BELIZE

Belize is known for abundant biodiversity and a complex mashup of cultures and languages. A former British colony, English is the official language, unique along the Eastern coast of Central America. Especially known for its rich Maya heritage, with many archaeological sites available to explore, it’s also home to the world’s second longest barrier reef, making it a popular tourist destination. While the tourist economy flourishes in major towns, most Belizeans live in rural or semi-rural areas where agriculture is the primary source of income. Healthcare services in these areas tend to be out of reach and inconsistent, and it’s where our partner communities have enlisted our help. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belize welcomed the immigration of tens of thousands of Spanish-speaking refugees from ongoing political violence from neighboring countries, primarily Guatemala. The Belizean government designated lands in Southern Belize for these Maya communities. But these areas lack essential services, such as water and power or even legal protection. There are no medical facilities and schools are typically dilapidated. As violence has persisted over the decades in Guatemala and other neighboring countries, the influx of refugees has been increasing, and tensions between Belizean and immigrant communities is growing. At the same time, these immigrant communities are trying to retain their Maya cultural identity, which is made more difficult in Belize, given the lack of support by the government. Integration, political representation, and respect are all lacking. We are working with Maya communities in Southern Belize to improve the standard of living by addressing these primary issues. Our educational focus is on the cultural impacts of immigration to other countries. In addition to building and infrastructure projects, student on this program will get to explore the native landscape and culture, including a visit to ancient relics of the Maya Empire, and will meet a native naturopath who makes medicine from plants collected in the jungle. Activities may also include hikes to caves and waterfalls, through a jaguar reserve, and classes in ethnic cuisine, music and handcrafts. We’ll also take advantage of the opportunity to see the beauty beneath the waves on a day out on the water and snorkeling.

Medina Bank is located on the coast about 3 hours southeast of the nation’s capital, Belmopan. Medina Bank has a population of about 1,000 and is a settlement of Mayan people. In addition to working on projects in Medina Bank we travel to nearby nature reserves and Mayan villages.

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