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I am in count down mode. Leave in 3 days for a great adventure volunteering in San Padro, Ambrigis Caye, Belize. This blogging thing is new to me so I will do my best to learn as I go.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible.
There has been much heated debate and discussion on how much impact volunteers can really make in a developing country. One of the biggest outcomes of these debates is the acknowledgement that it is difficult to categorise all volunteering organisations, whether it be an NGO or for-profit or anywhere in-between, unless you analyse the underlying roots of the organisation.
During my Master in Social Policy and Development for NGOs, I learned first and foremost to address normative assumptions - what society has trained us to think is good or bad. For example, many believe NGOs are inherently good. Through intensive research, I uncovered that NO... an NGO is not inherently good in the same way a company is not inherently bad. What makes an organisation successful in achieving long-term, sustainable development is based on some of the following:
- Makes a STRUCTURAL impact. I have truly internalised this belief and have worked diligently in shaping the projects offered in Belize to achieve this goal. All projects are affiliated with a government ministry. There is substantial research that suggests as much as NGOs attempt to mobilise resources, government is ultimately the only institution that can achieve redistributive justice and that can scale up our pilot projects to influence the entire country! By working with government officials, volunteers get to see first hand some of the difficulties working in Belize but also the joys of seeing hard work being cemented into the system and implemented further.
- Be ROOTED. Buy-in from the community, from our partners, from the youth, from the government are essential in ensuring you can achieve more than just service delivery. How do you achieve buy-in? Build sincere relationships - our volunteers ...
Belize is commonly known as the "jewel" for its sheer untouched beauty. Even Madonna fell in love with Belize - ever heard her song "La Isla Bonita"? That song is all about San Pedro!!
Volunteers should definintely take advantage that they are working and living in the #1 Destination in all of Central America, according to TripAdvisor awards.
Here are the top activities to do while in San Pedro:
1) Snorkel Hol Chaan Marine Reserve and swim with sharks and rays at Shark Ray Alley. You can book with one of the many tour companies on the island, or grab a few other volunteers and get a private boat charter for almost the same price!
2) Have a beach bbq! Many private charter guides will take you on a sandy beach and bbq lobster, fish, shrimp, or chicken on a grill right in front of you.
3) Visit the neighbouring island of Caye Caulker for an extremely GO SLOW, RELAXED weekend. Play corn hole on the beach or relax at the Split.
4) Visit a Mayan Ruin! Take a short flight or boat ride to the city whereby a guide will pick you up and drive two hours into the West side fo Belize. You can visit Xunantunich, go cave tubing, or zip lining! From beach to jungle in one day.
5) Watch an outdoor movie at the Truck Stop - our favourite place to do weekly volunteer workshops!
We hope you enjoy all of our suggestions, but to be honest we have NO DOUBT that you will love Belize!!!!!
Today is the 35th anniversary of Belize' independence from Great Britain. They are taking their celebration seriously, at least here in Placencia. We have a good time on and around the 4th of July at home, but I think maybe because Belize is so young (in the official sense), Independence Day is still a Big Deal. I'm taking notes. We could use a little of their vivacity.
Last night, the celebrations started with a little music at the pier, but it was pretty quiet after dinner. The real party started around 10 PM at Street Feet, the local night club. I rolled out of bed to watch the midnight fireworks from the kitchen window (yay!), but the rest of town apparently partied all night until they left around 5:30 AM , at which point they had an impromptu parade through town! After a few hours of sleep, the real parade was to convene at the Placencia airstrip maybe 5 km north of the point where Projects Abroad is located. Too hot for me, though. I slept in and was confident it would take several hours for the parade to get down here. The gossip at Dawn's Grill 'n' Go was that the parade would get there at 3ish. That is a long time of parading. We grabbed our swimming gear and cameras just after 3 and started walking north, and sure enough, the parade was approaching the Tipsy Tuna by 3:30. Most of the participants were still managing to dance, too, despite the heat. I jumped in the sea at the next available opportunity. I am guessing the revelers did the same when they reached the pier and the end of the parade route.
Some kind of mini plague has taken out Celso, our conservation manager and dive master; Jon, and me, so our final trip to Little Water Caye has been postponed until Friday. Tomorrow we're going to do some work at the local school, which I am looking forward to ...
It's the low season here in Placencia (probably all of Belize), which means it can be a little hard to book excursions through the local tour companies. Many tours require a minimum number of people, and 2 doesn't normally cut it! Since next weekend we are supposed to be out at Little Water Caye working on the coral survey or spearing lionfish(!) or surveying sea urchins (I think) and who knows what's on the docket for our last day (Monday already!), this last weekend was our one chance to get out of town and see some ruins.
Thankfully we got back from Little Water Caye early enough on Friday that the offices and stores were still open. Linda had tried a couple of recommended tour companies for us on Thursday but struck out since no other groups had signed up to visit my ruin of choice, Xunantunich. After locating the post office and getting post card stamps (in the mail, family! let's see if they beat me home), we popped into the Ocean Motion tour office, right at the end of our street. They kindly didn't mention that I looked and smelled like sea debris, as I was still in my swim gear and board shorts after our last dive of the afternoon. Basically they only had one tour group confirmed for the weekend, to ATM* on Sunday. That seemed like a decent backup idea, so we said we'd ask around other places to see if we could get to Xunantunich, and if not, we'd be back to sign up for the ATM tour. (For the record, I'm sure it would have been awesome. I just didn't feel like I had the energy to swim and trek through caves at the time. Too much water already.)
At that point, the nice tour people said they'd do a Xunantunich tour for just the two of us if we paid an extra $25 each! Normally the minimum is 4 people, so we jumped at the offer. $50 is better than $250, ...