When you study abroad with CCSP Belize, all of the weeks are full of awesomeness, but two of them in particular are unique: internships.  Students get the opportunity to intern at a local Belizean organization for these weeks while staying at the home of a local Belizean family.  These are consistently some of the best experiences of the semester, and this time around was no exception.  Here are some thoughts from our seven very own Belizean interns.

Jenny Howland - Central Farm

Planting rice seedlings!
I spent the past two weeks at Central Farm, a farm dedicated to research and assisting local farmers and students.  Central Farm is under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture and thus run by the Government of Belize as well as by the Taiwan Technical Mission.  It is a somewhat chaotic orchestra of technicians and staff all working together between the office and fields to educate farmers and the public and get people the resources they need in order to produce safer and better products in a more efficient and sustainable way.  They have many different programs including agro-processing, livestock, rice, fruit trees, horticulture, and organic agriculture.
My time was divided between exploring the many programs and helping in the organic section.  Some of my favorite activities were planting rice seedlings (in bare feet), milking dairy cows, cross pollinating coconut trees, and making an attempt at grafting mango and guava trees.  I also enjoyed helping my supervisor prepare for an organic display of compost methods and education center in a national agriculture and trade show coming up.  My biggest challenges were becoming familiar with the system at the farm and absorbing mountains of new information about tropical agriculture.  This is one area I would not have the opportunity to practice at home in a temperate climate.  Through this experience I was also able to face questions of how agriculture is involved in the development of Belize.  The idea that creation restoration is bound up in restoration of relationships was evident in projects at Central Farm that build ties between farmers and staff as well as support Belizean economy and community.

Kelsey Piepkorn - Belize Botanical Gardens

"Baptizing" orchids in the nursery with compost-soaked water containing molasses, charcoal, and manure.
I had the privilege to spend my internship at the Belize Botanic Gardens (BBG).  A botanical garden's purpose is to record information and plant identification.  I gained knowledge in various areas of horticulture.  A few things I learned were focused towards cuttings, propagation, water and sunlight needs, compost, soil mix, pruning, and air layering.  I also assisted with different locations in the gardens.  I worked in the plant nursery, orchid nursery, orchid house, and in the agave bed.  BBG's mission is to protect the environment by conservation through education.  BBG has offered multiple programs to increase education in horticulture.  BBG recently received a grant from the UN of Belize to teach a horticulture course.  The purpose of the course is to alleviate poverty through horticulture and raise the standard of living in Belize.  Only Belizeans who are unemployed qualify for the class.  They may have little to no knowledge about plants.  One of my favorite comments from the week was by my supervisor, Rudy (one of two supervisors at BBG) in relevance to the program.  Rudy quotes, "I would love to take 10 gangsters and turn them into 10 horticulturists - that would be fantastic!"  I pray for the success of this program, which starts in June of 2012, and that it opens the doorway for BBG as an educational institution for the future.  Overall, I had a blast at BBG!  The workers were simply wonderful :)

Kirsten Wahlberg - Belize Zoo

Balboa the beautiful boa constrictor
During my internship at the Belize Zoo,  I was able to do many interesting and exciting things.  One of the tasks that I was lucky enough to be a part of for my internship at the Belize Zoo was doing the snake encounters.  Many people have a negative connotation of snakes, but I am convinced that with education comes power.  Lindsay and I were the greeters of the zoo, but some people may not have felt so greeted by what we were holding.  Many people came into the zoo and immediately shied away from the snake we held around our necks.  We were holding the famous Balboa, the gorgeous boa constrictor.  We invited people to come and hold the snake for pictures.  If people declined right away we would ask them if they would at least like to try to pet the snake.  If they continued to refuse, then we would wish them a good day.  If they did not refuse and accepted the snake, we would tell people her name and how long she is.  Once people found out that Balboa was a pet for her entire life, they generally relaxed almost completely enough to take a couple of pictures.
I really enjoyed being able to educate the visitors about Balboa and seeing their reactions when holding a snake for the first time as they felt her cool scales on their skin, or her muscles moving around their shoulders.  I love the idea of helping others connect the idea about the beauty and importance of animals and the environment.  I feel like although this might be a small accomplishment, at least I have contributed in some way of teaching people about God's creation.

Brittany Miller - Friends for Conservation and Development

These past two weeks I had the privilege of having an internship with the NGO Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD).  FCD's office is in the quaint village of San Jose Succotz in the Cayo district.  FCD is a conservation organization in charge of managing the largest protected area, the Chiquibul National Park (264,003 acres!) that also includes the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and Caracol Archaeological Reserve (where the tallest building in Belize, a Mayan ruin, can be found).
During my time with FCD I worked with John Tun, the environmental educator, on materials and presentations for environmental education.  We spent a lot of our time working on a project to improve the watersheds of the Macal and Mopan rivers through reforestation.  While at FCD I learned about the role and frustrations associated with working in collaboration with other organizations, as well as the value of writing for your intended audience.  It is of great importance to know your audience so that you can convey the information you wish to share in a way they are most likely to be interested in and comprehend.  Personally some of the most important times at FCD were when I was able to ask questions about Belize and about the conflict between Belize and Guatemala.  I was fortunate enough to work with very honest people.  I hope that when I return to Belize I will be able to assist in more of the excellent work the FCD is doing with conservation and reconciliation in Belize and with Guatemala.

Sara Scalzo - King's Children's Home

The King's Children's Home was a ton of fun!  Although it was hectic at times and definitely a challenge, I loved being with the kids and learning how to take care of them.  Some things I did while at the home were: clean the different areas, bathe the younger children, read children stories, and help with homework.  There was never a dull moment at the King's Home, and their values are in alignment with what the Bible believes.  They have devotions in the morning and at night for the kids, and the staff has a separate time set aside for devotions in the morning as well.  I loved being with everyone and going over what God had in store for us to learn each day during our devotions.  The home is run by a sweet, humble woman of God - Leonie Herrera-Gillham (known by everyone at the home as "Mom").  She has seen hundreds of children come and go through her home, and she does her best to make it a loving, caring and safe environment for these children to grow up in.  There was so much that I learned while at this internship that I couldn't possibly fit it all in this little blog entry... if you are at all interested in working with kids in your future, then I would definitely recommend the King's Children's Home!  Experience it for yourself!

Lindsay King - Belize Zoo

Tapirs: the national animal of Belize
 "We live in a beautiful world."  I got to walk past a sign reminding me of this every day while interning at the Belize Zoo.  And I must say, after spending two weeks there I agree with these words more than ever.  In this small corner of our beautiful world there is a beautiful zoo that intrigued me ever since our first visit at the beginning of the semester.  I can't quite pinpoint exactly what it is about the zoo that I am so drawn to, but I think it has something to do with the fact that being introduced to the staff and animals felt like being introduced to a big family.
And working with this big family has definitely been a unique experience.  Kirsten and I had the awesome opportunity to interact with all of Belize's finest over these past two weeks: we made friends with Navidad, Marchismo, and the other tapirs as we fed them their breakfast every morning; introduced Balboa the boa constrictor to guests at the front gate; hand fed the jaguars; played with Liz the otter; hung out with some mischievous monkeys; fed peanuts to the scarlet macaws; and to top it all off, were bid adieu with kisses from Junior the jaguar on our last day.  But before you think it was no work and all play, let me throw in that we did clean our fair share of tapir ponds (did I mention that's their bathroom?)

Nina Voli - San Antonio Women's Group

Doing the clay dance
These past two weeks I had the privilege of working with a women's group located in the village of San Antonio, a small farming village, mostly Spanish-speaking, toward the Mountain Pine Ridge area of western Belize.  The San Antonio Women's Group is essentially a co-op comprised of several women who together raise chickens, cook, and make pottery, embroidery, and other assorted handicrafts. 
Throughout my time with the women's group I was able to learn and observe many of the activities that sustain their livelihoods.  On the first day I got to learn how they slaughter chickens, which are then sold directly to the surrounding community.  I also learned how to make bollos, a traditional Mayan meal, and to grind corn into masa for making corn tortillas.  Working the clay was one of the highlights - I got to see how they throw pottery, and to give it a try myself.  I even learned how they make the clay themselves, taking the raw material from the ground.  The picture above is of the last step in this process, where you must "dance" upon the clay to blend the elements to the right consistency.
Spending time with the women's group gave me an opportunity to learn many of their traditional skills and to work on my Spanish.  But more than that, it gave me a new lens for thinking about community development.  The group was started by several women who simply decided for themselves that they wanted to do something more with their spare time, so they got creative.  Now it's become something that provides for the community, preserves their cultural traditions, and tells the story of their lives together.

A huge thank you to all the Belizean organizations and families who hosted our students for two weeks and helped them have experiences of a lifetime!