Review Volunteer Rebecca Sutherland in Belize Orphanage program
My favorite memory:
My favorite memory was walking the kids to school each morning. The kids start waking up at 5:00 am to bathe, get ready for school, and eat breakfast. By 7:30 am, they all congregate near the front gate to walk to the bus stop. The first morning that we went out to help walk the kids to school, we brought a portable speaker to play music. The kids LOVED it!!
First, we played ‘Let It Go’ from the ‘Frozen’ soundtrack, and all the girls were immediately singing the words. Many of the boys yelled out songs to play. They all started dancing when we played the songs. It was so fun. The tradition of the music on the way to the bus stop in the morning continued for the rest of the week.
Once the bus came each morning at 8:00 am, the kids would line up to board the bus, many of them still dancing to the music while they were in line. Every day, they waved and smiled as the bus drove away - and all I thought was, “I can’t wait to see them again this afternoon!!"
I was surprised that:
(1) I was surprised by how welcoming and trusting all of the kids are. I would have thought that environments of abuse and neglect may prompt the kids to be shut down, quiet, and distrusting. The kids are amazing. They are welcoming, fun to be around, sweet, and accepting.
We had so much fun playing outside with the kids, doing homework, eating, cleaning, etc. with the kids - it was as if we had known them for years.
(2) I was surprised by the constant support, guidance, and security of the orphanage caregivers. The orphanage caregivers treat the kids like as if they are their own children, and the kids grow up in an environment of love, support, and discipline as a result.
The most difficult thing I experienced was:
It was difficult interacting with the children knowing each of them has come to the orphanage as a result of neglect and/or abuse.
The best lesson I received was:
(1) I learned resourcefulness and creativity. We wanted to do fun things for the kids everyday. With limited resources, we became creative to do fun games and parties for the kids each day.
(2) I learned gratitude and appreciation for basic staples in my life that the children at the orphanage do not always have. For example, the power went out one night, and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. We all just waited until it came back on. It made me feel powerless, and stuck. Also, I realized that I take simple things for granted like clean drinking water, air conditioning and even having a glass of wine each night.
Tips for future volunteers:
The orphanage has a laid back approach to directing the volunteer staff, most likely because they are in need of the volunteers to keep the orphanage running. It is understandable. For volunteers who are really wanting to give back, it is helpful to have a schedule or list of possible things to do to help at different times of the day. Be proactive and jump in.
What I have learned:
7:00 am - Be out front to help the kids get to school
Once the kids leave for school, there is downtime. There are options to occupy time before the kids come back from school.
8:00 am - 3:00 pm-
Help with laundry
Go to the daycare, and support the pre-school teachers
Relax, and rest to be sure you are attentive and available for the kids between 3 - 7 pm
Clean the dorms, the library, the rec room, and/or the kitchen
Leave the orphanage to explore Belize, but be sure to be back before 3:00 pm for when the kids return!!
3:00 pm - 7:00 pm - help the kids with homework, play outside with them, help get ready for bed, support in kitchen, etc.
Also, another tip is to ask more questions about what to do to help the kids. They will not ask for things. We learned right as we are leaving that a previous volunteer chartered a bus, and brought all of the kids to a waterpark for the day. If we would have known that, we would have done that BOTH Saturday AND Sunday we were here. We just didn’t even know it was a possibility.
Lastly, bring fans, and prepare for extreme heat!
Personal Paragraph (Testimonial):
I had a great experience volunteering at the orphanage. I wanted to volunteer at an orphanage to gain a broader perspective of the world, learn about people less fortunate than me, give back to those in need, to get in touch with my feelings, to bond in a strenuous environment with friends, and overall, to connect to and mentor children.
Spending a week at the Orphanage satisfied all of my goals, and more.
I learned that there are children and people way less fortunate than me that couldn’t be more happy to be alive. Spending time with the kids dancing, playing games, and helping with homework made me really feel like I was making a difference. I laughed a lot with my friends about the things that we sacrificed on the trip. We had no choice but to ‘suck it up’ and deal with the lack of air conditioning, the slim food options, and the limited resources we had. We had fun with it.
Lastly, many times throughout the week, I found myself getting emotional around the kids. I had feelings of appreciation when they were happy with a fun and simple ice cream party. I had feelings of sadness and hurt when I thought about the kids ever being in an environment of abuse and neglect. I had feelings of guilt when I craved air conditioning and good food. Mostly, I had feelings of happiness, love, joy, and cheerfulness when I witnessed the kids smile, laugh, and play.
I enjoyed my experience volunteering at the orphanage. I will miss the kids when we leave, and hope to keep in touch, and possibly come back to see them one day.
How would you rate experience working with ABV staff, both in the USA, and in country?
Great in the USA, very responsive. In Belize, we received an email checkin, but nothing else. We did not expect anything else. So our experience working with the ABV staff was very good.
How would you describe your accommodation?
We moved our living space into an apartment above the orphanage office on our 2nd night in Belize. The apartment we then stayed in for the remainder of the trip was great. We had separate bedrooms with big closets, a common area to hang out with comfortable couches, a balcony with chairs, a refrigerator and freezer, a common clean bathroom, fans, and wifi. We also bought ‘coils’ to fight off mosquitos. All was as comfortable as we could possibly be during our stay, and as expected.
Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?