they have an effective training methodology and workable delivery system. The Community Health Workers are essentially volunteers in the community, mostly women, who educate and serve as a local resource for residents in small villages. They are given a very small stipend, $100BZ per  month, which is typically used for transportation. Training for these CHWs is provided by HECOPAB - The Health Education and Community Participation Bureau (of Belize) - and other NGOs, such as UNDP, World Bank, and MedicForce.

On the local level, they have been using a training manual that was created in the early 70s. Peace Corps management was approached by Ms. Arlette Sheppard, the director with the Ministry of Health in charge of the Community Health Workers. She asked if PC could help to revise and update their training manual. With Steve as the team leader, and I as the primary writer/production person, we will have meaningful, important work that will carry on past our stay here in Belize. And we believe it will have such a positive impact on the health of the people of Belize!

Planning has already begun, we are recruiting team members, and Ms. Sheppard will conduct a needs assessment. We have a rough outline that has been approved, so there's nothing to stop us from moving forward. Needless to say, we are both thrilled.

I will be thinking of this as my day job, with secondary projects teaching HFLE, and helping Dangriga Youth Alive with their fund-raiser event over the Easter holiday. There is also a possibility that I will help establish a girl's GLOW (Girls Lead Our World) club here in Dangriga. More about that in the next exciting installment!

Fu We Dog is getting BIG. Age 14 Weeks. I've expanded the collar twice.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mostly Ups

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know that Steve and I have been struggling with our time here - psychologically and emotionally, much more than any physical or financial hardship. Our original work assignments were not well-vetted, so we have been engaged in very little meaningful work. So many current and retired PCVs have told us that we would need to be here at least a year before things really shape up. Unfortunately, that's assuming that the work assignment is a good one. Nevertheless, Steve and I trudge ahead, routinely encouraging each other and looking for any glimmer of positive developments.

This past week was about the same for Steve. We make jokes about how early Steve gets back from work. He leaves in time to get to the clinic by 8:00, about a 20-minute bike ride,and seeks out his work partners to see what's going on. He's usually back before 10:00. Friday was a record; he made it back by 8:30. 

Next week promises to be a big step up. Steve will head up a big new project - updating and restructuring the training manual for Community Health Workers. It's a great opportunity and so perfect for him. I will be involved, too, since I have lots of experience writing educational materials and training manuals, as well as a background in adult education. Our "get organized" meeting is Tuesday. A Peace Corps Program Manager from Honduras will kick start the project. You may recall that all PCVs were sent home from Honduras, so this guy is on loan to PC-Belize for a month or so.



For me, last week was pretty good. I taught my regular HFLE classes and they all went very well. The kids in my classes have told other kids in their schools and neighborhoods about me. It's pretty fun to be walking or riding around town and hear, "Miss Cat!" I don't necessarily know the name of who's hailing me, but it warms me up to hear the hello and exchange a smile. I also taught Zumba twice, both times with large attendance. Yay! 

Kids across the street play most afternoons.



video

The Dangriga Youth Alive group met again. The Dangriga Town Council will join forces with DYA to create an even bigger and more diverse Easter celebration - a day longer (add Saturday), and a longer day (Sunday night concert/dance from 10-3). Yes, folks, I am helping to create my own worst complaint, the loudest, awfullest, all-night-keep-me-up musicfest :-(  OK, it's for a good cause. The Town Council will pay for all the advertising (DYA had NO budget for that), build a shed for vendor booths, pay for the big tent, and provide some other games. 



Aidra and I are planning how to cut and use this board
for some carnival games
Everybody benefits! The Town Council benefits by promoting Dangriga as a fun place for Belizeans (most people from Dangriga would go somewhere else for the holiday weekend) and tourists, and DYA also promotes its name and goals while raising money for high school scholarships. 

Dare I hope that something more permanent will work out for me with DYA? Fingers crossed. They are a newly-formed group that is just developing their organization and mission. Peace Corps and I disagree on a fundamental element of project assignment. PC management believes that work in Belize needs to be through the various ministries of government, and I think working through 
grass-roots efforts is best. I certainly understand the need for approval at high levels. Peace Corps can't just traipse in to a country and haphazardly try to help with development. But for the volunteers, it sure is easier to actually GET WORK DONE and feel useful working with very small groups. Just my two cents.


Finally, I thought I'd include an excerpt from a letter written by my friend, Alex. I knew her from when I volunteered at Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services in Pittsboro, NC. She was a paid staff counselor there. She and her husband came back last fall after their Peace Corps service in Vanuatu. She shared these words of wisdom with me. (P.S. If I have already included this in an earlier entry, I apologize. It's good advice two times.)



Thanks for the email--We are in the throes of readjusting to American life and I am so far behind on writing friends and even seeing friends in America.

The two most shocking things of being back in the states are how cold it is here and how stressed out everyone is. I am used to being the most high strung member of my community (along with Lucas), but compared to the average American, I am SO LAID BACK! Unbelievable! I really miss how chill the islands are (although at the time, I wish people had a little more fire under their asses to do ANYTHING at a faster rate).

Oh, Peace Corps. Towards the end of our service, Lucas laid down on our bamboo bench for a week and fell apart over how unsatisfying the job aspect of Peace Corps was for him. he was originally a business vol and really went into health because there was nothing for him to do that he would consider ethical as a business vol (he did lots of small business individual advising and was there long enough to see anyone who was doing something remotely innovative fail because of their family relationships). capitalism and a tribal community don't mix and the good things about the tribalism where we were outweigh the good things about capitalism...even if there was strong tribalism, people couldn't and wouldn't work together on community projects for various reasons: All of this caused my poor husband to have a breakdown for a really sad and ugly week...Lucas' hope of a meaningful project died and it was really hard to watch.

But, what we did take away from it all is that we caused no harm. We know volunteers that have done big projects that will surely fall apart when they leave (or soon after) and that did nothing to empower communities (in fact, having the opposite effect). They feel better about themselves, but I wonder about the unintended consequences they left behind.

we did do a whole lot of intentional nothing (we could have made ourselves very busy, but it didn't go with our value system of doing work with the community not for the community) and the only thing that I wish I would have done differently is offered more things like computer classes, adult literacy and English classes, reading classes with children, Spanish classes, anything like that. Lucas wishes he would have done PACA (I think it's a waste of time). Anyways, we did have periods of extreme busy and then absolutely mind-numbing nothing. I think most folks in the developing world are okay just taking care of the daily acts of living (which can be so time consuming), and all the other stuff isn't that important. Who knows. 

Anyways, I'm sorry for you guys--it's a tricky spot to be in, I know.

When we were leaving Vanuatu, there were about seven of us leaving at around the same time--we all ended up going out to dinner one night and all of us had different periods of really hard times in our service. 

This is what we could all agree upon: 
1. Peace Corps kicked our asses in ways we had no idea was possible--a lot of us at the table were very used to being competent professionals that were used to some degree of mastery; we were all humbled as all of our expectations for what we could actually do were higher than what happened.


2. We had all grown: there were people at our table in their 70s and a 24 year old and we all felt stretched and challenged.

3. At some point in our service, we all HATED Vanuatu.

4. And we would all do it again (not take it back) and would recommend it to anyone who was interested. 

So that's been our view from the end. All those stupid cliches are true about it being the hardest job you'll ever love.

I miss Vanuatu now being on the other side of it all and I even miss the laid-backness that would drive me so NUTS!! 


*************************************************************

The requisite puppy pictures. FuWe Dog can SLEEP!




Monday, March 12, 2012

Information and Wellness Expo - Maya Center, Belize


Steve here again. Last week Cathy and I took a $5 BZ bus ride south to work at an information fair for elderly people. It was sponsored by VOICE, which is an advocacy group for the elderly. One of the Peace Corps volunteers works with that group and asked us to help. It was a 1-day gathering in a predominantly Mayan village at the edge of the rainforest.

At Cathy’s table, she talked about healthy lifestyles and nutrition. She emphasized the benefit of regular exercise to minimize the effects of aging. She also did a Zumba exercise session and had one or two people who actually did part of the session with her.

Sharing the table with Cathy was a woman from CARE Belize. Don't confuse this group with CARE, the international humanitarian organization. In this case, CARE stands for Community Agency for Rehabilitation and Education, focussing on helping persons with disabilities. They help in many ways, including providing wheelchairs and other orthopedic devices. 

Cathy and Andrea Coc from Care Belize
I worked at a table near a physical therapist volunteer, and we answered health questions and explained what medical practice had to offer for certain conditions. Several of the people allowed me to photograph their condition to get more information for them from other doctors.

Standing is Shaz Davison, PCV assigned to VOICE
We also had a chance to meet the village chairman and the community health worker. I plan to get information back to people through him.

There is a “health post” in their village that is staffed by a doctor from Hopkins satellite clinic and a visiting nurse. They are there for half a day every two weeks. People complained repeatedly that they can see the doctor, but they still have to go to Dangriga to get the prescription filled at a government pharmacy. The bus fare and loss of work time is too high a price for most of the villagers. For the most part, these are proud, self-sufficient people who are sometimes turned off by a careless comment from a receptionist or nurse at the clinic who makes them feel that they are begging for a hand-out rather than seeking access to basic health care that is free to all Belizeans.

People gathered to hear information from the
Social Security Board
The event was held at the dining “thatch” of local tourist cottages and was very nice. We were provided with coffee, juice, water, and even a lunch of vegetarian tamales.

All the puppies have found new homes. FuWe Dog is settling in with us. She is playful and loves attention. 


********************************************************

Hi, this is Cathy. Just thought I'd mention that my Zumba classes have started up again. We are now meeting twice a week in a classroom at one of the schools where I teach. A Belizean woman was teaching aerobics classes there Monday through Friday. I will take over Monday and Thursday nights with Zumba. My first night teaching, there were four people. The second night there were fourteen! And they are all Belizean except for Ava. Oh, I have missed those classes.

On another note, at Mayan Center I towered over every single person there (except the Americans, of course). Most were under 5 feet tall.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Leap Year Day - Save our Barrier Reef!




Belize, the "Jewel of Central America," is rich in resources. At the top of the list is its natural beauty, including the coral reef situated off the coast, the second longest reef in the world. Every year thousands of tourists come from all over the world to explore the reef and enjoy the hospitality of Belize. Tourism is one of the country's largest industries. As the country's infrastructure improves and grows, tourism will continue to grow in importance.

Belize oil pumping station Spanislookout
Pumping station at Spanish Lookout
Another resource, although not so plentiful, is petroleum. One company, Belize Natural Energy, began exploring in the Spanish Lookout area in 2002, and now produces about 5,000 barrels a day. Before that, many companies had unsuccessfully explored for 50 years. The crude is processed here, but all of the oil is exported. None of the owners of the company are Belizean and they hire very few Belizeans. The sole benefit of BNE (other than some small grants to various local groups, such as POWA) to the country are the corporate revenue taxes.

According to an article on Belize.com,
"Most of Belize’s 8,867 square miles of territory and much of the waters offshore have been allocated out in petroleum concessions to 18 different companies with a range of foreign shareholders from as close as the USA and as far off as Taiwan and even a local gambling den," and "Princess Petroleum Limited, belonging to the owners of the Princess Casino, has a contract to explore 1 million plus acres of Belize for oil. The license is mostly offshore, but also some inland exploration. The company is allegedly well connected with local politicians of the ruling United Democratic Party." (Read the entire article.)




So now to get to the focus of this blog entry - offshore drilling. The government is promoting offshore exploration and drilling "for the benefit of the people of Belize." Enter Oceana, an international organization dedicated to protecting the oceans and natural oceanic resources of the earth. They have been present in Belize for a long time, focussing on overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and climate change. Barrier reef protection is at the top of the list. More than 20% of the Belizean population derive revenues because of the barrier reef. Regarding offshore drilling, Oceana, in partnership with the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, has been advertising vigorously since before Steve and I arrived in Belize last March via posters, radio and TV commercials, newspaper articles and canvassing to spread the word about the issue, and the dangers to the barrier reef. (Read Oceana's overview.)

In 2008, the Belize legislature passed a law allowing people to bring issues to a referendum. The petitioners for a referendum must collect signatures from at least 10% of the registered voters (about 18,000 people) for the issue to be allowed on the government ballot. This is the first time the new law has been tested. Oceana turned in close to 21,000 signatures. When the signatures were reviewed by the ministry in charge of elections, more than 8,000 signatures were rejected.



This was, of course, a big setback. They were expecting some problems with duplicates or some whose voter registration was in doubt, perhaps up to 1,000, but not with almost 40% of the names. The group is following up by requesting documentation on why each signature was rejected. In the meantime, Oceana's next step was to announce that a People's Referendum would be held on Wednesday, February 29. The vote would be funded completely by Oceana and the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage.

One of the polling locations in Dangriga. More than 3700 people
voted from Stann Creek District.
The turnout was impressive (more than 29,000 voters), and the vote, not surprisingly, was against the offshore drilling by about 96%. Of course, it was an unofficial vote, and so holds no weight with the government. However, Prime Minister Dean Barrow went on record yesterday to say that he can't ignore the fact that so many people made the extra effort to voice their opinion. He said that if re-elected, he "personally would be prepared to support the Government sponsoring the referendum to be held at an appropriate time after we would have allowed for a full-throttle debate during which people will not just hear from one side."
I have met NO one here who is in favor of offshore drilling. Of course, I live here on the coast of Belize, so that's not surprising. I have read some articles quoting some who support the drilling initiative.

General elections will be held this Wednesday, March 7. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we do not get involved in politics. For our safety, we will be in a status of Alert and Stand Fast for March 6-8. Focus this week will be on the politicians, not the barrier reef. But I'll keep you updated on this important issue.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nit-Picking

It's Steve again. We learned that parents in Sagitun, a nearby village, were alarmed about head lice among the school children. It was my privilege to work with the response by teachers, parents, and Ministry of Health. My work partner from HECOPAB (Health Education and Community Participation Bureau) and I got a ride to the village with a public health inspector who was collecting water samples in the region. We were packing three cases of shampoo bottles laced with 1% permethrin as well as a ten-minute slide show on lice infestation.

I gave the presentation starting with Infant I (kindergarten) class. It was more pictures than science, and I walked through the rows of desks showing the laptop picture to each student as I spoke. The teacher (who is an angel) repeated the message with each slide, and then she lined them up and led them to the playground for the “activity part”.

The treatment plan was a shampoo, then a ten-minute wait with lather in the scalp, followed by clean-water rinse and fine-tooth combing to remove more eggs attached to the hair. Repeat treatment after 3 days is recommended.

At first, the three of us worked on each child. Several mothers were recruited by texting, and they brought towels, buckets, and more fine-tooth combs. While I moved on to address Infant 2 class, the assembly line kicked into high gear, and in less than four hours, we had taught and shampooed over 100 students.

We left two cases of shampoo for a follow-up treatments.