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Belize

  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    She brought literacy expertise to work in Belize. And has volunteered with FEMA to combat COVID-19. see more

    Judith Jones

    Peace Corps Response

    Volunteer in Belize (2018–20) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer with FEMA in Oregon, United States (2021)

     

    As told to Sarah Steindl

     

    Photo: Teacher and student at work in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

    My Peace Corps journey was a little bit different. I originally applied to be a two-year Volunteer in Jamaica, and I got rejected for medical reasons. I appealed, and I lost that decision. I was devastated because this was something that I really wanted to do in my retirement. Then out of the blue, a month later, a friend who works for USAID wrote me about the literacy support specialist position in Belize for Peace Corps Response: “I think you’d like this.” I looked at it and thought, My gosh, this was written for me! I’ve taught children and adults for 30 years, worked as an ESL teacher and literacy coach. I applied at the beginning of February 2019. They told me toward the end of April that I was going, with five weeks to get ready.

    In Belize we worked with the Ministry of Education. We worked with second-grade teachers to help develop their skills in teaching reading. Belize is a place where they are still using very traditional teaching methods. We had to meet them where they were at. We gave them workshops and courses, and we went on-site in classrooms to help implement strategies: working with a small group of students, designing activities to improve reading levels. 

    We found kids in second grade who couldn’t spell their name, didn’t know the complete alphabet, the sounds that letters make, or how to spell simple words. By second grade, most children should know these things. But classrooms don’t have books. I wanted to get more books in the classroom, but it was important that the teachers take on those projects. My country director, Tracey Hébert-Seck, was a big proponent of not doing things for them, but doing things with them, and teaching them to do it on their own. 

     

    Judith Jones watching teacher and students in Belize

    Literacy at the forefront — and Judith Jones in the background, observing a teacher work with her intervention group of students in Belize. Photo courtesy Judith Jones

     

     

    I think there need to be more 50-plus Volunteers and staff. There need to be more Black and brown Volunteers and staff, more variety in sexuality and gender. Peace Corps needs to reflect America. I don’t see that in recruiting. I don’t see that in staff. It’s hard to get into Peace Corps if you’re 50-plus or 60-plus. To go through the craziness of the medical clearance process, you have to spend so much money — so how are you going to get Volunteers from a lower socioeconomic area? It really needs to be made easier and more diverse. We should be able to participate. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

     

    With Response, I got to do something closer to the work that I love doing. I want to continue to put literacy at the forefront of education. Literacy will improve countries, economies, and social situations. 

    I enjoy doing this job I’m in right now, supporting the vaccination effort with FEMA. The Oregon Health Authority has been a fantastic counterpart. And it’s interesting working with all these young people. But that’s very different from what Peace Corps Response usually is; typically Volunteers are more mature and used to working. We learned from each other. It was invaluable. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 12, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    “It would be wonderful if the world didn’t need a Peace Corps.” see more

    Miguelina Cuevas-Post

    Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica (1976–78) and Belize (2011–13) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Jamaica (2016–17) and Belize (2017)

     

    As told to Ellery Pollard

     

    Photo: Students in a Jamaican school where Volunteer Miguelina Cuevas-Post served. Courtesy Miguelina Cuevas-Post

     

    I come from a family that is multiethnic and multicultural, so an appreciation of different cultures was ingrained in me. My husband, Kenneth Post, and I both served two-year terms in Jamaica in the ’70s — that’s how we met. We got married there, and our oldest daughter, Tina, was born while we were serving. Ken and I also served in Belize 2011–13. My youngest daughter, Rachel, decided to serve as a Response Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia 2015–16. I returned to both Jamaica and Belize as a Response Volunteer in 2016–17. And my husband’s aunt did Peace Corps in Africa at age 65. So obviously, Peace Corps has had a great presence in my life!

    My initial host mother in Jamaica was just around the block from Hope Road, where Bob Marley lived. We would walk by his house frequently. We were in Jamaica when he was shot in December 1976. He survived, but that was a tense and harrowing time. 

    During my original service, if we needed to communicate with a Peace Corps office for any reason, we would go into Port Maria and send a telegram. There was one public telephone and it wasn’t working half the time. Today, technology has made the world a lot smaller, and because of those advances, countries’ needs have changed. Retirement wasn’t meant for me, so after working for years as a school administrator, having the chance to return to Jamaica as a Response Volunteer 40 years after my original service was a great opportunity. 

    The city of Kingston, which was just a little bigger than a village, is now exponentially larger. Rural areas have new roads and businesses. There are more high-level education and leadership needs, hence Peace Corps Response.

     

     Rastafarian artist at dump in Jamaica

    Artist at work: “Rastas living in the Kingston dump who create the most beautiful art out of recycled aluminum.” Photo by Miguelina Cuevas-Post

     

    I have a specific memory of a group of Rastas living in the Kingston dump who create the most beautiful art out of recycled aluminum. This project began with the help of a returned Volunteer who comes back periodically to provide support. We were there trying to gather information to share with the JN Foundation, the agency with which I worked. We spent a day watching the men work, and at the end, I purchased a piece that I saw made from start to finish.

     

     Aluminum relief of woman

    “We saw this piece created, from the melting of the recycled aluminum, to the pouring of the melted metal (casting), removal once set, and buffing,” writes Miguelina Cuevas-Post. “I purchased the piece for one of my daughters.” Photo by Miguelina Cuevas-Post

     

    Belize’s education sector, which was the sector I originally worked in as a Volunteer a decade ago, had closed when I left. But a few years later, when I returned as a Response Volunteer, it reopened and I was asked to return. Response service is very specific and targeted. Projects have to be completed within the time you are given, and you must produce tangible evidence of impact. We were in the Peace Corps office working seven days a week. We understood that the successful reintroduction of an education sector in the country depended on our results. I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have been able to return to both Jamaica and Belize to reconnect with villages where I lived and see their progress.

     

    Ideally, it would be wonderful if the world didn’t need a Peace Corps, but that’s not the reality.

     

    Ideally, it would be wonderful if the world didn’t need a Peace Corps, but that’s not the reality. I also feel like there’s another Peace Corps life in me. Maybe not Belize or Jamaica, but I hope that before I get too much older, I will be able to serve again. 

     

    This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.

     September 04, 2021
  • Orrin Luc posted an article
    Peace Corps Takes Steps to Return to Service Overseas see more

    The Peace Corps announced on June 30 that it was a step closer to returning Volunteers to overseas service — starting with Belize.

     

    By NPCA Staff

    Photography by Emily Gale. Pictured here: BRO club members, hijinks, and a freshly painted world map in 2019

     

    The Peace Corps announced on June 30 that it was a step closer to returning Volunteers to overseas service — starting with Belize. With a set of health, safety, and security criteria met for the post, Volunteers could arrive as early as this fall. At the request of the government of Belize, Volunteers will engage in literacy work, helping schools recover following disruptions to the education system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Following 15 months of global isolation, tireless work by our staff around the world, and incredible patience from our applicants and host country partners, the Peace Corps is moving forward in the process of returning to our overseas posts,” said Acting Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. “The Peace Corps is advancing with an abundance of caution, flexibility, and pragmatism, but also with so much hope about all the important work that is ahead of us.”

    As waves of the pandemic have swept the U.S. and the world, Peace Corps preparations have included ensuring that every post meet a comprehensive list of internal and external factors — including updating emergency action plans, ensuring availability of reliable transportation routes in and out of the country, confirming the local medical care capacity, and identifying medical evacuation locations. Also crucial: ensuring that the timing of return is safe, respectful of culture and on-the-ground conditions, supportive of a host country’s urgent needs, and compliant with local laws, regulations, and protocols. The Peace Corps anticipates additional country-specific invitations in the upcoming months.

     

    Shoolgirls in Belize with world map painting

    Mapping Their World: GLOW and BRO clubs in Belize finished this project in 2019, working with Peace Corps Volunteer Emily Gale. By the end of 2021, the country hopes to see Volunteers return. Photo by Emily Gale

     

    Controlling COVID

    With a coast on the Caribbean and located between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is just under 8,800 square miles in size — about the same size as Massachusetts — and has a population of about 405,000. Of the 23 countries in North and South America, Belize was the last to report a case of COVID-19. Cases peaked there in December 2020. As we go to press, case incidence is about 13 percent of the maximum; about 26 percent of the population has been vaccinated. There have been some 14,700 infections and 344 deaths from the virus. When arriving, travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test regardless of vaccination status.

    “We are grateful that our government’s consistent efforts to mitigate COVID-19 in Belize have been able to bear fruit in this way, and that the Peace Corps Volunteers will soon be able to return,” said Dian Maheia, who leads Belize’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology. “We are more excited to know that we will be the first country across the world to receive Volunteers again.”

    Prior to the global evacuation of Volunteers in March 2020, Peace Corps Belize was one of the longest continuously running Peace Corps programs in the region. Since 1962, more than 2,000 Volunteers and Peace Corps Response Volunteers have served in communities, with a recent focus on education and rural and family health.