Ask me Anything: How did I volunteer in Belize?
This week there was a really cool question from De_Ann. She wanted to know more about volunteering in Belize. I was surprised to see comments on one of my older posts but so happy for the opportunity to reflect back on Belize. Also grateful to share with everyone about how you can volunteer there too!
Let’s get into it!
First things first. The Why.
I went to Belize in October 2007 just five months after graduation from university.
After graduation I interned at a pharmaceutical company for the summer in their Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics pre-clinical trials department. That’s a mouthful right! Haha 🙂
In undergrad my interests were in Psychology, Neuroscience, Global & Public Health and Medicine. The internship was cool but I knew once August came and it was time to decide over trying to gain full-time employment with the company versus graduate school, I wasn’t ready for either.
I felt that I needed more life experiences and more time in the “field” of Global & Public Health. I put my research skills to good use and tried to find volunteer programs abroad and in health.
I don’t really remember how I stumbled upon Cornerstone Foundation but I loved their program. On their website there was the option to be a Health Educator Volunteer in the HIV/AIDS program. Based on the work description it seemed like an awesome fit for me and would provide the necessary exposure that I was seeking to the field.
The program had a cost for the three month stay and I think I paid about $1160. The cost contributed to running the non-profit organization, one meal a day and upkeep of the volunteer house. I emailed the coordinator and she answered all my questions which really put me at ease about embarking on this journey.
This was the first time (at that point in my life) that I would travel and live abroad, alone and for so long!
Randomly I found a girl on Facebook that was doing the program and picked her brain about it. She had nothing but good things to say so eventually I decided that I would apply.
My internship ended at the end of August. I used some of the money I earned to travel to Jamaica for two weeks to visit family and then was back home in Connecticut for the last two weeks of September (2007).
There weren’t any specific requirements for the program but I do remember filling out an application.
My expected arrival date for the program was October 2nd.
For this program I purchased my own round trip plane ticket to Belize. I don’t remember how much internship money I had left before leaving but it was enough to survive for the three months.
My student loans were also still in deferment or in their grace period during this time.
The program coordinator emailed out a document with tips and instructions for traveling to Belize. There were also two other girls coming down at the same time. If I remember correctly we tried to coordinate our airport transportation together. But I ended up going alone using one of the guys suggested in the document.
The night before leaving my mother repacked my entire suitcase. Little did I know that this would become a tradition in the future 🙂
The other girls traveling down were from America and the U.K. And there was also one girl already at the volunteer house (also from the U.K.).
I remember being nervous to leave my family for so long and didn’t know what to expect.
On the plane to Belize I took this picture:
My flight landed in Belize City, the capital. I don’t remember the exact timing but it may have taken 2-2.5 hours to drive to San Ignacio, the site of the NGO.
The driver was very nice and pleasant which I was thankful for during the journey. It can be a scary thing traveling alone as a young female. I was also put at ease as I looked out the car window. The country reminded me so much of Jamaica with all the beautiful flowers, green luscious plants and tropical weather.
We did not have a volunteer leader and I did not have a working cell phone when I arrived. My my how times have changed. But the driver dropped me right at the front door of the volunteer house. The other girls were already at the house.
My room had two bunk beds. The house was very spacious and directly above the NGO office. There were two other bedrooms, a big kitchen, living room, bathroom and two verandas.
What I liked about this program is that you had freedom to work on projects that interested you . Yes I had a specific role as a Health Educator Volunteer in the HIV/AIDS program but also worked on a youth project and with the Women Against Domestic Violence group.
There wasn’t anyone holding my hand along the way nor anyone instructing me on what to do with my time (project wise). I had to figure everything out. The other girls and I would bounce ideas off each and help out with one another projects.
I remember doing a video interview with our local HIV activist, doing Condom demonstrations and sex education talks, helping to plan a women’s empowerment workshop and helping with another volunteers UNICEF project. We also had the opportunity to attend conferences and workshops. I remember attending the CEDAW convention and 16 Days of Activism events. The CEDAW convention was especially great because I connected with Zenaida Moya (the first female mayor of Belize City) and invited her to speak at a workshop we were putting together in San Ignacio.
Volunteering with Cornerstone Foundation was a really good experince and I would definitely recommend the program to everyone and anyone!
Oh yes, we were required to work Monday to Friday, write monthly (or were they weekly?) reports, a summary report at the end of the program and we had the weekends off.
The staff held a volunteer appreciation dinner for us and the managers house which was awesome. They even gave us gifts. *tears*
Sounds like a lot? It was but we were there to work. And we worked really hard.
Maybe this is why sometimes I feel so bored with my current Peace Corps assignment.
We took trips often though and traveled on the weekends.
I hope this inspires one person to apply to the program! Everyone should volunteer in Belize or just visit for vacation. It is a lovely country to explore.
De_Ann I hope this answers your question?
But just to reiterate:
- I planned my travel there by myself with suggestions from the program coordinator
- I payed for my flight and the program
- The program was three months
- They provided housing, work, and one meal a day.We did our own grocery shopping for other meals.
- There were about 4-5 other volunteers working with me on different projects
- There was also one Peace Corps Volunteer who came a couple times a month
- There wasn’t a volunteer leader or any hand holding but the staff were very helpful if we needed anything
- We had to change our visa status a few weeks after arriving to allow us to stay longer and volunteer in the country. The program provided the letter. The visa office was in the capital city and that was a very fun 2-2.5 hour bus ride haha
- We traveled on the weeks and even went over to Guatemala
- It was a lot of fun and offered a ton of personal/professional growth
In regards to more programs I would check out the “GoAbroad.com” website and type in the something like “1 week program” in the search bar. There is a wealth of information on the website.
I hope this response isn’t too long and that I answered all your questions. If you have anymore feel free to leave them in the comments.
Until next time.