Sunday, July 29, 2012

Girls, Girls, Girls

This has been a week devoted to beautiful young girls, ages 10-14. Two separate events kept me really busy and definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone.

GLOW - Girls Leading Our World - clubs are all over world! They are clubs, usually started by Peace Corps volunteers in cooperation with one or more local adults, for girls. The goal of the clubs is to promote self-esteem and confidence, provide opportunities for girls to see and do new things, teach life skills (decision making, relationship, communication, conflict resolution, that sort of thing), and have FUN. We have several GLOW clubs in Belize, about seven, I think.

The PCVs in Belize have held a summer camp for the clubs for the last five years. This year's camp was the best ever! I didn't participate last year; we were just new in our sites and I wanted to focus on my assignment. This year, I worked for two days (out of four and a half), and I was TI-YERED. 

Here's how it works. Girls who want to come to camp fill out an application. They have to explain why they want to come, and provide other personal information. The clubs have to raise $100BZ for every girl they send. In one club, the leaders required that the individual girl provide $20BZ herself. In addition to that small amount, Belizeans and PCVs do a LOT of other fundraising. I think I wrote about working at the 10K race earlier this year. That was an event to raise money for camp. They approach big companies and ask for donations. I believe our budget this year was over $5000. So you can see the amount sent by each club is just so they have ownership in the process, and don't take it for granted.

Activities - games, Girl Power, Respect (that one was me), cooking, LOTS of crafts, swimming, volleyball and football (soccer), yoga and Zumba (they loved it), trip to the Chaa Creek Butterfly Farm and Natural History Museum, campfire singing and marshmallow roasting, talent show - and MORE! Although we had a couple of girls who were a little weepy and homesick, by the last day, NObody wanted to go home.

It was very well organized. We were supposed to have 25 girls, but we ended up with 17 - at least that many counselors and presenters! My duties were presenter, Zumba leader, kitchen slave. All the counselors shared one cabin - 11 of us. We all had a bed, but some had to share.

Dork that I am, I took the camera with NO chip, so I got only 10 pictures before the internal storage was full. Luckily, one of the counselors made an amazing movie that captured the fun and mood of the week.

These pictures are all screen captures from the movie.

Zumba at 7:00 a.m.

More Zumba (of COURSE I include more of these pictures!)

You may recognize Ava, from Dangriga. The woman holding the
placard is Barbara, who lives in Orange Walk Town.

Campfire songs - and dance!


The other GLOW related activity that kept me going full bore was with our girls club. 

Guess what? We have a name! We decided not to use the all caps GLOW.

Garifuna Glow Girls

As I wrote in an earlier entry, Peace Corps is having a national art contest for primary school students. The theme is Promoting Peace and Friendship. Children are encouraged to use natural or recycled materials. 

We finished our art project with the shakas (maracas). We had to meet one extra time to beat the deadline, but it was worth it. The result is wonderful, and the girls worked hard, had fun, and showed a lot of pride in their work. I tried like the dickens to get someone from Peace Corps office to pick up our project to take it to Belmopan. However, because it was the same week as GLOW Camp, in addition to everybody's other job, there just was no way to get it there via somebody else. 

SO . . . Steve and I took a day to ride up on the bus and deliver the "treasure." I made a descriptive paper to accompany the entry. I include it here to help everybody understand what we did.

And our final product!

If you click on this picture, you can zoom in to see that we wrote
the names of the girls on the middle finger of her handprint.
Steve and I had to bring it up in two big bags - the shakas
themselves in one bag, and the tray and holder in another.
Then I assembled it at the office.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Exciting Week

The last 10 days have been busy. Last Saturday we went to a workshop for community health workers from Cayo District. The purpose of the meeting was to test-teach the prenatal chapter in the women’s health module that Cathy had written. She did most of the teaching with help from one of the HECOPAB (Health Education and Community Participation Bureau) educators. The training activities seemed to go over well. We have yet to see the scores from the test we gave before and after the sessions. It will be nice to know if the training was effective. The people certainly seemed to like it. We got great feedback about language and cultural nuances that need to be changed in the manuscript.

Arlette Sheppard is at the front, asking for feedback about specific
wording in the manual.
The facility, Camalote Camp, is very nice and perfect for meetings.
From left to right, Arlette, Cathy, Rose, and Christina (Rose and
Christina are HECOPAB educators)

One group presenting

Another group presenting with Rose Anderson supervising

A second room (air conditioned!) where we worked
My work partner, Mr. Tillett has been working furiously with me on a video about child nutrition and Incaparina. The Ministry of Health He had asked him to give a presentation at a  meeting in Belmopan. He gave the presentation even though there are still improvements to be made to the video. According to what he said, it was very well received. They have asked him to finish the voice-over parts and then publish it to be widely distributed on DVD. I am proud, and very happy for him to get recognized for the good things he is doing for children in our district. It is great to be a part of that. 

Tylon Tillett working on the voice-over for the video
We are both very grateful to our friends and relatives who have enlivened our lives with care packages of goodies. Jeannie and Larry, Joyce and Holly, Toni and Stacey, Carol and Nancy, and Charlie - THANK YOU! We realize that it is expensive to send things and that you have to wait a long time for stuff to get here before you hear the delight in our voices when we offer our heartfelt thanks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hot Off the Presses!

Hey, I know we just posted yesterday, but this is big news!

We just learned some important news about our work and Peace Corps Belize! Our Country Director called us to give us this news, then sent out an email telling the rest of the PCVs.

I am pasting our Country Director's announcement below. If you don't want to read the whole thing, skip down to the section in BLUE! We're proud and excited.

Program Direction 2013
In the fall of 2011 we embarked on a very comprehensive program review to determine the strongest programming potential for Peace Corps Belize. As you know, after years of focusing on 3 plus projects, like most other posts, we decided it was necessary to scale down. Our intent was to focus in on one key sector where we could target our resources for optimal results.

Throughout the nearly month-long program review, approximately 100 stakeholders provided us with feedback. We conducted surveys of work partners and reached out to many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and presently serving Volunteers. We carried out focus groups throughout Belize and met with numerous top government representatives from nearly every ministry and community leaders from the NGO and business sectors.

Through it all, we heard many common themes expressed by stakeholders. Certainly our evaluation reaffirmed the need for Peace Corps in Belize where Volunteers can add significant value. Engaging young people and strengthening business and organizational systems at all levels were identified as pressing needs in Belize, as were continued improvements in health and education.

“To Collaborate:  to work together to realize shared goals; it is a deep collective determination to reach an identical objective.”

As part of our review we also looked very closely at the strongest possibility for establishing the type of meaningful partnership that would promote a positive foundation for the work of Volunteers. We know that our work simply cannot happen without the support of Belizeans. Yes, that support has to manifest itself at the grassroots level, but it also needs to be guided by a deep-rooted commitment at the very top. Successful Peace Corps programs have to have authentic government level buy-in. What we have been searching for is a tangible commitment, a shared vision, joint planning, collective resource allocation, and equal excitement for the program.  After much searching, I am thrilled to announce that we have found a strong partner.

Beginning in 2013 Peace Corps Belize will collaborate with the Ministry of Health to implement a health project primarily in rural communities throughout the country!

Our twenty incoming Trainees will be assigned to rural communities and work alongside a cadre of co-champions, including the community health worker, rural health nurse and school leadership to promote health education. This program is currently being designed with great care and in true alliance with key Ministry of Health representatives who are just as excited as we are and who are actively engaged in giving life to this initiative. We believe resolutely that this type of collaboration marks a new beginning for Peace Corps in Belize. It will ultimately translate into a more rewarding experience for Volunteers, who will now work at the grassroots level in communities identified as those most in need. We also believe that this will increase the probability of success and impact in the communities.

Global Peace Corps health project activities now fall under four project areas: 1) support to HIV prevention and care; 2) fostering improved maternal, neonatal, and child health; 3) promoting healthy homes and communities; and 4) promoting healthy living. Peace Corps Belize and the Ministry of Health are in the process of defining the activities, which will ultimately be dependent upon local conditions and priorities, and host country public health strategies.

What about the youth?
While some of you may be disappointed that our future project is not focused on youth, you should know that our work in health will directly impact young people in every community where Volunteers serve.

A New National Health Training Manual
Two Volunteers are already working effectively with Ministry of Health representatives on a very exciting project—the development of the new national training manual for over 250 of the country’s Community Health Workers. Given our new program direction, this health training manual will be crucial to our more streamlined approach. It will provide Volunteers and Community Health Workers with an updated and standardized source of information. The manual will be used during Pre-Service Training where Ministry of Health officials will play an important role delivering PST sessions throughout the eleven weeks of training. This will ensure that Volunteers have a broad cultural and technical context from which to draw.

I really want to thank Cathy and Dr. Steve Burnham for their tireless work on the national health manual. Up to now the Burnhams have been working only with the Ministry of Health. I invite those of you with education or health backgrounds interested in supporting this effort to reach out directly to Cathy or Steve. It is not often that Volunteers have a chance to be part of such a landmark initiative. The document represents not only the earliest positive example of collaboration between Peace Corps and the Ministry, but it also symbolizes a joint venture that will serve as the foundation for future work assignments of all Peace Corps Volunteers in Belize.  I hope you will lend your talents to the National Health Manual Task Team!

We will be celebrating the official signing of the MOU with Belize for the new health project on Wednesday, September 26th during a ceremony to take place at the Ambassador’s residence.  We sincerely look forward to seeing you all there!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Update from Dangriga

From Steve: My work at the Polyclinic has been really fun this week. The administrator has asked each of the groups of workers in the clinic to produce an educational video to play through the monitors in the waiting room. For the Child Nutrition Project, I made a video with pictures and text, using some catchy music (Watina and Baba by Andy Palacio, Anaha Ya by Genera Valerio, Zimbabwe by Bob Marley, Chaiyya Chaiyya by Singh and Awasthi) for the background. My work partner, Tylon Tillett, will do the voice-over for the teaching narrative. I have high hopes for a good quality product.

Jemma Perez and Tylon Tillett, social workers for the
Child Nutrition Project in Toledo and Stann Creek Districts
Word got around that I knew how to create videos, so now I seem to be in big demand. Last Saturday I went to Hopkins village and worked with Dr. Amos Ojo (our medical chief of staff), who created a teaching video based on a Powerpoint presentation he had polished. He has a powerful speaking voice that lends great credibility to the video.

Dr. Ojo and me. He is originally from Nigeria. A lot of Nigerians
settle here in Belize. There is even a Nigerian DVD store!
Several of the nurses groups are also making teaching videos, and I have been able to advise them, too. One of the nurses told me that it can’t be that hard to do because her daughter in high school made a DVD last weekend. Naturally, I recommended that she get her daughter to help her, also.

We have been reading about the hot weather in the US with great sympathy. It makes our weather sound like paradise. We have rain at least once every 24-hour period, but often it is at night. Our temperatures range between 77 at night to 88 during the day (with that ol' "feels like" up to 102). Our house seems to stay comfortable all the time, probably because of the see breeze. The air conditioner at the Polyclinic has been out for over a week, but it is nice to sit in the breezeway between the clinic and the in-patient hospital.

Our Peace Corps co-worker, Ava, casually mentioned that she told her son to look at a website about the  40 best Peace Corps blogs in the world since it included hers. We all said, “Wait a minute! You have to tell everybody about that.” So we are doing our part to spread the good news.

Ava Hacker

The 40 Best Peace Corps Blogs - She's mentioned down there about #17. I don't think there's any significance to the numbering.

That's all for now. Let's give Cathy a chance . . . .


Well, as we say when we get on the bus, "Good maanin', Ev'ybody." 

Steve and I are moving along in our little routine here in Dangriga. My training manual is limping along, maybe not quite as fast as I would wish, but I seem to hit writing blocks now and then. Usually it happens when those boys next door decide it's time to break some eardrums.

Our girls club met yesterday for the second time, this time at Why Not Island. Ms. Norielee Rodriguez, Aidra's sister, got the girls going making maracas (Belizeans call them shakas) from the fruit of the calabash tree. The girls had to scrape the green stuff off the outside with a piece of glass or a knife. After that, Norie drilled a hole in each side of the fruit. The girls used those holes to poke and scrape out all the pulp from the inside.

The "Scraping of the Green"

Still scraping. That's Aidra in the light green t-shirt.

Some places are better to work than others :-)

Norielee taught the girls how to make maracas. She is also the
maker of the famous Rodriguez drums.
Pushing out the pulp

Getting the pulp out without damaging the outside of the fruit
was a tedious process, but the girls didn't seem to mind. It's a
Caribbean version of the quilting bee.

We had snacks, of course.
This time I tried to get creative with the fruit kabobs.
I could tell they liked the chocolate chip cookies better, though.
We finished up with another Garifuna lesson. This time Aidra talked about community spirit. She's really great when speaking about traditions and values, and I think the girls feel very comfortable with her.

The lesson is in Kriol and Garifuna.

Beautiful lady.
Next week - we paint the maracas!


Let's hear it for do-it-yourself hair care! I scalped Steve and he highlighted me.

Side 1
Side 2. I may have to get a little creative with my combing %-)

Just a couple more pictures:

Animal life at Why Not Island. This kitten was abandoned by her
mother. The dog had just had puppies, so she just adopted the kitten.
Steve is telling FuWe about all the cool doggie stuff in our
package from the States.

Sea breezes and our curtains create an atmosphere we love.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kinda Rhymes with Distress

FuWe Dog has begun her first estrus cycle - in the vernacular, she's in heat. The male dogs are lined up outside the fence, and our PUPPY - she's only 6 months old - is hot to get outside to the fun.

Well, shame on us for not having her spayed earlier. Current wisdom is to have them spayed before their first heat because they are less likely to develop certain cancers. It's just not that easy here in Dangriga. The vet is here every other Saturday afternoon. Some people here do not like him, and say that he is not a careful surgeon, so I need to get more information before we visit him. There are occasional free clinics, but I seem to learn about them after the fact. The ones in Hopkins are regular, but it is not practical for me to take her on the bus - especially bringing her BACK after surgery. We need a friend with a car, a GOOD friend.

So needless to say, FuWe is under house arrest for the next three weeks. We are lucky that we have a fence all the way around the yard. People are always going in and out, however, so we must be very careful of the gate. FuWe's mother was inside the closed gate, and a skinny dog got himself through the bars to hook up with her. Voila - FuWe and six other puppies!

Here I am trying to have a heart-to-heart talk with
FuWe Dog, explaining why delaying sex is the
smart thing to do.
On other fronts we are having good luck with the new girls club. Our first meeting had seven girls who joined together in silly games, learned about Garifuna dress, heard the Gipsy Kings and their style of music, danced a couple of Zumba routines, and devoured a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies and almost a gallon of orange juice. To finish up, they created collages from magazines, different papers, ribbons, other media, that told us about themselves. We purposely did not take pictures at the first meeting so the girls would not feel self-conscious (well, MORE self-conscious). 

This Saturday, we will meet at Why Not Island and should have a few more girls in attendance. We had a last minute day change so three of the girls couldn't make it to the meeting. We will make maracas from the calabash fruit, paint it with pictures of Peace and Friendship, and enter them in a national art contest!

I have this calabash at our house so I can experiment with the paints
before the girls start working on them.
FuWe says HI.
We are making progress with the training manual. More attention being given it by the Ministry of Health. Maybe I should say more VISIBLE attention. I think they always knew it was being created, but now they are giving us some real support, including a PERSON.

We got a great care package today from Larry and Jeannie, my brother and sister-in-law. I'm not sure who threw in all the wacky fun things. They both have a terrific sense of humor.

Item I'm most thrilled about - Hair highlighting kit (Do you think it will make me look young again?)
Item that made me laugh the most - Irish Spring soap (They know I hate it)

On our neighbor's roof. We haven't named her yet.
Happy Fourth of July, Everybody!