Camrose Interact Club members have eye-opening experience
Members of the Rotary Interact club at Camrose Composite High School were able to experience life in the developing country of Belize during their Easter break.
"It was eye-opening to say the least," said Kirsten Gibson, one of the 12 teens from Grades 11 and 12 who made the trip.
"It helped us see how fortunate we really are and how much need other countries have for assistance."
The teens spent most of their time at San Ignacio, in the Cayo district of Belize, near the Guatemalan border, where they assisted with service projects involving youth.
"The first two days we were split up, with half of us going to St. Barnabas School for sports days with kids between the ages of 5 to 14 and the other half going to the Cornerstone Centre for at risk women and children," said Carley Angelstad.
The sports days were organized to give the youth a place to go during their own Easter break.
"We bought meals for them because the kids were poor and for many, the meals they get at school are the only ones they get all day," said Angelstad.
"If the schools are closed they end up going hungry."
At Cornerstone Centre, the students helped with Easter crafts and reading.
"The children at Cornerstone Centre were a little bit shy at first, but warmed up to us pretty quickly," said Gibson.
"They couldn't wait to see us and were excited about all the things we had planned for them to do. We had barely finished one activity when they were wondering what we were going to do next."
The Camrose Interact members were impressed with how willing and eager the students at St. Barnabas School were to learn.
"They were so polite," said one.
"It was the first time in my life I had ever been called sir."
The members also visited another school that was in rougher shape than St. Barnabas, where they sanded and painted blackboards on a day where the hot temperatures made working difficult.
"It was a rough school in a rough neighbourhood but it looked so good when we were done," said Angelstad.
"The principal that we talked to there told us that it is hard to get students to show up and get them interested in what they were teaching."
The Interact Club prepared for the trip by raising money through bottle drives, silent auctions and community work placements to purchase school supplies such as paper, chalk and crayons, which, along with soccer balls, shirts and skipping rope, were presented to St. Barnabas School when they were there, along with soccer balls, shirts and skipping ropes .
"They received a donation of $1,000 from the Rotary Club of Camrose Daybreak that went to the purchase of the sports equipment," said Patrice Johnson, one of three adult chaperones for the trip, along with her husband, Larry, the assistant governor for Rotary District 5370, and Joanne Miske.
The Rotary Clubs in Belize and Rotary District 5370 have been working for the betterment of the educational system in Belize for the past ten years. Three years ago, nine teachers and ministry of education officials from the tiny Central America nation (formerly British Honduras) toured Camrose and area schools as part of the continuing Rotary District 5370 Belize Literacy Program. The program was started in 2006 in an effort to influence the education of some 60,000 Belizean students in the subjects of mathematics, science and language arts, mainly in Grades 4 to 8.
"Dr. Larry Payne, who is the superintendent of schools for Battle River Schools, went over there as a Rotary educational consultant," said Johnson. "He spoke to the Interclub members before they went and gave them an idea of what they could expect."
Along with working in the schools the Interac members went to the home of a Rotary couple in Belize, where they put together 30 water filtration systems. They were shocked when they learned that sixty per cent of all homes in Belize do not have access to clean water.
"This couple was saying that the people don't realize how sick they can get by drinking unclean water," said one.
"It's a major factor in the country's high infant mortality rate."
The members finished their experience by getting together on a couple of occasions with another Interact club in Belize, snorkelling on the barrier reef, visiting an Iguana conservation facility, touring Mayan ruins, and celebrating with the people of San Ignacio during a festival similar to our own Jaywalkers' Jamboree.
"The people were celebrating the fact that one of their own had won a bike race from Belize City to San Ignacio," said Larry Johnson.
"The race had been won by an American for five to six straight years before that."
The Interact Club at the Camrose Composite High School has 20 members who meet once a week throughout the school year. Interact clubs carry out two community service projects each year, including one that furthers international understanding and goodwill.
The members paid for all costs of the trip out of their own pockets. Activities in Belize were coordinated by the Rotary Club in San Ignacio.