Ok, well i LOVE to post all the exciting adventures and fun things I experience in Belize, but I've gotten a lot of comments about what I'm actually doing here in this country, besides "playing chess and taking vacations" as my brother Sean put it.
Well, to start off, the first few months of Peace Corps is supposed to be focused on integration. So I've gotten to know locals in Punta Gorda town, and then I've had this amazing opportunity of traveling around the country with my Belizean football team, (which, by the way, we are the Gentle Touch Strikers...and the champions! We won our football tournament!) Anyway, so I've been SO lucky to have found them and spent a lot of time exploring and enjoying all of Belize. But I have still been working!!
So the organization I work for is COMPAR, which is the Community and Parenting Empowerment Program (I don't know why the acronym for that is COMPAR...weird!). Anyway, more specifically, I work for the Rover Caregivers Program underneath COMPAR and the Ministry of Human Development. My role is to go into the rural Mayan villages in the Toledo District and do early childhood development for babies infant to 3 years old. We have local girls in each village who are the "Rovers" and they do the actual stimulations with the children. The people in the office, including myself, then go out and supervise and train them in their work. Since a lot of the Mayan families don't sing to their children, or practice colors or letters or shapes, it's a really great program preparing the children for when it's time for preschool.... it also gives the children some one-on-one attention that they don't always receive in huge families. We try to encourage the mothers to sit and participate in the stimulations with the child as well, in order for them to learn how they can help the child when the teacher is not present, and also so the child and mother can bond with some one-on-one attention, even if it's just a mere hour a week.
The second half of my job is educating the parents. Education is still a secondary priority to most families in Toledo, thus you will find many families where one or both parents only went to primary school, and may not have even finished that. My role is to do weekly seminars in the various villages giving talks with the parents on different topics, ranging from health and nutrition to malaria and dengue fever prevention. We cover any and every topic that seems important and pertinent in this area. In addition, we usually follow each talk with some sort of activity based on working with their child. For example, we'll do a talk on nutrition and then offer a variety of recipes or food options they could use to cook instead of lard and sugar. Sometimes we will do talks that are unrelated to our activities that follow, for example a talk on alcohol abuse, followed by a toybox making session. The activity part of the session is to teach the parents some of the songs or games we do with the children so they could continue doing it throughout the week with the child. (Each child has on 1-2 sessions per week with their teacher). We just began doing a toybox session with parents, which we will follow with in coming weeks making a different toy from household items. Most children don't get toys like kids in the States, so if we can make sock puppets, or balls, or rattles, it's a huge deal to the children. We encourage the parents to do these activities themselves, so once we leave them, they can make more of these in their own home. We try to promote education that can continue once we leave.
Our program is funded by UNICEF, and it's a really great program! The best part about my role is that I spend a few days a week going out into the villages and getting to know various Mayan communities and families.... both Mopan Maya and Q'echi. Also, I've even spent weeks at a time in the villages, doing full supervisions of the Rovers, which has allowed me to stay overnight in the village---I love it! I adore the villages of Toledo.... they are beautiful and so cultural.... it's definitely an experience not every person can get when coming to visit Belize. Very authentic and amazing!
Anyway, so for everyone who has been reading and enjoying my ridiculous stories and adventures, here's a little of the work I am actually doing here in Belize!!