Day 4: In Search For
Today started out similar to the last two. Each of us
typically wakes up a little early to have a little time to ourselves. Whether
it’s reading a few pages in a good book, skimming through the latest Facebook
posts, or enjoying the already warm and humid morning on the porch with a cup
of coffee listening to the sounds of Belize, we seamlessly go about our morning
business until Ms. Virginia calls us to the table for breakfast. I must admit,
I was a bit sore after spending the better half of the day digging trenches,
but when you wake up in the morning and watch the sunrise and you realize that
you’re in Belize, the soreness is merely an added bonus. Even if it’s only for
a short while, I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to wake up in Belize.
Upon arriving at Liberty, each of us made haste to pick up
where we left off from yesterday. Ryan and I were especially eager to make up
ground from yesterday’s mild letdown with the progress we made on the trenches.
After a strong start yesterday morning, our momentum was all but depleted when
we ended up digging into some dense clay and a thick patch of roots. We resumed
our mission today with a more conservative goal and better game plan as to how
we would attack this mess we found ourselves in. We dug for a good three hours
before we broke for lunch, at which point I was reassigned to help Cal while
Luke replaced me to work with Ryan in the trenches.
For our first task, Cal and I set out to take a handful of
measurements in the dining and kitchen facility. The measurements were to be
used to create something that would help reduce the echoing in the dome
structure. If you’ve ever been to George Bush Airport in Houston, when you
stand in the middle of the dome, it’s a lot like being in the “echo chamber” in
Terminal C. Cal had a brilliant vision of having an acoustic engineer and one
of Seattle University’s distinguished art faculty to collaborate on the
project. This project won’t be done this time around, but I’m eager to see what
comes of it when I come back next year!
Our second task had us taking more measurement, this time in
the old library-turned-guesthouse near the entrance to Liberty. Ms. Agatha
wants to create a place where the volunteers can escape to and have a bit of
privacy away from the hustle and bustle of the home (44 kids running around can
exhaust even the best of volunteers). After taking our measurements and looking
around the building, it was evident that it was in need of some dire TLC and
elbow grease. Cal was particularly enthused about this project, partly because
this guesthouse has the potential to be something truly amazing. The hope (and
plan) is to create a practical and comfortable place where volunteers can come
and stay onsite, which would allow them to truly experience the essence of
Liberty Children’s Home.
I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of this year’s group
when I say that we all share Cal’s and Agatha’s enthusiasm and vision for this
project (and for all the projects).
As the day drew to a close, I made my way to the library to
check in on Nicole and Tessa to see how their project was coming along. I
noticed several children running in and out and laughing as I approached the
library. When we first walked into the library on Sunday, it was like walking
into an unfrequented basement at your grandparents’ house. The library was
dark, stuffy, and it smelled of old and, quite possibly, moldy books. Hundreds
of books were scattered throughout the library, unorganized and poorly taken
care of, as if the library was a cemetery where used books went to rest. I had
no idea how Nicole and Tessa were going to turn this dungeon into an inviting
place where children want to hang out and read. However, when I walked into the
library this afternoon, I was completely taken aback by the complete
transformation that Nicole and Tessa had accomplished. Dawn was in the corner
reading to two children, and Nicole and Tessa were helping a few children with
their homework assignments. It’s hard to describe the joy that I felt seeing
Dawn, Nicole, and Tessa spend time with the children and seeing their excitement
after all of the hard work they put into the library. This was undoubtedly my
favorite moment thus far at Liberty.
There truly are amazing things going on here at Liberty
Children’s Home, and each of us is excited to have the opportunity to share and
be a part of PWOB and Liberty’s vision. Little-by-little, project-by-project,
PWOB and is making a difference here at Liberty. Even if the children may not
remember our names at the end of the day, what matters is that we are helping
to provide a better home for them so they can do what they do best: be kids.
One of the questions that we were asked at an orientation before we left for
Belize was, “What’s the point?” What’s the point of us being here? What’s the
point of raising all of this money to come down here to work at Liberty when
that same money can be used to fund local workers? Truth be told, I don’t know
yet. I’m still searching for the answer. We’re all in search for the answer.
Waking shorty after our cook, Virginia, arrived to prepare
breakfast—and well in advance of the rest of the group—Chris and I went for a
quick run around the neighborhood. Thoroughly warned about the possibility of
encountering stray dogs that would then (potentially) proceed to viciously
pursue us, we armed ourselves with sticks and went on our way. Thankfully, no
encounters occurred, and Chris and I made it back to the compound unscathed and
just in time to enjoy a well-deserved meal with the remainder of the group.
In our haste to get to Liberty by 9am, we nearly forgot to
prepare our afternoon meal of chips and sandwiches, so the entire group pitched
in to get it done as soon as possible. For the record, assembly lines are
efficient for a reason. Lunch was secured in no time, and we were well on our
way, anxious for what lay ahead.
Arriving at Liberty shorty before 9am, we found ourselves
with time on our hands as Cal, Dawn, and Cat worked out how to best employ us.
In the meantime, the rest of us—Nicole, Tessa, Luke, Chris, and myself—occupied
our few minutes of down time by either shooting hoops or indulging our inner
child on the courtside swings. Soon enough, a lone boy recruited us to play a
pickup game of “Rush”—a variation of world football—which he was clearly adept
at, for he proceeded to shame all of us by scoring goal after goal. Though
still early, the intensity of the sun was already in full force, and some of us
(myself included) were soon soaked in sweat; a trend that was to go unchanged
for the remainder of the day.
After their short meeting, Cat returned to brief us on what
they had in mind. We started out by walking through the recreational room and
conducting a quick survey of what we thought we could do to improve the space.
Once we had collected each member’s input, we moved on to the library. Deciding
that the most progress could be made there, we decided to get started. However,
Cal and Michael (another Liberty volunteer veteran from Seattle) showed up
before we could even get started and informed us of their slight change of
plans. Cat, Tessa, and Nicole would remain at the library to continue the
planned refurbishment, while Luke (an aspiring electrical engineer) was chosen
to join Michael on electrical related projects elsewhere. Deciding that Chris
and I were little more useful as cheap manual, outdoor labor, Cal assigned us
to ditch digging detail… Yay us!
After our initial walkthrough, it was clear that the
library was in serious need of reorganizing (not to mention, a thorough
cleaning), so Cat, Tessa, and Nicole went to work. After first conducting a
thorough cleaning, they then turned to reorganizing furniture by moving tables
in order to allow them to be used as desks. Once that was done, they then began
the arduous task of sorting books by genre and grouping them into their own
sections in the hopes of improving the organization and appeal of the library’s
layout. During this time they also realized that there were numerous books that
were either irrelevant for children (including a gem detailing the DOS
operating system) or infested with mold from the humidity. The task has yet to
be finished and will be continued tomorrow…
Guided by Michael, Luke worked on getting the old arcade
games and mechanical rides working so the children would have more
entertainment opportunities. They started out testing to see if any of the
systems worked and determined that the mechanical ride worked, it just needed
to be modified so that it would work without coins. Due to Michael’s skill,
they were able to accomplish this. Regarding the arcade consoles, they
determined that only one functioned properly, but the other has no video feed
and needs to be investigated further. In addition to these tasks, they realized
that the dryers on the compound were inoperable due to the lack of a 220v. They
then set out to convert the nearest electrical source from the standard 110v to
220v source. Without these dryers, the staff is forced to line dry all the
laundry. Although this process is is certainly more sustainable, it is nearly
an impossibility during the rainy season.
Meanwhile, Chris and I got started on the ditch. Picking up
where the groundskeeper had left off, and using his work as a gauge for our own
efforts, we worked to get as much of the task accomplished. Initially making
quick progress, we were confident in our initial assessment of how far we would
make it before the day was done. As it turns out, we were a bit overconfident.
After making it some 50 feet, the soil ceased to be relatively dry and
gradually began to become what can only be described as sticky. Apparently,
Belizean soil is mostly clay, and moist clay at that. At about this time, we
both realized that we had jumped on the opportunity to get our “He-man” on by
digging the ditch without actually knowing why we were doing it. Given the
exponentially increasing difficulty of the task, this question began to weigh
ever more heavily on our minds. As we speculated the necessity of such a
project between ourselves, Michael showed up to see how we were fairing. Hoping
he could shed some light on the true purpose of our task, we decided to consult
him. Luckily, given Michael’s history with Liberty, he was just the man to ask.
As he explained, the amount of rain that the area receives during the rainy
season, if not properly drained, can result in standing water in excess of 10
inches. We were digging a ditch that would drain that water off the compound
and thereby prevent the breeding of mosquitos as well as a whole host of other
negative health hazards. Our curiosity satisfied, and fortified by seeing the
grander picture and significance of our efforts, Chris and I pressed on.
None of the tasks that we began today were completed. But
our trip is not over, and tomorrow is a new day. One book, one electrical
panel, and one swing of the pickaxe at a time, we will finish what we all came
here to accomplish: making the lives of these children, and the adults charged
with their care, just a little less challenging.
We arrived at the airport in Belize City at approximately 10:30 am Belizean time. Due to a miscommunication in arrival time our ride had been at the airport since 9:00 am, we were so thankful she waited for us.
After settling in at Breadfruit Garden, we began our first adventure. We decided that we were going to head to Altun Ha, the Mayan archaeological site in Belize City. On the way to Altun Ha, we ran into a sign advertising the Snake Man. He had all different types of snakes native to Belize, including the Fer De Lance, green viper, and a coral snake.
Then, we arrived at Altun Ha, which consists of 13 Mayan temples and mounds. This is the site where the famous Jade Head—a priceless Mayan artifact—was found in the temple of the high priest.
This is not a typical zoo; it is more of an injured wild life refuge. All of the animals are indigenous to Belize and were either pets that people could not care for, or injured animals that were unable to be released into the wild. While there, several of us were able to have a jaguar encounter where we were locked in a small metal cage inside of the jaguar exhibit, were able to pet him and feed him. We also saw animals such as the tapir, which is Belize’s national animal, along with macaw parrots, howler monkeys, crocodiles, and more.