Belize 3-8-2004 Thursday

E-mail update from Lee Rice

Pouring the cement On March 7, a plane carrying 12 Hampden-Sydney College students and two staff members departs from Dallas and sets out across the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A pastiche of dense rainforest, barren expanses, and zigzagging rivers comes into view and the plane descends into Belize City Airport. The trip marks H-SC's third annual Belize Service-Adventure Project.

Described by natives as "a Caribbean nation in Central America," Belize was once a forgotten corner of the British Empire that has now made its mark internationally through the sudden popularity of "ecotourism." This nascent industry, however, is mostly relegated to the southeastern coastal areas and islands along the Great Barrier Reef, and for the first part of their trip the H-SC group will be in the country's underdeveloped northeast interior, where they will use their spring break to build the foundation for a church. The trip is sponsored by the Society of '91 Leadership Program and is in conjunction with Rivers of the World (ROW), a charitable organization that focuses on third-world countries.

Loaded into two vans, the group takes Belize's main road across great swaths of low-lying swamp land and banana fields to Orange Walk, Belize's second largest city and the nucleus of the sugar industry. Orange Walk's streets are constantly choked with lines of cane-laden trucks, and the town is home to Mestizos, Creole, Garifuna, and Maya, all of whom are considered Belizean.

That evening students explore the city and quickly learn that the presence of many different ethnic groups is a source of pride for Belizeans. As a young Creole named Vivian explains, "All a we mek Belize." This degree of acceptance is extended to our group, and several students spend an evening singing karaoke with new friends at the Orange Walk Cultural Center.

The next morning we load the vans and head deep into Belize's most remote savannah and rainforests to the village of San Romano, population 600. Situated on the banks of the New River, San Roman has no paved roads and is made up almost entirely of small hatched huts. Political signs supporting the United Democratic Party, the current opposition party, can be seen nailed to trees, and chickens and goats roam free.

Despite the dominant Catholic tradition, many people in San Roman have expressed the desire for a Protestant church in the area. In response, ROW has acquired a small piece of property and drawn the plans for a small church to be built. The trenches of the foundation have already been dug, and the Hampden-Sydney students quickly get to work hauling water up from the river, mixing concrete, and pouring the foundation.

Children with Lee Rice There is no shortage of public holidays in Belize, and our first day on the job site happens to be Barren Bliss Day, which recognizes a wealthy Englishman who left his sizable estate to Belize nearly a century ago. As a result, all of the children in the village-most of whom speak only Spanish-have the day off from school and spend the better part of their holiday watching and interacting with the Hampden-Sydney group.

At midday we are joined by ROW president Ben Mathes. That afternoon we stop just shy of filling in all the trenches before loading the vans once more and heading to Honey Camp, a small area thirty miles southeast of the work site. Hugged on one side by a lagoon and the other by dense forest, ROW's property at Honey Camp will serve as our base camp for the week. After a quick dinner at Victor's Inn in Orange Walk, we bathe in the lagoon and set up our tents. Within minutes the entire camp is asleep.

Students Participating:
Matthew G. Anderson '06
John Axsom '05
James Barton '06
Simon Everett '06
Michael Handlan '06
William Horner '05
Tyler Hustrulid '04
Brad Israel '04
Wesley Lawson '04
Thomas Melton '06
Jonathan Noggle '06
Matt Weekley '07
Trip Leaders: Lee Rice '01 and Drew McIlreavy '03
Reports from the front:
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