I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I guess its part of the process, so I’ll disclose. Honesty and growth, make way. I’m coming.
I spent all morning looking at my classmates’ pictures from India feeling jealous and regretful. There are mountains there, and silk, and friends. Now most of them are back in New Orleans finishing out an easy last semester at places like The Rue and Superior Grill, which sound like heaven to me right now… and I’m still here. In Belize. Again. Still. (I know, I know—Belize? You feel real sorry for me. You know I’m not on the coast, right? I’m in the jungle.)
While familiarity makes things easy and comfortable here, it also takes the new and exciting back to ordinary and routine. The exotic fruits aren’t so exotic—although, coincidentally, I did just eat a guava for the first time today. Rice and beans are just rice and beans, not: Rice and Beans! Cattle stop and stare at me when I hang my laundry. I walk past iguanas and step over roosters and make tortillas and wait for electricity and stockpile water, and never ever wash my underwear with my socks, and brush ants off my bed and eat mangoes and catch parasites and hail bus drivers and sit on stoops and walk up and down giant hills from school to school for work like its nothing. Like those things are normal. If you know me, this isn’t me! My specialty is finding extraordinary things in every day life—unless you’re that crazy life-changing story lady. If you’re her, then, no, you’re right, I suck.
Anyway. India would have been new and exciting. And besides that, I don’t think I was ready to be done with New Orleans yet. When I return, graduation will happen and this part of my life will be over. Why did I decide to spend the last half of it in another country? The work I was doing in New Orleans was good and meaningful, and Belize is always gonna be Belize. Here my work seems like a drop in the bucket. Then I started wondering: why did I think these kids deserved this program more than the kids in New Orleans in the first place? Is it just because they live here and not there? Kids are kids. Need is need. Was I being selfish in wanting to do this? I could have stayed in New Orleans, gone to India for a month, learned a bunch of new things about a new culture, and then continued to help kids in the exact same way I had been, right there. Did I waste this whole semester on something I’ve already done, that doesn’t even really matter in the big picture, when my heart really was in New Orleans all along?
I don’t know. But because I am a social worker, I have been knocked over the head with a variety of coping skills. I told myself there has to be a reason I’m here, and that I just have to trust God is doing something, somewhere, outside my view—that I may never even get to see. Maybe it’s the family I’m paying $100 per week to stay with. Maybe they were having a desperate time with finances, and I was their secret answer to prayer or something. Or maybe there is one specific kid who really needed something this program offers, and for that one kid, all of this will be worth it. Maybe Mary Open Doors or my supervisor were overwhelmed and overworked and kind of just wanted a person to have a Sprite with at lunch to recharge. Who knows, but I decided to be okay with everything because a bad attitude would be like poison, and deciding that there is still purpose for me here even if there’s not makes me feel better. Plus, there was that really undeniable string of events that happened in November… Everyone said: write this down, Brooke. There will be a time in Belize when you say: What am I doing here? and this story will be your proof. Hmm.
Then I met the actual kids. Real-life little kids, shy and hyper and adorable and desperate: an 8-year-old whose dad committed suicide last year, four elementary kids whose dad tattooed his own birthmark on their faces, a 7-year-old who saw a knife fight between his mom and grandpa, a 15-year-old who dropped out of school after his friend committed suicide.
It’s like my heart recognized something my brain couldn’t catch up to. In New Orleans, there is a waiting list, a protocol, a budget and a set number of counselors. The same number of kids would have been seen with or without me in 3 months. But in Belize, there is only one school counselor. One school counselor for the entire country. The 7 kids I saw today and yesterday wouldn’t have even been on the radar had Mary Open Doors not said- Brooke, these kids really need help, and had I not said- A, these kids really need help, and had there not been this ready-made program for their exact need. The school system has to focus primarily on behavioral problems in the classroom. There’s no time or manpower to waste on things like grief or trauma—even though the result of those things is behavioral problems in the classroom… but social work isn’t even a legitimate field yet. There are no standards, no associations, no practices, no codes, nothing. My supervisor keeps records for the Ministry of Education only because she wants to and because that’s how she was trained in the States. She has to constantly fight for confidentiality. She makes however many appointments per day she thinks she can fit in, and transportation is always an issue. No one has cars. The Ministry does not reimburse. She covers a hundred square miles, and we walk or take the bus or taxi on our dime. I see kids at 3 schools, and spend half my day walking up and down hills to get there. If she does home visits, she stays for a couple of hours because she knows it could be a couple of weeks before she gets there again. Her caseload is about 50 students. Every time she goes to a new school, she gets another list of 10-15 students she knows she may not even be able to see. Sigh. And yet she gives her absolute best to each family I’ve seen her with…
One thing I feel good about in this realm is that we’ll use the coping skills program I brought to train a team of 6 teachers in Santa Elena to respond to their kids, in addition to training the shelter workers. Maybe those 6 can feed 5,000…
Anyway. Some funny similarities between the kids in NOLA and the kids here—
- No kid wants to miss computer lab
- Every kid asks for a quarter
- Schools never have space, and finding space with privacy is next to impossible
- The schedule changes every day
- Other kids walk by, stop, and ask if they can come too
- Snacks facilitate anything and everything
In short long: I still really want to go to India. And I still miss my friends. And I still miss my little apartment and margaritas in New Orleans. But I trust that something here is happening outside my control, and I’ll gladly pour as many drops as I can into this bucket in the tiny amount of time I have here. Thank you for contributing to this trip if you did, and for believing in the project. I spent all these months convincing you guys this was important and almost completely lost sight of it myself. It turns out grass is everywhere, greener than ever…
So there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly.