We all come away from trips with different emotions, experiences and perspectives. Here are our personal reflections of the 2018 St. Luke’s Mission Trip.
Mateo- This past week has been an eye opening experience for me. We have done a lot as a youth group together and I think that all the work and fun we had together really brought us closer. When we got here I was expecting something different. The people in Belize are very nice people and are welcoming. We arrived in San Pedro after a boat taxi took us from the main land. We found our house and made the trip to the school to see how long it would take. On the walk we passed through a little strip of town. It was not the nicest or cleanest place to be, even though it was in a tourist spot. Although the street had trash in it and the buildings seemed old and rickety the people living in them or working in them seemed very happy. When we got home we talked about what to expect and what we were going to be doing at the school. From Tuesday-Thursday we would wake up and walk to a bakery which had excellent homemade pastries. After that we would go to the school. At the school we had job options. We could work in the library (we had to reshelve books, and then clean a shelf off and paint it), or we could go to a classroom and help the teacher out. I would say each one of us had a different experience with the kids. I went to the classroom Infant 1, kindergarten. In my class I would help the kids with the work they were doing which was mostly taking an exam. I would also be a source of fun for the kids like making paper airplanes or singing the alphabet with them. During their lunch period I would go to the library to cool off, because the classrooms didn’t have air conditioning , and to see if I could be of any help. I felt as though I got really close to the kids. I learned that some of them didn’t have breakfast most days or that they had to go work with their parents before coming to school to make money for the family. I noticed that most of the kids enjoyed school and learning about different subjects. I could see that there was motivation and that everyone in the classroom was working hard to learn. At the school I realized that I didn’t need everything that I had and that I should appreciate all the excess things I have. I learned to embrace my talents and to have fun with what I do because that is what these people show. Friday and Saturday were days we had more fun as a youth group. We went snorkeling and got to see the Mayan ruins of lamanai. It was a lot of walking. Sunday we attended the graduation and then swam in the ocean and got to shop at the Artisans market. Overall the trip was nice and I realized a lot about myself and about other people. I think that the biggest change that I have seen in myself was not to expect anything of a place or people.
Tomas- I think that this trip has been an amazing experience for me and everyone on it. It has definitely changed me and everyone around me and how I look at things. Coming into this trip I still thought "why do we still come here", but as soon as I got here I knew there was still much to be done. The people here are kind and welcoming and even though living in poverty they keep up a healthy happy life style and keep everything on the positive side. The food here was amazing and so were the kids at the school. I loved working with the kids and helping them have that lightbulb moment that they rarely get. That gave me joy to see those kinds of moments and especially taking them out on the playground and being in the classrooms and giving them a big smile. If I could I would donate everything I had to these children. After all a big portion of the school children are from Guatemala and I myself (if I were not adopted by my very amazing parents) I very much could be in that same position that they are. But what I’ve really taken away from this experience is to not expect much and just enjoy what’s around me, and that we don’t really need that much to be happy, because these people live in such bad conditions but they still wake up every single morning with a smile on their face. I did want to take a couple of the kids home with me because I did not want to leave them behind because they latched onto me and I really really had a tough time leaving them on the last day. I definitely need to come back because, one, the work here is definitely not done, it is far from done and secondly, because I want to see years and years of kids graduate from this school and receive an education that all of God’s children so richly deserve. In our free time I really did enjoy snorkeling and going to the Mayan ruins, and all of those adventures were amazing but my heart was at the school. These kids lack love, support, education, but even with not having all of that they definitely keep up a AMAZING personality and I very much admire that. Again, if I could I would take all of the kids and bring them back to the states, but apparently that would be difficult. I feel like we accomplished a lot but in the grand scheme we are far from being done here in San Pedro. The teachers, children and neighbors all can use our support and I feel that my work is far from finished here in San Pedro, Belize.
Michael- Belize was a wonderful experience and more than just a simple vacation. Despite being able to explore the beauty of the reefs, and the majesty of the Mayan city of Lamanai, I find myself most impacted by the work at Holy Cross. The school system in Belize is significantly underfunded, yet despite this, many of the students and teachers approached their work with a passion that is hard to find anywhere. I hope and pray that I at least had half the impact on the children at Holy Cross as they did on me, and that they find the resources and connections they need to better their education, which I believe is possible through continued mission and advocacy in Belize. Ultimately, the mission to Belize was fulfilling experience that I wish to repeat.
Elena- This week was eye opening. From eating delicious food to working with the kids at holy cross, I have deepened my faith and expanded my world view. I had never seen such complete poverty, and I had never seen such happy welcoming people. The children at the school taught me true joy, and the teachers total dedication to helping there students succeed was inspirational. I will never know how, or if, I helped any of the children long term. But these children have helped me understand the value in something as simple as a smile. My favorite thing this week was helping the kids, hugging them, running around with them, or giving them help with exams. It all gave me such joy. It showed me how I don't need everything in order to be happy. While snorkeling and the Mayan ruins showed me how small I am in this complex world. The part of the trip that impacted me most was my friend Nelson. He was in my class, and being able to sit with him, and play with him, it changed how I see things. I will never be able to truly articulate the way in which these people, who have so little, and yet seem to be happier than anyone I've met. This is not to say they don't have troubles and hardships. During our time we saw San Mateo and the conditions people have to live in. But they seem to be able to live with their faith as the supplier. That is what I will take from this trip.
Charlie- This week was a week I will hold dear to me whenever bored or in hard time. Being able to look back at the time I spent here is a bright point in my life and I think it would be for anyone else in my position. As many of you know I am going into 9th grade like the graduating class at school of the Holly cross. Unfortunately, I did not have time to get close with them but getting to be at their graduation ceremony was something I was glad for. Graduating for them is such a different thing for them than it is for us. This is the point in their life where they will either drop out and work on the beach selling jewelry or to find the funds for highschool and possibly get a better job at a restaurant or a shop or find a place to work on the main land. These options may sound like a lose-lose to us but the people here have learned to not find ways to make money but find happiness and freedom by releasing their need to climb the food chain that is "business" and finding ways to live easy. Now getting to this point isn't easy for people who were raised to do your best and find the job that will make the most money but they use money in different ways than we do. We use it for luxuries like new cars or phones when they use it for what they need and as long as they have everything they need they can relax. But they get so much of their money from the tourist that they have become entwined with them and by doing so they have erased part of their culture. In all the work we did in Belize it is the best work I have ever done not because we traveled to a different country but because I was motivated to help these kids. That stated, with nothing but time and help from others they have made a school that really depicts the culture of Belize. If you asked me what was the most surprising thing was to me it would be how everyone at the school greeted us with more than open arms but expectations for greatness and that they would help provide any tools needed to do so. I am so lucky that I got to get close with these kids because even though by our standers they are poor they can still find happiness. The Belize project is a project I would want to do 1000 times over and over again. I will probably only get to go once but you can go help these kids or at least sponsor someone else to go in your place.
Shawn- For me the biggest impact comes from actually being here, in San Mateo, with this group of youth. To experience the setting of the school, to see it with my own eyes, is to connect with what others from St. Luke's have experienced. Meeting the community that has formed around the school gives life and meaning to the stories told of past mission trips. Hearing the gratitude expressed by that community, helps me understand the importance of our continued support and connection to Holy Cross. The buildings may be built, but there is still a need for more classrooms with teachers. Students we have helped may have graduated, but more follow them. What is true for Holy Cross, is true for St. Luke's. The work is never truly done.
Anna- This was my third trip to Belize, to San Pedro, and to Holy Cross School. Each time has brought me a different experience, different feelings and new passions. I love coming here. I love that I have made life long friends here. It is a place that I want to continue to fight for and continue to share with others. I always take a ton of pictures while I am here because I want others to see and feel the love and passion I have for this community. Today, I was able to pull up pictures that I had taken on the two previous trips down and show someone, who has never been, the true progress this community and its volunteers have made. It is so wonderful to see the improvements and to see that there is only one London bridge left in the community. I know though the work is still not done. There are still not enough space in the classrooms for all the children in the town. Children are still being turned away from basic education because their families can’t afford to send them. There are kids that are in school who can’t study for tests because they have to go work with their parents before and after school to help make money so that they can eat. The teachers don’t have enough resources to help those individuals who are two maybe even 3 grade levels behind. It becomes survival of the fittest. And people may say that these things are happening here in the US but I can promise you that it is not to this level, not to this degree and the availability of resources are just not there. I see us making a difference and I want to continue to make a difference. I love these people and there is power in love.
Sally- For 25 years I’ve been an educator and administrator in various schools and academic programs with a wide array of students and staff. Until this week, I’ve never seen a school operate primarily on faith and service. Every book of the more than 8,000 books in the Holy Cross library came to the school in suitcases over the years--all donations. Mr. Rodney, the principal, told me that all the principals he had met from America had many degrees and licenses, but he was selected at age 24 to be a principal because he showed leadership as a teacher. He shared that as a young principal when he wasn’t sure what to do, he would ask himself and the teachers what kind of leader they needed and would remind himself to have faith in the students. Initially, I was caught off guard when one of the staff was sharing her joy about how fortunate she and all the staff felt to have been able to build new fencing to keep the crocodiles out of the school after the storms last year. The conditions of San Mateo can seem sad, overwhelming, and shocking, but I learned at Holy Cross this week that faith and service are the antidote to any of those situations or emotions. To be able to see our St. Luke’s youth faithfully serve in hot and culturally surprising conditions was a lesson I could not learn from any graduate course or educator preparation program, and it was profound beyond words.