Sunday, 29 November 2015

The San Ignacio Public Library

When I was a child growing up in a small town the local public library was my route to the rest of the world. I learned about history, war and peace, romance, geography, intrigues, space and the universe – and I’ve never lost my love of reading.  When we moved to Belize we brought 100s, maybe 1000s, of books with us – and more on every trip back and forth to North America since then.  After reading them and sharing with friends (the reliable ones that you know will return things!), they are donated to the San Ignacio Public Library.  I often run into people who say “I really liked your book so and so”.  The San Ignacio Library is a great resource to locals, children, ex-pats and tourists alike.

Jose Bolvito and Teresita Ulloa
Teresita Ulloa, Senior Library Assistant and Jose Bolvito, Technical Assistant, manage the lovely building overlooking the Macal River which opened on Nov. 3, 2010.  The Library is the product of the Social Investment Fund, San Ignacio Town Council, Belize National Library Service and Information Systems (BNLSIS) and the local Rotary Club.  The San Ignacio Rotary Club donated fans, lights, tiles, paint and the computers that are still in use there.  Internet access is available to library users for a fee of $2.00 an hour which goes towards maintenance and programs.

The Library has a full range of fiction and non-fiction (and appreciate all donations of books) for all ages.  They also run a variety of special programs to ensure that children are introduced to reading and the library’s resources including a Christmas Program (they make a wonderful tree out of old paperbacks!); celebrate specially designated weeks for Child Stimulation, Education week, Literacy week, etc.; run a reading competition for the Cayo District with the Cayo Association of Principals of Primary Schools (CAPPS); and a summer program for 7-11 year olds.

When I asked Teresita what she wanted most for the library she said “more space”.  Apparently the building was designed to have a second floor and she’s hoping the powers that be will see their way toward building that over the next year.  It would allow the growing book collection and activities to have more room.  Her second wish is for “more resources for kids”, such as games, puzzles, quiz books, “brain-teasers”, literacy materials, etc.  Her third wish was for cash donations to the library’s projects to help them buy prizes, trophies, and materials.  And finally, she hopes that someone might start a book club – especially an after school one for youth.

Contact Teresita and Jose at ; by phone at 804-0459 or visit their facebook page. And drop in for a visit – enjoy the wonderful view of the Hawksworth Bridge from their verandah, check out the collection, and enjoy the cool quiet atmosphere of the library.

CELA encourages all of it's students to bring along books to donate to the library when they visit Belize to study.
Dr. Nancy Adamson presenting books donated by CELA Students

Written by Dr. Nancy Adamson, Executive Director for Center for Engaged Learning Abroad (CELA)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

5 Things That Happen When You Study Abroad in Belize

Belize is a Central American country and a Caribbean nation, too.  Students studying abroad are exposed to a variety of cultures including Maya, Garifuna, Creole, East Indian, Mennonite and Chinese.   The biodiversity is astounding and as enriched as the cultural exposure. 

Many first time study abroad students have perhaps traveled to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean with their families or churches.  A few have been on other study abroad trips.  Some, however, have never been out of the US or Canada and one or two have never flown before.  

Our students complete a review about the program when their course work is over.  We regularly get feedback like “awesome”, “amazing,” or “an experience of a lifetime.”  What the students say when they reflect more deeply about their time studying abroad makes the efforts to get them here, keep them safe and healthy, and send them back to their lives in North America all worthwhile.
Here‘s what you'll experience when you study abroad in Belize:

1.    You will grow in confidence

Let's face it, it is scary to leave your home comforts and head out into the world on your own but taking that leap of faith and overcoming your fears is a massive confidence booster.

“My time is Belize gave me the confidence that I can travel to new countries by myself and more confidence in my social abilities.”

“I feel as though I have become more confident in my abilities in vet medicine and in life overall.”
“It's given me, not only knowledge, but confidence in the way I carry myself and my work ethics.”

“… psychologically I am in a better state.  Before coming to Belize, I was scared to travel by myself specially since I was emotionally unstable, but now that I am heading back home, I feel more confident and affirmative than ever.”

2.   Your world view and appreciation for other cultures has expanded

If you want to experience different ways of life Belize is the perfect place to study abroad from the impressive historical Maya sites to drumming classes with the Garifuna. With easy smiles and a warm welcome you are sure to take home some lasting memories.

“I think I have come back a different person to some extent.  I have a different outlook in life and what I want from it.”

“… many people don't realize that we don't need much in life to be content.  All these ethnic groups that I was able to interact with have the most satisfying expressions even if Western civilization consider them as poor people.  In my eyes, they are rich with tradition, knowledge, spirituality and love.  Next, spiritually I felt at peace with myself and others through the encounters with spiritual healers.”

“It opened me up to so many different views, taught me how to handle different situations in either stressful or diverse environments, and let me apply the knowledge that I've been learning for so long in classrooms.   This experience taught me so much about how I want to live and let me see different priorities and policies from those in America.”

“I am forever changed by my time here. I love the love here, love of family, love of friends, love of life.  The course was amazing, but the culture and beauty is something I will share with everyone.  This has changed my life.”

3.  You'll make new, lifelong friends from all over North America

If you take our 2 week or 4 week programs you'll be surrounded by other like-minded (and nervous) students from Universities across North America. Being immersed in the program as a team brings people together in a way like no other.

“I met some incredible people and I know that we will be lifelong friends.”

“I would consider my fellow classmates to be friends that I will stay in touch with for a very long time. All in all, I'm not sure I could ever ask for a better experience.”

“I think it developed my skills under pressure, opened my eyes to a world of opportunities, and gave me lifelong friends. I will use what I learned here in every aspect of my future vet work and life overall.”

4.   You'll experience new “ways of being”

“I felt that this allowed us to get an idea of the way of life and culture here in Belize.”

“I really learned to appreciate the difference in culture here in Belize. Even though the people have a different way of life, they are in many ways similar.”

“It was really neat to see the difference in lifestyles and culture. I think my time in Belize will prove to be rewarding and make me fall in love with my potential future more.”

“We had a great amount of immersion in the culture and environment of Belize by staying in multiple places. We stayed in the jungle, on the Cayes, and in San Ignacio, all of which gave us the opportunity to meet the local people and experience their way of living.”

“It changed my view of Central America and the places that I want to travel to in the future. I had time to talk to people and see their country and mine from a different perspective.”

“I think it just helped me gain a more global perspective on life.  A necessary component to any student’s life.”

5.   You'll become profoundly aware of your life in North America

Of course at some point you have to go home, your experience here will give you a new perspective and you'll never look at things in quite the same way again.

“It is really a privilege to see how things are done differently in a developing country and it really gives you a new perspective on not only veterinary medicine, but life in general.”

“I came back from Belize with a broader view on how people from third-world countries live and I can say I am humbled from seeing Belize.”

“Allowed me to appreciate what I have back home.”

“It really made me realize the conditions in countries other than the U.S. and how things aren't always as readily available.  It taught me to be flexible and to always have a good outlook on life because some people and animals have it much worse off. “

“My time Belize really made me appreciate the little things in life. It was great to see how the culture is different in Belize from The US.”

“It also reinforced to me how privileged a life I lead at home and what luxury my family and my animals and I have.”

“It really made me realize how over the top veterinary medicine is in the United States and just everyday life in general.”

Written by Program Director Cynthia Reece

As a Program Director for our field courses in Belize, I work with North American students who are interested in studying abroad with the Center for Engaged Learning Abroad.    One of the big draws for our courses, other than the field work, is Belize is an English speaking nation.  Our courses are intensive and are delivered over a two week period using Belize as the classroom.  Students can take two classes and stay for a full four weeks.   Both features give students an opportunity to try studying abroad for the first time.
As a mom myself, this is the kind of growing I would want my college aged child to experience.  I feel responsible to all the moms and dads out there when they allow their kids to study with us.  I’ll leave you with my favorite response and why I live in Belize:

“This has been the most amazing experience of my life. Every day I thought "Today is the best day of my life." and every day Belize would prove me wrong. The sheer biodiversity and beauty of this country is something that is unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Saturday, 24 October 2015

What’s the Meaning of Life: Belize, Education and a Sense of Well-Being by Prof Laura McClusky

In 1994, I did research in southern Belize among Mopan Maya. When I first came to the village where I ended up doing my research, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to study.  My interests in graduate school at SUNY Buffalo Department of Anthropology were all over the place: I was interested in midwifery, gender construction, medical anthropology, dream theory, and psychological anthropology. While in the village topic came to me, not because I sought it out, but because it became evident one day while I was sitting in a hammock day-dreaming about coming back to the village to study. I knew Belize was the place I was going to do my work. It felt right. I felt at home in many ways. But I didn’t know what I was going to study.  

That’s when a young woman found me and tried to sell me a basket, much like many Maya women in Belize would do at that time. Maya women, then, and today make basket to sell to tourists. It helps them to have money at hand for little things like soap, cooking oil and most of all school supplies for their children.  

The problem was I already had more baskets than my meager graduate student budget could afford. But this didn’t stop her. She slowly showed me each basket she had made. At the time I didn’t understand how time consuming basket making was. I was unimpressed and frankly, I tried to ignore her.  She persisted, and there were many awkward silences between us. Then, she told me her husband beats her. 

I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I was unprepared for such conversation, so I got up and left. I wasn’t proud of that, and it haunted me. It haunted me so much it became my topic of study.
Spousal abuse wasn’t a big topic in anthropology at the time. My research and subsequent book “Here, Our Culture Is Hard”: Stories of Domestic Violence From a Maya Village in Belize (University of Texas Press 2001) was the first book length ethnographic study that made spousal abuse its focus. Since then others have embarked on the study, and soon another book on domestic violence in Belize will come out focusing on the western part of the country. 

What I learned helped people understand that spousal abuse is common worldwide, but the ways different peoples deal with it is significant. I found, at that time, in the village where I did my work, that Maya women protected each other from spousal abuse. Even though their society had many elements of a patriarchy, a system in which men are privileged, women created mechanisms to help each other deal with violence in the home.  It’s too complicated to deal with all of it here, but I’ll tell you about a part of it that is the foundation for my next extended research project. I’ll tell you about gossip and education. 

In 1994, mothers often made sure their young marriage-able daughters heard about any incidence of spousal abuse that she knew about. Fodder for gossip came easily since Maya women do not hide when they are hit by their husbands. Rather they talked about it openly and honestly. No hidden bruises, no stories of how they were clumsy and somehow caused any visible bruises themselves. Nothing was hidden, like it often is in the US. Women did not feel they were somehow at fault and deserving of their bruises, like they often are here in the US.  They were clear about abuse, and they were clear about who was at fault.   

So when women got together to wash their clothes in the river, or when they got together to make baskets to sell to tourists, or to stop by a neighbor’s house to see if they might have an extra egg or hot pepper to sell they told each other about their bruises.  Mothers would talk about this to their daughters, telling them that they should avoid marriage. Ignore the sweet talk, they would say and study. Education, these women felt, would provide their daughters with more opportunities than finding themselves married to an abusive man. 

That’s similar to what we believe in the US. Education gives you opportunities, and opportunities can help you avoid all sorts of bad situations. Education is the key to a good life.  This was a radical idea in southern Belize at the time, especially since just a few years prior to my research, Maya arranged marriages. It was a different world, a different way of thinking. At that time building a family was key to establishing solid social relationships and those solid relationships were what allowed you a good life.  Maya success depended on staying connected to others, which often meant serving the community in various ways. 

At the time of my field stay, going to school was also just becoming possible for young women as the village now had daily bus service to the District capital of Punta Gorda (PG) where the high school was located. Prior to having bus service to PG mostly only boys went to high school. Parents felt it was too risky to allow girls to go since they would have to find lodging far away from home. In PG they might not have a social network strong enough to prevent her, in her loneliness, from developing a relationship with an irresponsible boy. The fear was she would return home pregnant and for Maya, at that time especially, a single mother found it difficult to find a good man to marry. Buses allowed young women to stay home at night, and go to school during the day. 

But something interesting was happening. Young girls going to high school were re-creating Maya gender roles. High School girls wore different clothing, talked freely with young men, took important positions in the household doing accounting for their mothers basket selling, they were changing gender roles. Women were gaining independence.  

So what is my research now?
Well, after twenty years, times have changed. Education is not so difficult to get in Belize, although for many it requires more resources than are available and more time away from running a successful household than is possible.  Besides that, studies in the US are suggesting that economic freedom is not enough to have a sense of well-being. Some suggest well-being is comprised of five elements: career, social, financial, physical and community.  The Gallup-Purdue Index of well-being for college graduates in the US uses these five elements to access college graduates sense of well-being in the US. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index also uses these five elements and has declared that Belize is fifth in the world for it population thriving in four of the five elements of well-being.

While not directly using these five elements, I plan on investigating the well-bring of Maya students, especially women. How do they fare today? Do they have a sense of well-being that matches these five elements? Do they feel education has benefited them? What are the struggles they face and have faced getting an education? What do they feel they have achieved? What helped them achieve it? Does education guarantee a good job? Does it get in the way of social well-being as they move away from the village where they were born and face difficulties being an ethnic minority? Does delayed marriage help or hinder a sense of well-being? The questions are endless, and I’m going to ask many. I hope my research will be useful to young Maya women, and to students in the US as they navigate their lives in efforts of creating a sense of well-being. There’s more to life than just avoiding violence. I would guess there’s more to life than just being educated too. 

Laura McClusky is a Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Wells College. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A little bit about us

Our organization was born in 2010 when a group of friends and co-workers decided Belize had so much to offer students and professionals in unique learning experiences that we formed a company to assist those who wanted to visit, study, and learn about Belize. Coming up with a name which expressed what we wanted do was actually much harder than we thought. We wanted to convey our educational purpose with a focus on sustainability.

We decided on I.S.I.S which stood for the Institute for Sustainable International Studies. We know Isis is the Egyptian goddess of the earth and the patroness of nature, so our initials were quite apt. The fact that Dr. Nancy, our Executive Director, also has a cat called Isis sealed the deal.

Then, as you all know, the civil war in Syria escalated and a group of extremists decided that a Caliphate was what the middle east needed and the media took to calling them ISIS. We waited to see what would happen, relieved that people were smart enough not to mix us up! In the end, with so much negativity around that acronym we decided that we would change our name. After much head scratching we decided to call ourselves Center for Engaged Learning Abroad, C.E.L.A. Belize.

We love sharing the wonders of Belize while providing educational services to students here. We are thrilled to see the sense of awe when students experience new knowledge first hand through their field work and community service. Belize challenges students to move outside their comfort zone. Our students achieve amazing results when they do something they didn't think they could or have never tried before. Watching a student grow personally with a new view of the world makes us feel C.E.L.A. has accomplished something worthwhile.

C.E.L.A. isn’t just about the few of us who founded it either. It is about the community of people who teach, live and work in Belize and provide services to our students. Student fees contribute to the development of Belize through donations to local organizations, contributions to communities for service learning projects and the employment of Belizeans. We are proud to be Belizean and building this great little country.