Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Month for Celebrating

I am proud to say that we have two new high school graduates! That puts us up to six people in our village that have graduated from high school! :) High school in Belize is not free, and definitely not cheap either. Students are required to buy their own books, uniforms, PE uniforms, and pay tuition. All of these fees add up to around $400 a year per student. Most students who quit or are pulled out of school leave due to financial reasons. The government does give a subsidy for the first two years of high school. Some students are able to find scholarships for tuition, but they are hard to come by and do not usually include books and uniforms. So each time one of our students, supported by their family, is able to overcome all the obstacles in their way, and graduate from high school it is a definite call for celebration :)

This year Rosaria graduated from Julian Cho Technical HS and Manuel graduated from Tumul K'in Center of Learning. I attended graduation with Rosaria in PG Town, and saw that over 100 students graduated this year from JC! The ceremony was fairly similar to one in the states and was followed by the traditional reception back in the village. I did not attend Manuel's graduation as it is a bit further away and would have involved spending a night or two in another village; but I did attend the celebration at his house afterwards. My mom was also around for that one, and will hopefully have a chance to share her interesting experience.

Any celebration in the village is always followed by a reception of sorts. Mostly this includes going to one house where the ladies have been cooking and baking all day to enjoy caldo (usually pig or chicken soup) and tortillas or poch. The preparation for these takes a lot of work on the part of the women. To feed the whole village for my goddaughter's dedication we cooked, cleaned, ground, and made poch out of 220 pounds of corn. The men were the ones to slaughter and clean the pig so that the women were able to cook it as well. It is a fun integration and social time, though. Usually there is a lot of laughter and jokes while baking and getting ready for all of the visitors. It really is a weird celebration the first time you go, though. You arrive, someone comes and hands you a bowl of caldo and points to a central bucket of tortillas, and you find a place to sit yourself down to enjoy your meal. Any meat you don't finish you wrap up in a banana leaf with a few tortillas and carry home for later. When you are done you hand your bowl to one of the ladies, say thanks, and go home. Somehow this seems like a completely normal celebration anymore. Is there really a graduation, birthday, wedding or dedication that doesn't include caldo and some sort of corn product?

Anyway, back to graduations. We also held a graduation for the primary school students on the last day of school. Three students completed standard 6 (8th grade), and passed their high school entrance exams. All three were accepted to high school and will be attending next year thanks to some assistance from the government and outside scholarships! We had a really short ceremony for them in front of the other students, and a few parents. Afterwards the kids played games, watched a movie, and enjoyed themselves before lunch. A few mothers came to school and prepared rice and beans, and stewed chicken for the all 77 kids and the teachers to enjoy as a part of the ongoing feeding program :)

In case graduations weren't enough for one month, there was also a wedding! Sesaria and Augusto got married on Sunday June 19th. I was not able to make the wedding as I was visiting with my family, but I have lots of pictures (I left my camera for them to use), and attended the celebration with the family 3 days after the wedding. Sesaria explained to my mom (who was visiting the village for a week) and I that they believe that three days after the wedding you should wash your wedding gown, open all your presents with the help of family, and take down all of the decorations. So they had a little gathering at their house; all her family that lives in the village attended. Everyone participated in opening her presents at the same time, and packed them into big basins for her to sort out in time and then helped to undecorate everything. After this was completed we all enjoyed the necessary caldo (this time duck), and wished them congratulations.

With 2 high school graduations, 3 students finishing primary school, one wedding, and a visit from family June was definitely a month for celebrating! :)

My Sister Sylvia

When I am getting to know people it is always common for them to ask questions like: “where is your mother?”; “are you married?”; “how many children do you have?”, and “how many sisters do you have?”. I have noticed that they rarely ask me, “where is your father?” or “how many brothers do you have?” and I am attributing this to being that I am a girl. I guess they assume my mother and my sisters are what would matter the most to me. Only I don't have any sisters.

So basically the conversation always goes like this:
Q: how many sisters do you have?
Me: none
Q: none?
Me: none, I just have one brother
Q: but aren't you lonely?

I guess without any sisters I should be really miserable, and maybe not have had anyone to spend time with growing up. I tried to explain that when you don't have sisters, you have friends that become like your sisters to you, but families here are so big, I guess it is hard to imagine.

So one day I was talking to a couple of the youngest students after school when these questions were asked yet again. I am sure the same girls have asked them before, but maybe I will just attribute it to them wanting to practice asking questions in English? Anyway Sylvia was the one asking me this time. So Sylvia asked the sister question, to which I answed “majun” as always. “But no, how many sisters do you have?” “None, Slyvia”. “But miss, you don't have any sisters?” “no” “Miss, aren't you sad without sisters?” I guess having two sisters and three brothers she can't imagine just one brother. I don't remember how I answered this question or what exactly happened next, but the next thing I remember was Sylvia hugging me, laughing and calling me her sister (cause a girl can't be without sisters).

When I left school that day, I didn't think much more about it. It wasn't until I was talking to the infants teacher a few days later and Sylvia walked in and greeted me “good morning my sister megan!” that I remembered this conversation. For the last two months, Sylvia has greeted me everyday saying “my sister Megan”. So I can now forget about being sad, I am no longer sisterless :)

Thanks to my sister Sylvia meeting my mom, I now have a picture of the two of us :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

World Map Project

It has been a long time. I know, I'm sorry. I have a few blogs for you, but only one is ready today. Hopefully soon you will be able to read a few more. :)

So back in May I was going to start a project with the older kids in our Primary School (6th-8th grade about) called the world map project. Its a really neat projects that allows the kids to draw, paint and label their own world map. Geography is something they have a very good grasp of. For kids who rarely leave their village, and haven't been further north than the district town, imagining what the world is like, is really abstract.

So we were planning to do this in May, but the paint was a bit lately coming in and we couldn't start until June. There was still plenty of time to finish before school ended the last week in June, but it was a bit of a race to finish before the rainy season started. I had the help of two trainees who were visiting to help me clean the wall and get the surface ready for the kids. We were painting the outside wall of one of the school buildings. When the paint came in the kids helped me make a 6x12 foot rectangle and we were ready to start. Due to time constraints I decided to use the projector method; so we borrowed a projector from a local NGO, a generator from the shop, and projected a picture of the map on the wall for the kids to trace. To make it a bit easier we did it at night, and everyone seemed to show up to watch. There were tons of kids, some older siblings, and parents all out in the dark (we are never out after dark) to watch us trace on the school.

We had about two painting sessions that went really well before I went away for a couple days. When I came back the kids had bad news. It had rained really hard after we finished painting the last time and all the paint bubbled off the wall. At this time there was only a week and a half left of school and they were frustrated their map was ruined. The teacher and I decided it was best to start over inside the school. So we started again.

Unfortunately, this time there was no projector. So with help from the kids, the map was drawn on the wall by hand in one day. We were able to paint, draw a few national symbols, and have a lot of fun finishing the map in just one week. At the beginning of the school year next year we are going to have the kids label all of the countries, and sign their names next to the school name.

It was a really fun project, that the kids seemed to learn a lot doing. They are amazed how small Belize is in comparison to the rest of the world, but they can all locate it now. :) I am excited to see that they have a relatively permanent map in the classroom for them to use in their lessons.