Christmas in Belize
By MELANIE HAYES
Abigail Linsner didn’t spend her winter vacation away from Anderson University like most students do. It wasn’t primarily about going home, or taking a family trip or visiting with old high school friends.Abigail Linsner didn’t spend her winter vacation away from Anderson University like most students do. It wasn’t primarily about going home, or taking a family trip or visiting with old high school friends.
She went to Belize to hand out Christmas gifts to underprivileged children.
Linsner, 19, left for Belize on Dec. 11 and returned on Dec. 22. Linsner was one of 22 American and 90 Canadian volunteers ages 16 to 20 to go to the small Central American country. The team was led by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief organization, as part of its Operation Christmas Child project.
The purpose of the trip to the Central American country was to distribute shoe boxes that were filled by community members from both countries with small toys, school supplies, hygiene items and a personal note. The group also helped out at medical and vision clinics.
The team stayed at a camp in Belmopan and also traveled to Dangriga and the island of San Pedro to deliver the shoe boxes at schools and churches, for anywhere from 50 to 700 kids at once.
“It was really fun. All the kids were organized and ready when we got there and we’d do a little presentation,” said Linsner, an AU sophomore. “We gave out the shoe boxes and got the opportunity to go through them with the kids after they opened them. We talked about what they liked and they’d say ‘Oh, I have to go show my parents.’ They were excited to take them home.”
One of the memorable times for the Champagne, Ill., native was when she gave a shoebox to a little boy named Jose.
“He was just having a lot of fun,” Linsner said. “He was really excited about the school items. The school items, watches and toothbrushes were some of the hot items.
“They are there with all their friends opening their gifts at the same time,” she said. “They were all very appreciative and made a point to say ‘thank you.’”
The volunteers were able to communicate with the children in the
Spanish-speaking country because most spoke English as well, since Belize is a former British colony.
“It was fun to talk to them,” Linsner said. “It was interesting to see how generous they were with the things in the box. One kid got a shirt that was too small for him, so he gave it away to a smaller kid.”
The volunteers took a boat trip to the island of San Pedro where they conducted services with churches and conducted medical clinics for two days.
Linsner, who is majoring in political science with a minor in Spanish, was at times able to use the knowledge of the language to help the volunteers and community members connect.
“I used most of my Spanish when I did the translation at the medical clinics,” she said. “I worked at the pharmacy and gave out over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and prescriptions. The doctor only spoke English so I translated for him. It was really fun — my favorite day.”
Not only did Linsner enjoy meeting Belizeans, but also meeting the youths she was traveling with. Before the trip she knew only one person, a girl she coincidentally had gone to high school with.
The volunteers were divided into groups of 10. Linsner’s included a team leader and eight girls, with only one being American. Everyday her group would be paired up with another group of 10 to do the distribution together.
Linsner roomed with one other girl in a house filled with 40 girls. But she mingled with the whole team when they all ate breakfast and dinner together at the base camp’s dining hall. The volunteers packed their lunches and took them along with them.
“It was really neat to have all the students with us,” she said. “Only a handful knew each other. To work together was fun and a great experience.
“They were all top notch kids who were all excited to be there,” she said. “We were all excited that we had worked with Samaritan’s Purse before by putting shoeboxes together. To then hand them out was very special.”
The cities Linsner visited were beautiful and she felt she could take a picture every second. She has dozens of photographs that she can look back on to remember the trip.
“It was very hot, very humid,” she said. “I left (home) with eight inches of snow on the ground. Then I wake up the next morning in the middle of the jungle with iguanas in the trees.”
She also felt strange being in a warm place during Christmas-time. It felt like summer, yet she frequently saw Christmas lights and garland strung on houses and holiday decorations on front yards.
“It was a really great experience to take two weeks from my Christmas break and see an entirely different part of the world,” she said. “It was great to make these kids’ day and to make Christmas more special for them.
“The whole point is to give a reminder to kids — no matter what their background — that people love them and God loves them,” Linsner said. “I wrote in my letter (to a child) that ‘I hope every time your family uses these things or you play with them that it reminds you that God loves you.’”