Project Belize {In Aaron's Words}

Hello all! So I didn’t realize that when Caroline started this blog, she named it the Aaron and Caroline McKell blog in hopes that I would assist in producing some awe-inspiring posts. Well, here is my inaugural write-up. I hope you enjoy it. For many months now, I haven’t felt like I’ve done anything exciting enough to deserve my own post. I originally thought that my job was to waive at the camera and make funny faces for all of you to enjoy. But the time has come for me to communicate an inspiring week I just experienced. Here goes:
As a part of my internship with PwC, I was invited to participate in a community outreach on behalf of the firm. As you may guess, at PwC, we don’t do things little, we do it big! From July 8-12, I spent time in Belize City teaching kids from the ages 10-13. We taught a curriculum focused on financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

PwC along with PeaceWork (a non-profit) has done this project for the past four years (dubbed “Project Belize”), so by now they have things down pat. There were around 200 interns, staff and partners that participated in the project. It was great to get to know many of the different coworkers that I may work with in years to come. I enjoyed getting to know the different teaching styles and interests of people from all over the US.
We arrived in Belize City on Sunday and I was very surprised to see anything but what I had thought Belize would be like. My previous knowledge of Belize were two things: 1) Belize is right next to Guatemala, so I was literally 200 miles away from my brother, Austin who is serving there as a missionary. Pretty exciting (you know, it’s funny how you can get excited being so close, ironically this is coming from a missionary who served in Washington and Idaho, which was definitely a hop skip and a jump from Provo). Back to the list. 2) I remember seeing the Sandals commercials on TV, maybe you’ve seen it too, the ones with the white sandy beaches and clear blue water and playing the famous “I’ve, had, the time of my life… and I owe it all to you…” Yah, it seemed like the ultimate vacation. Belize has the second largest coral reef in world, so I was excited to check the area out for possible future vacation spots. Now back to reality. I quickly realized that all of the touristy sites are a short plane ride off the coast of Belize away from everything we would be seeing. Also, the beaches around Belize city consists of rocks and not much sand, so eliminate getting rid of my continuous farmers tan.

I quickly realized that this trip was going to be anything but a relaxing vacation. We were immediately given our team assignments and we started preparing our lessons for the three-day financial literacy camps. On Sunday night, I began to further understand how much the Belizean government appreciated us coming to help. The Mayor spoke to us, then the Minister of Education and later we would hear from the Prime Minister. Pretty cool!
The nice Raddison hotel
We woke up early Monday morning in our hotel room because we needed extra time to shower (our water wasn't really working quite right).  You see, they ran out of room in the nice Radisson hotel and I and about 20 others were sent across the street to a small bed and breakfast to stay.  Here we had to fill up bottles and use those to help us shower.  It was like I was serving in a third world country.  We never had that problem in Spokan.  Finally we got to the schools.  I was so excited to see my class! I was to teach a group of 15-20 kids along with 2 other teachers--Aly, an intern from the San Francisco office, and Kristin, a manager from the Boston office.
The first day was wonderful! We taught about branding and entrepreneurship. The kids were actually very attentive, some even had previous experience of starting their own businesses. One had opened a mango stand, so his experience was very helpful to the other students.

In Belize, public funded education stops after what is equivalent to our 7th or 8th grades. So we spent a lot of time encouraging them that they can do anything that they want in life. They can go on to high school, college, and beyond. They can start their own business and make it successful! I was deeply reminded of how grateful I am to live in a country as wonderful as ours. Sure, there are issues that we would all like to fix, but I am so happy to have the liberties that we all enjoy and love.
The schools are not split up by geographical locations either. In fact, they are separated based on religion. Each school is connected to a certain denomination (mostly Christian). If you are Catholic, you go to the Catholic school, if you are Lutheran, you go to the Lutheran school. This means that some kids traveled 30-45 minutes by bus to get to school.
I was amazed to see that the disparity of wealth was quite large. I saw a kid with a Blackberry, and another who came to school without shoes. The most touching moment was when one of our students didn’t want to eat their lunch because they wanted to save it for dinner later. When we figured this out, we told her she could have one of the left over meals in addition to her lunch. Her eyes lit up like the Fourth of July and she just started chowing down. She ate her lasagna so fast that I don’t know how she didn’t have a stomach ache afterwards. From that point on, she became my favorite. On the final morning we arrived in our class and she had drawn our names all over the board along with sayings like “we love you” and “thank you.” Very touching, even to a manly man like myself
One of my favorite parts of the day was during recess (yep, I haven’t changed). This time, it was because I felt like I was able to bond with the kids. Surprisingly, the favorite sport among Belizean children is not soccer, but basketball! They absolutely love the sport. We didn’t have any hoops, but we would dribble up and down the sidewalks or dirt areas. I was having fun showing off my moves (or lack there of haha). After awhile, I would realize that my ability to keep up with the kids was fading so I would have to take a break on the sideline. Being 100+ degrees made me sweat so much! I’m sure the humidity didn’t help either. In Belize, they have substituted bottled water for “bag water.” Its just water in a plastic bag sealed up. You bite off an end and then suck on it ‘til it’s gone. It’s a lot cheaper than bottles and less waste. Anyways, that's what we had to keep ourselves cool.
Notice the bag of water in her hand.
After about 3:30pm we turned in our work supplies to the front office and took off back to the hotel. Each night was a different social activity, usually just dinner at a nearby restaurant or hotel. I was mostly just looking forward to the next day with the kids, but it was enjoyable to get to know more and more people. We took our bottle-assisted shower and headed off to our planned activity. We were going full speed from 7:00am to 11:00pm.

Days 2 and 3 were much like Day 1. By now, the kids had gotten to know us and each other so keeping them under control was a little tougher. I was reminded of my old self many times when a student would purposely try to “push my buttons” just to see a reaction, and then once they could see they went too far, they would back off and start helping. It made me laugh to remember my genius tactics.
At the beginning of each day and after recesses, we would ask our kids “How are you?” The first answer on Day 1 was a blur of ‘good’s,’ ‘fine’s,’ or just mumbles that no one could understand. I was reminded of a method my Dad taught us early in our childhood. We were trained to respond to the basic “how are you” question with an enthusiastic “I’m doing good, great, fantastic, never felt better in my life!” It’s impossible to say this without a smile at least creep across your face. The kids loved this! I taught it to them once and they continued it on throughout the whole week! One of the teachers who works with the ministry of education learned it and had me teach it to all the teachers at the school and even some of her friends at the closing social. The power of enthusiasm and passion goes a long way! This is for sure!
During the final two days, we spent most of the time teaching about budgets (specifically about the difference between needs and wants) and working on their business fair projects. After class on Day 3, we held a business fair where all the kids at the school (about 70 in all) presented their business to their classmates and many parents. I was so happy to see the kids who “got it” and were excited about one day opening up their own ice cream shop or construction company. I know they can do it!
Finally, the week had to come to a close, and I took the long journey back to the beautiful San Jose area. Being away from my lovely wife is tough. I’m learning more and more that I don’t like to travel without her too much. Next time I get a chance to go to Belize, it will definitely be with my sweetheart.

Man, it’s tough getting everything that I did packed into one of these tiny blog posts. I apologize to anyone who fell asleep reading this. It was a great experience. I learned so much about a lovely culture. We can learn a lot from them. They constantly say the word “beautiful.” They say these “beautiful people” or this “beautiful day.” I love that! There is so much beauty out there!
Now that I have my first stamp in my newly acquired passport, I feel like I am ready to see the world! Who knows when my next international trip will come, but I can tell you this. It is going to be difficult topping a week full of the beautiful faces of Trinity School in Belize City.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that was fantastic! Very informative and great photos. I'm so glad you had a great time with the kids. I'm sure they totally loved your enthusiasm for life. Of course, my favorite was the story about "Great, fantastic, never felt better in my life!" Gotta love those McKell-isms.

    Love ya tons!