Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Construction projects

There is no way to describe the beautiful tile floor that our team (and a couple of local men) put down in the church in Otoxha. On Monday morning, when they started working, the floor was bare concrete.

The small, blue building is St Francis of Assisi Church in Corazon Creek. We got the entire outside of the church painted in four days (with only one ladder!)

Sunday, January 17, 2016


There is really nothing we can write about today that won't make it sound like we are rubbing it in that we are sitting on a warm sunny beach while our friends and families at home are freezing! It was a little windier and the water was much rougher today, but we're sure you have no sympathy!!

So we'll just add some things we missed from Friday.

As part of the religious celebration in Otoxha, a "King" us named. This is usually someone who has done a selfless act to help others. Vernon was chosen as the King due to his efforts in getting all the tile and supplies donated. He had to bow down as a woven crown was placed on his head. We have had a lot of laughs about King Vernon and his royal subjects.

Also on Friday, Christy set out to assess the water situation in Otoxha. Another group installed a pump from a stream in the mountains and ran pipes into every home. However, within a few weeks water was not getting to the homes. Working with her organization, Shoes and Hope, Christy has been in contact for months with Mr Manuel Ack, the principal, and Rachel, a Peace Corps volunteer, to isolate the problem. Christy, Ken, Gary and Vernon checked out the lines and discovered that the pump is actually broken. They will be working on getting the proper parts shipped to repair it.

We are heading out to dinner as a group to enjoy one last meal together, reflecting and giving thanks for a wonderful week.


We woke up early to pack up and be ready for the bus to pick us up at 10:30. A group headed into town to experience market day, several bargains were found, including a couple of hammocks.
Father Don, Ann and Anne met with ALL of our scholarship students and their parents. Some of them had to get up at 3:00 am to take the bus into town from the furthest villages. They discussed expectations and introduced them to Olive, our new scholarship coordinator.

We hit the road right at 10:30 for the bus ride to Independence. From there we took a quick water taxi ride to the beautiful village of Placencia. We relaxed all day, enjoying calm water, warm breezes and sunshine. We were sorry to be missing the cold weather at home, NOT!
The highlight of the day was celebrating Mass together on the beach. Our "bread" was a tortilla, a perfect end to a wonderful week.


From the village of Otoxha: what an amazing day! When we arrived the entire church community was waiting to pray with us to celebrate one of their biggest feast days. This pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Black Christ at Esquipulas is celebrated in Guatemala. This is a feast that honors members of the community who are sick or who have passed away. They included lighting a candle for Vernon's mother who recently passed away and Gordon's mom who was diagnosed with cancer. It was a very moving ceremony. We were blessed to be invited to pray with our community.
The prayer service took place in the newly tiled church! We arrived to find that the village members had completely finished the work in our absence on Thursday. The men who were ready to work helped with the final cleanup and left many of the tools there for the village to have for future use.
The students received their pictures and completed the pen pals which are now in route to the classrooms back home.
Goodbyes were said (some tearfully!) with the understanding it is really so long for now - we will see everyone next year!
We left under the instruction of the Alcade (mayor) to call when are safely back on American soil. Ann obediently will comply!

After a nice lunch in Otoxha, the group drove to Corazon Creek to pick up our painters, and discovered that they had been invited to eat another lunch ( same menu, Caldo!) Mike and Bobby were happy to show off the completely painted church!

Don, Desiree, Jill and Rose were back in San Lucas. It is a small school, with 38 students in just two classrooms. The principal was gone to a workshop in Punta Gorda, so there was only one teacher present. When they arrived they discovered Maria, the teacher, was not feeling well so Father Don drove her to the health post in the next village, Santa Teresa, only to discover it is only open and staffed on Wednesdays. When they got back to San Lucas they sent Maria home to bed leaving our teachers in charge of the whole school.
They had a great day, playing cooperative games with jelly beans, doing a STEM activity based on the Three Little Pigs, built towers with Dots candy and toothpicks, and learned about carbonation by "dancing" raisins in Sprite. Three of the four raisins danced and one child's observation was that the fourth raisin was dead! They ended the day with relay races, maybe not the best decision on the hottest day of the week, especially when one of the students told them it was too hot to be outside.

Cathy, Phil, Suzanne and Anita were in Blue Creek. The principal was also gone to a meeting, so the Standard 1 and 2 students were dismissed for the day. We finished the PenPal letters, made foam crosses, created pipe cleaner dogs, and worked on short vowel sounds.
Cathy and Phil taught the oldest kids how to play chess and then had a friendly math competition between the boys and girls. Cathy prepared the girls to remember their fours times tables by having them do a different motion for each fact, they will remember those facts forever.
We heard "GIRL POWER" many times during the competition.
The village of Blue Creek literally sits on the water, so we ate lunch sitting with our feet in the water, ahhhhh, heaven.
The teachers and students ended the day with a beautiful celebration, students read simple speeches and presented each of us with a small gift. Very touching and heartfelt. The students sang their national anthem to end the celebration.

The quote of the day comes from Blue Creek. Cathy was really hot after running around with the kids, so she stuck her head under a water pump to cool off. One of the boys said, " Miss, don't get your head wet, you will get a headache!"


Already in Placencia, and just now catching up on the week.

The trip packing list includes: a flexible attitude and a willing spirit, we used both today.
Due to some change of plans, we were not able to get to the villages today. Several people went into Punta Gorda in the morning to use the Internet and run some errands. Gary and Suzanne walked the four miles into town, and then bribed one of the sisters (with ice cream) to drive them back to the retreat center.
Another group (Derlene, Mark, Ken, Anita and Christy) decided to walk back from town. The long hot trip was made a little more bearable with stop for both pizza and ice cream!

A few years ago we helped build a senior center in Punta Gorda. The Pallotine sisters run the center. When she saw the center last year, Sister Rose started formulating a plan for us to host an afternoon with the senior guests. About 15 people attended, after a nice lunch, they played Bingo,a ring toss game and sang songs. We had put together some small bags of hotel sized personal care items as the Bingo prizes. Desiree managed to be the big winner with two Bingos! The guests had a lot of fun and the sisters appreciated the energy and kindness of our team members (Rose, Desiree, Anne, Gary, Suzanne, Jill and a few others I have probably forgotten to mention). The two hour event seemed to fly by.
After all that Bingo and singing, the group rewarded themselves on the way home with a stop for refreshments at the Coral Garden Hotel. They sat by the pool surrounded by a beautiful garden and soaked in the sunshine.
Our guest at dinner on Thursday was Olive Woodye, the local coordinator of our scholarship program. Olive has done a great job making sure that are students are getting the uniforms and supplies they need as well as checking that the students are getting good grades in their classes.
Back to the villages tomorrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


We're a little late again posting, crazy busy days and have internetaccess only if we get into town.

It was another great day in the villages.
Otoxha: Our construction crew is happy to have about 85% of the floor competed.  It is breathtaking to see, will post pictures when we have wifi in Placencia.  The community members have been working along with the guys while their wives have made snacks and provided lunch every day. Their generosity is humbling.

The teachers,  Ann and Anne, completed an art project with every students.  Derlene and Jody did a STEM project based on the "Three Little Pigs" with the intermediate and older students. It was a teacher's dream to watch the students engage engage in critical thinking and working together to build community.  Not wanting to be outdone, Derlene got to take a spin on Olario's bike today, riding it down the hill to lunch in the village.  One speed bikes on hilly dirt roads are quite a workout.

Mark demonstrated first aid techniques to several villagers.He spoke with the Health Worker about getting some supplies to treat minor injuries.

San Lucas:  We forgot to add a funny story from earlier in the week.  Father Don was working with the students folding Origami figures. He was attempting to make a paper crane and was on step 12 or so when he gave up, unfolded the paper and taught all the kids to make paper airplanes!
Jill, Suzanne, Father Don and Rose were happy when the second teacher finally showed up today. They taught water cycles, did math projects with jelly beans (projects with candy are fun in any country!), and played many math games.

Blue Creek:  Phil, Cathy, Christy and Anita were in Blue Creek.  Phil got to experience handing out the "slippers"  After putting a child's flip flops on the wrong feet, he got the hang of it pretty quick!  Once again our best laid plans had to be altered.  One of the teachers was at a workshop so her students were just dismissed all day and two other teachers were being observed by Ministry of Education (as part of getting advanced certification) so we could not teach in their rooms in the afternoon. The principal needed to be in on the observations, so he sent his students home after lunch!!  We still managed to work on PenPal letters and art projects. Christy taught the oldest kids how to draw self-portraits and we ALL made pipe cleaner dogs.  Cathy had a little trouble with shaping the pipe cleaners and when we do the project again tomorrow we suspect she will be hiding in another classroom claiming to be playing math games.
We walked down to see Blue Creek, it is beautiful.  There is a pavilion where women sell their hand made crafts so we told everyone we had shopped at the Blue Creek Mall.

Corazon Creek: Chris, Bobby, Desiree and Mike got a lot more painting done.  There was a high peak that needed to be painted, it was too high to reach on a ladder, so a man from the village climbed right, leaned way over and got it done!  They were invited to lunch at Sebastian's home, Chris pronounced it the best caldo he's ever had, Desiree asked for seconds!

The quote of the day comes from Vernon. Several men from the village were sitting by the side of the church "supervising" the tile work and he told them we should create a new tv show called "The Real Husbands of Otoxha!"

Tuesday -

So sorry we are late; we have been busy working!

The Village of Corazon: There was mourning in the village today.  One of the village founders past away at 80 years old.  We were invited to attend the funeral.  It was a beautiful tribute to a man who had 41 grandchildren.  Almost the entire village members attended. Witnessing the women mourn was reminiscent of what the women standing at the foot of the Cross must have experienced; wailing and weeping for One loved so deeply. 

Our painters: Bobby, Chris, Phil, and Mike finished the second coat of paint and are ready to paint the windows.  The color of the church is a "Mary Blue". Beautiful!  The guys continue to work hard in the hot sun and the village men showed up to help after the funeral.

Our teachers:  Cathy, Rose, Ann, and Derlene worked with all grade levels.  Ann completed art projects while Cathy, our Math Ace, challenged the students in math facts.  Derlene and Rose worked with the intermediate and junior high students in a STEM project based on the story of the Three Little Pigs.

The Village of Otoxha - 
Our teachers:  Anita, Suzanne, Christy, and Anne, along with the construction crew: Vernon, Gary,and Ken, were pleasantly surprised when they arrived and the tile was laid all the way down the center of the church to the door!  One of the villagers, Dean, is an excellent tile layer and continues to work long after we head home.  The men immediately got to work along side Dean, stopping only long enough to inhale lunch.

The teachers did Pen Pal letters, spelled words with Play Doh, shared water cycle lessons and built towers with Dots candy and toothpicks.

They all  had lunch at Olario Ical's house and got to hold his beautiful 6 month old baby girl!  Anita not only held his precious little baby, Daisy, she also took a ride on his new bike!  It was her experience of heaven on earth! The children had a good laugh watching her trying to ride a bike (that was way too small) up the road at school!

The Village of San Lucas -
Jill, Desiree, Jody, and Fr. Don were very busy as one of the teachers was not at school again.  The did matching activities, domino multiplication, and animal bingo.  They presented the health & hygiene lessons and made beautiful crosses after reading the story, "The Legend of the Three Tress."  Needles to say, rest was welcomed with open arms.

We all went to join our friend, Chantel (principal we have know for many years), for dinner at the local restaurant. The food and company was wonderful!

Quote of the day:  Derlene getting dressed for the day, knowing that the village was preparing for the funeral announcing she was wearing her, "Ecclesiastical Purple" to honor the village member.  (really Anita just wanted to see if she could spell "ecclesiastical")  Yeah spell check!


Monday, January 11, 2016


We started our morning with a breakfast that included Fry Jacks. They are like fried puffed up tortillas (that in no way describes how delicious they really are!).   There was not one left!

Otoxha - Anita, Christy, Jody, and Suzanne taught a religious lesson about the cross with all grade levels.  The ;day got a little crazy because two other groups were visiting the village.  They still found time to teach the water cycle to two grades, do some color by numbers, and some hands-on math.  The highlight of the day is always cranking out the Ipod and dancing the Cupid Shuffle with the kids!  The men of the village had a good laugh at our expense!
Vernon, Ken, and Gary started working on tiling the church floor.  The surprised even themselves with how much they got done, including laying out the beautiful cross in the middle of the floor.

Corazon - Sr. Rose, Cathy, Anne, and Derlene visited the students in the village.  They handed out health and hygiene supplies and explained the importance of keeping our bodies and teeth healthy.  Sr. Rose and Derlene challenged the students in a team math competition while Cathy taught the older students.  Pen pal letters were completed by everyone.  Anne visited the high school students who are on scholarship from All Saints (once again, THANK YOU). 
Bobby, Chris, Phil, and Mike all worked tirelessly and got the first coat of paint on the church!  This was all done with only one ladder between the four of them!  We could tell the color of church paint by looking at Bobby's pants.

San Lucas - Fr. Don, Jill, Desiree, and Ann made origami figures and picture frames, pipe cleaner spiders, and several other art projects.  Jill considers herself somewhat of an expert on pipe cleaner art!  It was nice getting to see all the students that they have watched grow through the years.

And Mark.... our resident paramedic ... due to his amazing flexibility and our schedule that changes from minute to minute, wound up in San Lucas.  There is a brand new health clinic in the village with no supplies or equipment so he was a perfect fit!  Among his first patients was a man who cut his own foot with a hacksaw and Mark cleaned and glued the wound closed. 
This leads to our quote of the day from his patient, "Is that regular super glue????"


Hello friends back in the US!  We are all excited about our arrival and have already had two fabulous days!
Sunday morning we traveled to Otoxha to join in prayer with our friends as they sang and worshiped together.  Christy,Mark and Gary checked out the water supply to see what is needed to make it completely functional.  Vernon, Ken and Gary checked out the floor of the church for our tile project.  We then split up and went to four different homes for lunch.  We were all served chicken caldo and flour tortillas. 

We then drove back and visited our "summer villages:  Santa Cruz, Santa Elena, and Pueblo Viejo.  We saw the kitchen in the school at Pueblo Viejo which was funded by All Saints (thank you for eating spaghetti!). 

We invited Esteban, Rosa, and Emaya to join us to our delicious dinner prepared by our friends at the convent.  The most recent spaghetti fundraiser was to help Emaya with some much needed surgery.  Emaya is a wonderful little girl of nine.  Absolutely charming.

Mark brought the vocation chalice from All Saints and has shared it with our team to invite communal prayer to strengthen all of our vocations; most especially to pray for priestly vocations.

We have had some amazing weather and are prepared for a busy first day in our villages.  We are all looking forward to reacquainting ourselves with the children and adults who have been so generous in sharing their village life with us.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

And We're Off!

We are packed and ready for another adventure in Belize!  The bad news is that our flight leaves at 5:55 a.m. on Saturday (ugh!). The good news is that after a brief layover in Atlanta, we land in Belize around noon!   It will be nice to arrive at the retreat center (a five hour drive from Belize City) and unload our mountain of supplies in daylight.

We have a very busy week planned, here are the highlights:
  1. Teach in four village schools (Blue Creek, Otoxha, Corazon Creek and San Lucas). Teaching health/hygiene, water cycles, fun math activities, art, religion, and STEM activities.
  2.  Paint the inside of the new Catholic church in Corazon Creek.
  3.  Lay a tile floor in the Catholic church in Otoxha.
  4. Try to determine the problem and repair the water system in Otoxha.
  5. Meet with our 10 high school scholarship students and their parents.
  6.  Play bingo and have fun at a program for seniors at the new Senior Center in Punta Gorda (we worked on building the center over several previous trips).
   7.  Meet with families of two children needing surgery for serious medical concerns.
   8.  Give a presentation on Internet safety at the high school in Corazon Creek.
   9. Attend a social event in San Marcos (where we built a playground last June).

Whew! I'm exhausted just reading all that!  Please keep us in your prayers as we touch the lives of friends, old and new, in Belize.