Last month, 16 students, faculty and staff from Loyola University New Orleans traveled to Belize, Central America for 24 days to host the ‘Umadagu Lescuelana’ summer camp in the coastal town of Dangriga, Belize. This year was the 20th anniversary of the camp, which was first started in 1991 by the Rev. Ted Dziak, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry at Loyola.
“This past summer, at our little 20th anniversary celebration, I realized the effect our camp has had on this small town in Belize,” Dziak said. “Some became teachers, some are police – even a Belizean senator is a graduate of our camp. So many talked of what they learned and gained. I was happy, and I was proud. I keep thinking of the faces of those American students who have experienced the warmth of the people and the beauty of the rainforest of this small country due to the camp. It is an unforgettable experience for them and for me.”
Loyola students teamed up with local Belizean co-teachers for the fifth year in a row to run a two-week day camp for more than 250 local primary school students. Each pair of American-Belizean teachers had their own class of 20-25 students, teaching math, English, and arts and crafts. In the afternoons, the teachers organized basketball, soccer and volleyball games with the children. At the end of the camp, they held an “Olympic-style” field day with student competitions and a parents’ night featuring skits, songs and dances.
The Loyola volunteers experienced an amazing cultural immersion as they traveled the country before and after the camp, visiting Mayan ruins, waterfalls in the rainforest and a beautiful coral reef off the coast. They visited their co-teachers’ homes and spent time meeting family and friends.
“There is a Latin phrase on the Belizean flag, 'Sub Umbra Floreo,' or 'Under the trees, we flourish,’” said Cherie LeJeune, a Loyola student volunteer. “That is how I can explain my Belize experience. The welcome we received from the small town of Dangriga, the love found in our classrooms, and the love within our Loyola community inspired within me great personal growth and flourishing.”
The volunteers spent the spring semester preparing for the trip. They learned about the Belizean culture and the people they would serve, raised money through fundraising, and participated in local community service projects to build their local community. The two goals of the program, which have remained the same for 20 years, are to serve and to learn, said Dziak.
“Belize is still a place where our students step away from their connected technological world – they have no Internet, cell phones or TV there,” Dziak said. “They form a tight community and truly step into the lives of the children they teach and those of their co-teachers in this small town on the Caribbean. It is more than a service trip, it truly becomes a shared spiritual experience. This never changes.”
The Ignacio Volunteer Belize 2011 community consisted of: Daniel Afanador, Cristina Calderon, Christopher Kelliher, John Magallanez, Carissa Marston, Gracie Palombo, James Rose, Janece Bell, Kathleen Murphy, Jeff Ramon, Kurt Bindewald, Ken Weber, Frank Flaspohler, Peter Stewart, LeJeune, and Dziak. Loyola Press