Sunday, April 29, 2012

All the Latest from Your Friends, Steve and Cathy

Steve’s news

After Easter I had a quick visit to the US to see my adult children and the grandkids. It was a wonderful trip. I was there for my granddaughter Olivia’s birthday, and took cupcakes to her class at school, and went out for her birthday dinner. My daughter Laura took me to see my dentist, which was a real treat. It’s the small things ;-)

With Olivia, 9 years old

My sister Nancy took me to Huntersville to stay with my son Chris for the other half of my vacation. She and I caught up on stuff during the trip. With Chris, I got to see two of Jim’s baseball games. He was the team’s MVP for one of the games. Chris took me to get a real haircut before I got my driver’s license picture made. We also shopped for some things not available here.

Chris, Kaleigh, me, and Jim
[From Cathy - When Steve got back, I asked him what the most striking thing about the visit was. He said, “It was cold – 58 degrees and I had to wear four layers.” Well, admittedly that was in part because he took only a very light jacket. But he needed three shirts under the jacket to be comfortable. Now that’s proof that he’s truly acclimated to Belize.]

Last week Cathy and I went to the Peace Corps office for two days of in-service training and got re-energized for the coming year. On the last evening we participated in a forum on “site challenges.” [From Cathy - The PCVs who have been disconnected from their original assignments participated. There were 15 of the remaining 35 in this forum who participated. Granted that’s a hefty percentage, and not typical of other Peace Corps installations. They are working hard to repair the situation so that we all can have a “true Peace Corps experience.”]

After the forum, were invited to a dinner event at the ambassador’s residence. He is a very impressive person. [From Cathy - His name is Vinai Thummalapally (rhymes with monopoly). He was Barack Obama's roommate at Occidental Collage one summer! He was SO charming. Went around serving wine and chatting with everyone.]

With the Ambassador (P.S. That's water I'm drinking.)
After the dinner we were hosted overnight by Donna and Barry who are career foreign service people. [From Cathy - Donna is from Goldsboro, so we felt a connection with our home state. Barry, from Oklahoma, looked the part with his crisp black cowboy hat and boots. He is involved with law enforcement in his current assignment. He regaled us with funny, and scary, stories about the goings on in Belize. What a treat to be back in a beautifully furnished home, air conditioning, and – get ready for this – a real bathtub. I took my first real bath in a year. (Bucket baths don’t count.) For breakfast, we had individually-baked asparagus quiche that Barry whipped up. Well, shame on us for not getting a snapshot of them. Here are their Facebook pictures. Thank you, thank you, Donna and Barry!]

Donna and Barry
Now we are back to work. The revision of the training manual for the community health workers is shaping up to be a big deal, and we are really enthused about this project.

Next month we are looking forward to a visit by Cathy’s dad and his wife.

The super big news is that Cathy’s son Jeff and his wife Stephanie have announced they are expecting a baby in October. So that means a trip to North Carolina for us. This will be the first grandchild on Cathy’s side of the family.

[From Cathy – Just a couple other things from me.

We felt our first earthquake on Sunday, April 22. It was such a little rocking sensation, just two separate tremors, but there was no mistaking what it was. One of the pictures hanging on the wall was barely swaying, but that’s about the only visible sign I saw. The next day I found a website (  that pinpointed the epicenter in Guatemala. It was a 4.4 on the Richter scale. At first we doubted ourselves, but the next day when Steve went to the clinic, people were talking about it. I asked our downstairs neighbor Rafi if she had felt it. She showed me a new BIG crack in the wall next to the shower. People here just take it in stride.

Last Friday I gave a short presentation to our Business Organization sector PCVs. It was an hour of tips and shortcuts using Excel as a database. I was pretty skeptical that they would be receptive to such a topic. It had been requested by one of their group, but I assumed that most would be experienced on the topic. That wasn’t the case, however, and the presentation went very well. Some said it was the best of the two days. Go figure?!

I’m working on one of the modules of the CHW (Community Health Worker) training manual in anticipation of our first team meeting next Friday, May 4th (MAY? How did it get to be May?) So far we have Steve and me and another woman from the PC office on the PC side. From the Ministry of Health side there will be two HECOPAB educators, a public health nurse, and the Director of HECOPAB. Yes, I am nervous about how my work will be viewed. Oh, well, you have to start somewhere . . .

Oh, yeah. Last Monday my Zumba class had 30 people!

FuWe Dog is getting big!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Back to Work!

After celebrating for two weeks, Belize has settled back down to its regular routine. Kids are back in school, businesses are back to their regular schedules. A lot of people leave on holiday, but the majority have returned.

And Steve is BACK from the States. He returned Monday, the 16th (is that tax day back home?) from a fun visit with kids, grandkids, and his sister, Nancy. I asked him what he thought about the differences between here and there. He said it was cold (down to 58 degrees, and he was wearing four layers), and it was hard to find things in the store because there was so much in the stores.

Well, I felt like I worked a lot during the two Easter weeks. Dangriga Youth Alive (DYA) beach bash took a lot of effort and time. I also helped one of the DYA members apply for a training in cultural tourism (which she won!). DYA had a debriefing meeting to talk about what worked and didn't, how much money was spent and how much was earned. Ah, me, there wasn't a very large net - just a couple hundred dollars :-( But several to-dos (big ones) came out of the meeting, and I will have a role in helping them with all those things. I'll write about them as they come up.

What we're working on now is Thank You's to the sponsors and donors of the event. I wrote a message text that will be put on cable TV which included the names of them all. I think it's $16BZ to have a message played all day. There are one or two channels that run them - obits, job opportunities, happy birthdays, etc. I personally don't watch those channels, but some people keep their TVs on those stations most of the day, listening to the music and reading the messages. We are also going to make handwritten thank you notes for each sponsor. Steve brought back a PRINTER!!!! and I will make some nice note cards with the DYA logo (which I created for them). Yeah, that's the Drums of Our Fathers sculpture in the middle there, recognized easily by all Dangrigans.

On the day that Steve flew back, I was in Belmopan attending a meeting with the HECOPAB (Health Education and Community Participation Bureau) health educators. These are the people, like Mariza with whom Steve works, who train Community Health Workers. There are eight of them right now, with two more to be hired in the next few months. My purpose at the meeting was to meet them and discuss the training manual/training plan that is our current project. They are a very dedicated and enthusiastic group, and I feel that we'll get a lot of help from them.

The leader of this group is Arlette Sheppard. I am so impressed with this woman. She is new to the position as director of HECOPAB. I found out she was one of 10 nominees for Belize's Woman of the Year for 2012, an award sponsored by the US Embassy. Here's a little write-up I took from the awards speech made by Ambassador Vinai K. Thummalapally.

Arlette Sheppard serves as Director and Health Education Officer of the Health Education and Community Participation Bureau.  Her work at the Ministry of Health consistently reflects her professionalism, enthusiasm and humanity.  She oversees some 250 community health workers who provide health education, services and care to towns and villages which have little or no access and which otherwise would have to do without.

Well, this group has a very ambitious schedule for the project, and we're looking at just three months to produce the first four chapters, and do a trial run with a group of Community Health Workers (everybody here says "CHWs"). There are currently 247 CHWs in the country, all of whom they want to retrain. But the plan is to have one CHW for every 250 people in a village, and that's going to mean recruiting A LOT more people. For instance, the village Steve and I lived in during pre-service training, Camalote, has one CHW now. The population is about 1500, so theoretically they would add another five CHWs.

There is to be an inflow of funds from the World Bank and a Japanese NGO that will be focussed on children's health. To carry out the project, they need trained CHWs. That money starts flowing in September. Yikes!!

Needless to say, I'm writing, I'm editing, I'm working on graphics. Steve is the team leader. He is recruiting writers, short- and long-terms team members. Our big need is someone who can do the illustrations. HECOPAB members really want the pictures to be culturally appropriate, not just some random graphic from the Internet. And we don't have any money to pay an illustrator, so we need an altruistic illustrator. Please ask your friends. Anybody in the world (who has access to Internet) can do this job; it doesn't have to be someone in Belize.

New topic: I'm so glad to be back teaching Zumba after a two-week break. Feels so good, and the group still grows - routinely more than 20 at each class :-)

OK, I'm done wrote-out. Sorry we don't have art this time, not even any new puppy pictures. The next two weeks promise to be extremely busy with meetings in Belmopan, so it will probably be awhile till our next entry. Everybody take care.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Like No Other Easter Celebration You've Seen in the States!

I hate it when I wait so long to write in the blog. I'm sure I'll leave our some "good" stuff. Here goes -

It's been a very busy two weeks. Steve spent a good amount of time working on plans for the Community Health Workers' training manual, and I put together an outline and gathered graphics for one of the first chapters. Mix that in with Peace Corps (Volunteer Advocacy Committee and WID/GAD - that a gender issues committee) and training manual meetings. Steve and I made four bus rides to Belmopan in five days! I also taught Zumba and some aerobics classes, HFLE classes, too. (See, right there in a couple sentences I covered a week's worth of activities. Details have flown from my head!)

The week before Easter really heated up. As I mentioned, the Dangriga Youth Alive group was planning a big carnival-type event on the beach at WhyNot Island for Easter Sunday and Monday. In Belize they observe Good Friday, often called Holy Friday. But THEN, I guess because Lent is over, they celebrate like it's New Year's Eve.

Steve launched into making some of the "money" games. Some of the wood he used was what we call Masonite. Belizeans call it beaverboard. We needed one board that was punched full of holes. Back in the States, we'd run over to Home Depot to buy some pegboard. Here he used his drill on the beaverboard to make punchboard. I painted it, drew swirls and a sign for the name. Aidra made the little rolled up pieces of paper which indicated what prize the kids would win. Voila!

He also used more beaverboard and the ever-present mahogany 2X4s to make a cornhole game (we called it Bean Bag Toss) and a mini-backboard for basketball. Aidra made beanbags. (Actually they were bags filled with with dried corn. She called me up to ask if we could use something besides beans because she liked the beans and wanted to eat them. Made sense to me! I like beans, too. Seems a shame to waste them for a game.) We used a laundry basket and colorful bouncy rubber balls for the basketballs. Remarkably all beanbags and balls made it through lots of use in two very active days.
Adding the name to the cornhole board

Note the T-shirt. It was supposed to look like
the graphic above.
We were operating on NO budget. Uncle Harry's Hardware and everything else store donated paint (used for the games AND the T-shirts). Aidra's sister, Daytha, went all over town to get companies and individuals to donate prizes for all the non-money games. (They also donated money; this was, after all a fund-raising event.) And she got some GOOD stuff - night for two on one of the Cayes, cases of drinks (Guinness, Fanta, other), bottles of rum for the "carrot" at the top of the greasy pole, gift certificates for different services. BTL gave several cards worth $20 each for use on cell phones. What a go-getter.

Aaron Ferguson, the Community Liaison officer and leader of the Police Cadets, pulled together the sports games - Greasy Pole, Water Pyramid, Tug 'n War (Belizeans don't say Tug of War) Kayak races. He also arranged for the DJ, our only expense. I'm hoping they won't pay him the entire negotiated price since he was four hours late for the first 8-hour day !@#$#%#!$
Greasy Pole. Can you see the bottle of rum at the
top? Actually there are two! It took the 8 different
teams an hour and a half to finally retrieve the prizes.
Two Girl Guides leaders, Tanisia and Paula, organized the kids' games, MORE Tug 'n War, watermelon eating contest, sack race, the ever-popular Lime and Spoon, among others!

Both days were very successful, with hundreds of people coming out for the festivities. Enterprising food and drink vendors provided snacks. Some of them paid a daily fee to sell at the beach bash. The beer distributor (who provided a huge tent for free, also gave us 20% of their profit. Yay, Bowen and Bowen, the distributor - and Belikin Beer!

I won't know what the take was until our debriefing meeting on Friday. Will report in the next blog entry.

Steve is in the States for a week, left on Monday. He's there visiting his kids and grandkids. Shout out to Chris, Jim and Kaleigh, and Laura, Jason, Jack and Olivia!

Here are a few pictures to give you a flavor of the Beach Bash.

Kids' games
Fergie. Nobody calls him Aaron - either Fergie or Ferguson.
Steve worked ALL DAY Sunday. I'm such a lousy photographer,
it's a shame that the only picture I have of him he's sitting down.
Yes, that's Rafi and Anthony, our neighbors.
Swimming at the mouth of the river, right beside WhyNot island,
where the Beach Bash was held.
Best friends, Jada and Filippa, just got their faces painted :-)
Aidra and Daytha, with Daytha's daughters, Shinoah and Malicka
Meghan VanDeventer, another PCV, helped manage the
money games.
At my post with the poster paints.