Service in Belize

September 1, 2016

The flyer read "Join us in Belize, Central America for our Global Citizenship and Human Service Delegation," an invitation from Ambassador Shabazz, who has spent over 35 years developing curriculums and programs for educational institutions, executive forums, diplomatic networks, penal systems, conferences, and human service organizations globally.
For the past 14 years, she has been the Ambassador at Large to Belize.

I had the joyous opportunity to meet Ambassador Shabazz in 2015. We connected through conversations about our shared values and mutual appreciation of diverse cultures, continued search for justice in our society, and personal spiritual quests.

The prospect of a "working retreat" with other women was intriguing, but I had no premonition of how significant this journey would be for me. Do A Little's mission is to serve women and girls in the areas of health, education, and happiness. In Belize, I met women of Maya, Garufina, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Mestizo descent, working in their communities to further opportunities in business, health, commerce, education, and beauty. Our delegation visited the Old Belize Museum, a prison, Lamanai Mayan ruin, and on my own, I went to a baboon sanctuary. Following Geraldine, my tour guide, she told me the names of trees and birds, pointed out the split leaf philodendrun that provides water for the howler monkeys who live in the canopy of trees. I witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Earl’s winds that had downed palms, fig trees and splintered the wood of walking bridges.

At the woman’s prison, we followed Ambassador Shabazz’s vision to transform the gray walls beyond the buildings into a colorful mosaic so that the women’s time outside would be uplifting. We met Dr. Lisa Johnson, Belize’s first female general surgeon outside the gates, and together with the incarcerated women, painted the walls of the garden. We dipped our sponges into red, purple, yellow, and green paint, listening to the women speak about their families, their long hours inside, and the legal system. In my three visits to the prison, the women I met became my friends, and their stories came alive in my heart and mind. The last night we had a ceremony honoring our work together, singing, offering prayers, and holding hands. I silently chanted the principles I hold dear – equanimity, justice, lovingkindness, compassion, integrity, truth - as we walked outside looking up at stars and a half moon, the women in awe of the open sky they seldom see.

Jaguar Temple, Lamanai, Belize

I led two sessions of writing practice with the delegation. We used the prompt from the last line of "The Summer Day," Mary Oliver's well-known poem: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” As each woman read her piece out loud, the air in the room was electrified with our personal commitments to elevate our lives, to follow our inspirations, and to believe that life will continue to unfold in wild and magnificent ways.

I said goodbye to Belize acknowledging the experience had challenged me in new ways. Working outside in the 90 degree weather, bumping along rutted roads in vans, I had memorized faces of Belizians whose eyes showcase a rich history of migration, Afro-Meztizo culture, the knowledge of eight different languages, and embrace visitors like me with sincere smiles and Kriol phrases. "Evryting gud/aarite" translates “Everything’s fine.”

And so it is.

Deborah Santana

Tags: Service Travel