One cannot help but feel blissful in a place like San Ignacio, Belize. With its beautiful greenery and endless rolling hills, there is always an ambiance of peace and serenity. On a trip to Belize with Grace and Holy Trinity Church this past summer, I was able to experience first-hand the beautiful scenery and rich culture of this wonderful country. I was also able to spend time with the children who live there through a kids’ camp that our church created. When our group, which included quite a few Collegiate students, first arrived, those of us who had never been felt both excited and curious about what these ten days would bring. Claire Wilson (‘18) said, “I was excited about coming to a new place, but I was nervous about meeting children who were living such different lives from us and how they would perceive us.”
For the first four days of the trip, we were able to explore the area around San Ignacio by ziplining, cliff jumping, cave exploring, and hiking up Mayan ruins. Matt Kollmansperger’s (‘18) favorite activity was cave exploring, and he said, “It was probably the most adventurous thing I had ever done, and I had never experienced anything like it.” This was true for ziplining and cliff jumping as well. It was incredible to be able to experience the beauty of Belize first-hand. What was most amazing about these experiences was being able to explore not only the natural wonders, but the cultural landmarks. Hiking up the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich was a particularly memorable cultural experience. Xunantunich, which means “Stone Woman” in ancient Mayan, is a massive stone temple that is said to have been built during the 7th and 8th centuries CE. From the top of the temple, you can see miles and miles of the surrounding countryside, and even into Guatemala, which borders Belize. Not only was it breathtaking to see the beauty of Belize from the top of the ruins, it was also incredible to immerse in the culture of this ancient civilization. Catherine Alexander (‘18) said that her favorite part of Xunantunich was “seeing something that was such an integral part of history in the Americas and the beautiful view.” It was an overall unforgettable experience.
Not only is Belize a country with beautiful scenery, rich culture, and a happy and peaceful ambiance, but the children who we met in this country are equally happy and joyful. After exploring the country’s rich culture and beauty, we spent the next five days running a kid’s camp for children between the ages of four and twelve living in San Ignacio. The kids either came from Calla Creek or Benque Viejo, two small villages near where we ran the camp. Although both towns struggle with poverty far more than what we are
used to, the children in Belize are very similar to the children in the United States. The kids in Belize are full of energy. They are constantly laughing, playing, radiating happiness and positivity. “The most meaningful thing about Belize was experiencing and seeing the poverty that [the children] live in,” said Paul Evans, Assistant of Youth Ministry at Grace and Holy Trinity Church, “While they live in such poverty, they are so happy, which was really humbling.” The experience of running the camp was incredibly meaningful not only for the children but for us counselors as well. The trip was not so much about helping children in need, but more about just having fun while simultaneously learning about each others’ lives and developing lasting relationships with one another.
Over the course of the week, we did activities with the kids such as art, music, sports, and yoga. Each activity produced new shenanigans and new memories with the kids. Although the children I worked with (ages four to six) did not particularly enjoy yoga, they invented new ways to make it entertaining, such as running around or climbing up trees. Having to make sure all fifteen or so kids were safe, fed, and happy was stressful for us counselors at times, but seeing how joyful and energetic they were while at camp made it all worth it. Not only was it incredible to experience the culture and beauty of such an amazing country, it was equally as meaningful to interact with these children who were living such different lives than us and share their infectious joy and happiness.
All photos courtesy of Shelly Smithson.