About bishquake

A 'seasoned Friend' now serving as a FUM Living Letters volunteer to Friends in Belize.

Return to Belize, September 2018

WhatsApp in Belize?  (Just a suggestion)

That is actually a very convenient way to reach us in Belize, or anyone you like almost anywhere.  WhatsApp is one of several Voice Over Internet (VOIN) apps (applications) that one can use to make phone, or phone-with-picture calls.  We are not here to boost one or the other but we both have WhatsApp, Viber, Zoom and Skype loaded to our cell phones and computers.  (Rosalie, however, lost the cellphone that WhatsApp and Viber were on and discovered only after getting back to Belize that although the icons are on her new phone, she has to be back in the North to re-install them.  So, if you want to talk to Rosalie, call her on Adrian’s phone, or set up a Zoom or Skype call.)  You can call us and speak free or at very low cost, as long as caller and recipient are both in a Wi-Fi hotspot, or a place where we have internet access.  For more info, do a Google search and then check out their web-sites.

Rosalie and I returned to Belize earlier than we had originally planned.  It just seemed better to get here before the school year was very advanced.  We spent a lot of time traveling this summer, so much so that our stays in Belize now feel like home.  We saw Adrian’s family in Winnipeg and on Vancouver Island, and then caught up with some of Rosalie’s in Jersey Mills, PA. And of course, we saw family and Friends in Baltimore.  Adrian and Oscar took the story of Belize City Friends Center to New York Yearly Meeting Annual Session at Silver Bay, NY, stopped to pick up Rosalie for a lovely meeting at Stony Run Friends in Baltimore, and then visited with Baltimore Yearly Meeting Friends at Hood College, in Frederick MD.  We were greeted warmly everywhere and would like to thank Baltimore YM for their invitation and for the attendance bursary, Stony Run for paying for Oscar Mmbali to come to the USA, and New York YM for their invitation and help in attending.  Thank you all!  If you would like to have visitors from our program either to your Meeting or Church, or to your YM, please message us.  We would love to personalize the news of Belize City Friends Center.

My (Adrian) big task this semester is to use the findings from my work last spring on the condition of our building to develop recommendations for a master plan for our site here at 3428 Central American Blvd.  The building’s previous use was as a warehouse for a truck parts business.  This did not instantly transform itself into a child- or teacher-friendly environment.  Volunteers have transformed three levels of ‘warehouse’ into three classrooms, an all-purpose room we hope will become a library and study hall, an apartment now used by our Pastor, and a dormitory built to accommodate visiting volunteers.  The second of our two-part building has a large room on the main floor, with offices for the school and a small canteen to distribute snacks and meals.  The second floor is a 4-bedroom apartment that houses (mostly) visitors and us.  A challenge for me is to work out with the staff and school board how to best configure both buildings to enable us to have a well-functioning school – our first priority, and have occasional space for visitors and teams of volunteers.  Part of this task is to account for our local climatic and geographical concerns.  Belize City is located on the shore of the Caribbean Sea, only 1 to 2 feet above sea level.  In the event of hurricanes or tsunamis, we can anticipate a tidal surge of 4-5 feet, which means any fixtures on the ground floor have to be water and mud resistant or portable.  Our structures are reasonably sound, but one of our roofs is not yet hurricane resistant, and our window openings are not.  We are located at a very busy intersection by the Port of Belize, so controlling noise and dust and odors from outside are also concerns.  More on Site Development as we progress!

Rosalie’s work  is focused on teaching and learning in the classrooms, ways to enhance teaching and the curriculum that will enhance learning and strengthen students’ vision of themselves as learners.  Our school day runs from 8:30 am to 3 pm.  The first class is altogether, students gather with our Pastor, Oscar Mmbali, for a class in Quaker faith and practice.  On Fridays this takes the form of Quaker worship for the whole school.  Next, students move into two groups, one to work on very basic English language skills, the other to their Primary level  Math and Science or English and History (depending on the day).  In the afternoon, all the students attend class according to their ability.  In addition to these classes for students preparing to write the Primary School Examination, we offer tutoring for adult learners studying for the Belizean equivalent of a GED.  Our teachers and Head of School are all Belizean with varying degrees of academic certification.   We have occasional visitors who offer supplementary courses in various areas, and we are now working with the Belize Department of Youth Services to offer programs in art, music, computer use and swimming.  We hope these will start soon.

Another part of our purpose here is to find additional vectors of support for Belize Friends School, and for the Belize City Friends Center which houses the school.  In June, we responded to a request for proposals from the US Embassy in Belize seeking programs to strengthen an understanding of a democratic civil society in Belize.  Our approach to that was titled “Southside Youth as Leaders in Belizean Democracy:  Strengthen Citizen Security through Economic and Social Opportunity”.  Apparently, we did not see eye to eye with their criteria – we got a polite rejection letter.  However, we were not surprised; Rosalie and Oscar had observed an over-capacity crowd at the Embassy for their info session.  There was a lot of competition.  But our exercise helped us to develop our thoughts and learn about the resources as well as the challenges.  Good will come of that!  We have just answered another grant competition from UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, and have several smaller requests to Quaker organizations underway.  A new source of support arrived today – the Ambassador of China (Taiwan) arrived with a vehicle full of sports-ware and clothing gifts, and school supplies.  Earlier in the summer they had provided a large gift of rice which we have distributed to families needing food.  The Embassy assures us that we may expect continuing support from them.

In our travels this summer we distributed “Wish lists” of project ideas we would like to carry out.  For a copy please e-mail us and perhaps we can collaborate in this work!


Rosalie and Adrian in Belize, Vol. 1, Ch. 2

Hello Everyone.  Two more weeks in Belize City.  We have learned much, we are still learning.  One thing we have learned is that managing this Blog site is trickier than we thought.  Much as we love Dale, we would like to change his image at the top of the page, or even join him there.  He continues to be a great help to us, as he engages with his illness there in Mooresville, IN.  Please join us holding Dale and Sylvia in the Light.

This week we have had with us two Friends from Wichita, Patrice and David Stephenson, who have been here many times before, and six Young Adult Friends from Western Yearly Meeting, all of whom came to do whatever they found needing to be done.  They’ve painted the floor of the Meeting room, they’ve removed rust and painted the ironwork around the rooftop and the stairs, they’ve cleaned the plaza of dust (it’ll be back, but it will be new dust), they’ve tiled showers in the work-campers’ dormitory; they’ve worked with the students on an art project; and Patrice has cooked delicious meals for us all.  They’ve also tubed down a river through a cave with ancient Mayan artifacts in Blue Hole National Park, visited the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Altun Ha, and snorkeled over the Central American reef out from Caye Caulker.  They are all good workers and they know how to have a good time!  We enjoyed having them here.  We went on the Caye Caulker snorkeling trip with them and to Altun Ha.  Wonderful to have hosting duties to give us an excuse!

Adrian’s list of the needs of the buildings here at Friends Centre was shortened a bit by the work of this fine team of Friends, and is being shortened more by some local tradespeople, a plumber, a carpenter, and an electronics man.  All of this keeps Adrian exceedingly busy, along with helping to coach sports and working with the Center’s pastor, Oscar Mmbali on the Community Safety Forum and the Youth Leadership group. These groups are working to produce 1 minute videos that they hope will be seen as news briefs before and during local news broadcasts.  They filmed the first one this week, featuring their own script, our FS children, and local police officers, on how police and kids often interact,  and how they could interact better.  Their filming attracted a crowd.  Seeing a police vehicle and many young people neighbors and passers-by thought an incident was occuring.  It was, a very good one!

I am enjoying my mentoring relationship with the teachers.  The conditions they are working in are difficult and they work hard to support the students and help them find their way. Of course, I stand to learn a lot, too.   Yesterday, I observed a class where the students were learning about the protected areas of their country: forest reserves, marine reserves, wildlife preserves (the only jaguar sanctuary on the planet), archeological sites.  Adrian and I traveled around Belize during Christmas break in 2008, but we didn’t see everything.  Now Ms. Athina’s students and I all want to see more!

I enjoy the students, though I do not have enough energy for them!   One young fellow likes to read to me.  He’s 11 or 12 and just learning to read; and enjoying it!

Athletic activities continue apace.  The volleyball tournament was held two weeks ago in Belmopan, and this past week was the basketball tournament.  The Friends School basketball team didn’t win the tournament, but they won several of their games and one of our players received the Most Valuable Player designation.  Now we begin the track and field two week season and the final athletic tournament of the year. Whoosh! a year in 6 weeks.  This wasn’t by design.  Weather interfered with the usual pattern of events and this was the best that could be done.

I’ve been working with other folks to develop a proposal for funding from the US Embassy for a project that is intended to improve safety and security for young people especially but for all residents of the southside of Belize City.  We are not optimistic about receiving one of the Embassy grants, but writing the proposal is giving us an opportunity to clarify what we want to do, see how it all fits together, who we think we can collaborate with, and what the costs might be.  Since I am here at the school and in a position to hear from everyone frequently and in some depth, I’ve done most of the writing so far.  It’s certainly an interesting exercise.

The level of poverty on the southside of Belize City is extreme.  The rate of murders per 100,000 is about twice that of Baltimore’s.  Human trafficking, both through Belize and in it, is a huge danger here.  We believe that there is a lot that can be done to enable change.  We hope that if we are able to find the funding we will also be able to bring together enough talent to lead the work forward.

We thank you, our friends, for all you are to us, and we send you love and Light as you follow your own calling wherever you are.

Rosalie and Adrian

Two weeks in Belize City

We have been in Belize City for two weeks.  We’ve been made very welcome, and we’ve had opportunity to explore the situation.  We are glad to be here!

Friends United Meeting looked for a long time for the right building to purchase so that they could follow their clear leading to work with children in south Belize City.  It was a difficult quest because this part of the city does not have many buildings large enough for a growing school and all the activities a Friends Centre might want to host.  They eventually settled on what they saw as their only option, a 2-building complex at the end of Central American Boulevard right by the port.  The port, the main seaport in Belize, is a very busy place, so there is much loud truck noise all day long and a tremendous amount of dust kicked up by the traffic (and blown by the otherwise lovely ocean breezes).  In spite of these two features (the noise and the dust), everyone is glad to be located on the southside of the city because here is where the people we want to serve are living.

Yesterday, the whole school attended a celebration of “Resilient Youth” hosted by the Community Rehabilitation Department of the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation.  Belize Friends School received a Partnership Award, as did one other school, one man, and a community policing unit.  63 young people from across the country received a Right Path Award, 30 received a Milestone Award, and 6 received a Resiliency Spotlight Award.  It was quite an inspiring occasion, with sharing of the stories of the 99 young people, what they have overcome and where they are now.  There was excellent entertainment interspersed among the awards (songs, dance, rap, drama), all original creations of the performers, I think, and much enjoyed by the students!

My key role here is expected to be mentoring the teachers, offering support to them in both curriculum matters and teaching methods.  At this time of the year, there is a lot of focus on preparing those students who are ready for their Primary School Certificate exams, encouraging studying for the exams and reviewing a variety of problems covering the national syllabus.  I’m also working with others to put an organizational hat on activities that might serve to make south Belize City a better place for children to grow up: Alternatives to Violence Project; youth leadership training; youth activities in the arts and sciences, and in appreciating the wonders of their small country; a project to improve the quality and outcomes of interactions between teenagers and police.  We hope to fit these all together into a cohesive whole and then apply for grant funding to support the work.  We are very early in that process, so we’ll see.

Adrian is actively engaged with Oscar Mmbali (the Centre’s Friends pastor, from Kenya) in supporting the Youth Leadership group and working with a coalition of organizations under an initiative called the Community Safety Forum.  Adrian is close to completing an analysis of the Friends Centre buildings, listing the needs and prioritizing them.  Since the purchase of the buildings, much renovation has been done mostly by FUM volunteers from the States under the leadership of one dedicated man, Dale Graves, who has now gone home to Indiana due to serious illness.  Dale agrees with Adrian’s analysis. To follow up on remaining issues, we hope to be able to employ local workers.  Adrian has also shared his latent coaching talents.  The school takes part in a sports league of independent schools, and because of weather, two quarterly tournaments have been postponed.  They are now hoping to have a tournament every two weeks to get them all in by the end of term.  On Monday we started our volleyball practices, and Wednesday the school travelled to the capital, Belmopan, to play against 5 other schools.  Disappointingly, we did not win a set, but our last one was the closest and most entertaining of the day for everyone.  We left with heads held high.  Staff later told us the day was a major improvement over the last tournament.

Now I know you are all imagining us lounging on beautiful Belize beaches or snorkeling over the beautiful Central American reef, and we intend to do both!  But so far, we are so intrigued with the school and Belize Friends Centre that we have not taken time to do that.  Certainly we will before too much longer.  This is a beautiful country and the marine life off its shores is magnificent.  To ignore it would be a sin, and we are trying to be good!

All of you receiving this have supported us in our leading to come to work at the Belize Friends Centre.  Some helped us reach clearness on our decision, some supported us financially, some (most!) have given us continuing friendship, some did some heavy lifting(!), some have helped us deal with things we forgot to bring.  We thank you, every one, and we send you love and Light as you follow your own calling wherever you are.