August 2, 2011
By Diane Hageman
The country of Belize brings to mind the beauty of the Caribbean Sea, fun on sandy beaches and plenty of relaxation.
A group of eight College of Saint Benedict nursing students and their director, adjunct instructor Lindsay Anderson, have a different perspective.
Anderson and the six juniors and two sophomores left May 13 for a 3½-week service trip to the impoverished town of Punta Gorda in south Belize. They arrived right before rainy season, when the weather was a tropical 95 to 98 degrees most days.
The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University had been approached by Pro World, an organization that provides volunteer and service opportunities in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The nursing faculty at CSB and SJU agreed to meet with them and determined they wanted to assist by offering health education in the schools.
For several weeks before their departure, the CSB students gathered about 20 grocery bags filled with schools supplies and games for the children they would meet. Most of these donations came from their fellow Bennies and Johnnies. They also took about $400 in donations to make improvements to the schools and to purchase groceries for the school lunch program that feeds the students who cannot afford lunch.
"They had essentially run out of food for this program with two weeks left of school so we felt it was a high priority," Anderson noted.
The group spent time at two primary schools and a high school in Punta Gorda and a primary school in Barranco, a rural village half hour (by boat) outside of Punta Gorda. Although the students provided substantial health education, they also learned the importance of flexibility, Anderson said. They often changed their lesson plans from day to day, based on other environmental factors the Belize students were experiencing.
"Our students definitely put their skills to work but experienced a different side of nursing," Anderson said.
They also spent time on community projects such as building a shelter for the children who lived too far away from home to eat in and painting a boys' bathroom. They also brought along 40-50 books which they donated to one of the schools. "We basically doubled the size of their library with our donation," Anderson said.
In their free time, the CSB students played football (soccer in American terms) with five young boys almost every day. These boys talked about how exciting it would be to have soccer jerseys. The CSB students decided to pool their money and buy each boy a knock-off soccer jersey. "The boys were so thrilled and it was a real lesson for our students who often can go to the store and buy anything they want," Anderson noted.
Overall, Anderson believes the CSB women were profoundly affected by their experience in Belize. In fact, the two sophomore students are already planning their trip for next year. Their dream is to build a playground for the children at the Barranco school.