Saturday, May 17, 2014

Final Weeks

Our last couple of days together were bittersweet, but busy enough with projects and activities to keep us from dwelling too much on the sadness of leaving.

One project that we worked on was finding ways to make art out of trash that we cleaned up off the side of the road.  Different folks made wind chimes, repurposed radios, homemade corkboards, metal flowers, and more.  There was even a short song & dance presentation by one team of artists!

Mara displays her long-haired fish (made from the styrofoam inserts of water bottle
caps) on Rachel's corkboard (made from toilet paper rolls inside an old air
conditioner unit face)

Mark's flower, made out of metal scraps and energy drink tabs

Three of the guys took on a bigger project as a gift to the community: building a bridge.  We have a stream that runs through campus, and parts of it are a bit too steep and deep to get across to the other side.  But Derek, Eric and Jeremy took it upon themselves to bridge the biggest gap with materials they found right there in the woods.

The fellas sitting on the bridge, dubbed "Van Oppenboer Pass"

Another exciting event was the 5th Semi-Annual CCSP Belize Small Group Olympics.  All three of the small groups came together in an event that tested our strength, determination, agility, and mental toughness.

Ren deeply concentrated on balancing a mop

Josh versus Eric in the lightsaber battle

Joelle hurries to fit a pile of clothespins on her face

It has now been more than a week since we all parted ways, and campus is very quiet.  Our students have returned to their homes and are sharing their experiences with their families and friends, and seeing their worlds through new eyes.  We miss you guys - thanks for a great semester!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Saltwater Synopsis

Here is a scenic overview of the week that we spent studying Tropical Marine Ecology on a small island in the Caribbean.

We lived here:

Our lodgings over the water

We had class here:

and here:

Experiencing littoral forest, the original and natural (though now uncommon)
ecosystem of a tropical island

or occasionally here:

We learned about these:

Mark holds a brittle star found on the reef crest

Taylor holds a slate pencil urchin found on the reef crest

We did research projects here:

Rachel, Jeremy, Mara & Marissa study the sea grass beds by our cabanas

We studied here:

Josh reads about marine ecology in a hammock

Marissa & Mara ID some fish they saw on the morning snorkel
(Photo by Rachel Carson)

And we marveled at God's beautiful sunsets:

Thanks to professor Ian Johnston, and to Glover's Atoll Marine Reserve for another excellent week at CCSP Belize...

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Abundance of Field Trips, Abundance of Food

Two weeks ago was the second installment of our Sustainable Community Development course, so we took the opportunity to experience a handful of different types of development going on right here in Belize.  We toured an oil & gas company, heard from a Mennonite farmer, toured the biggest dairy producer in the country, learned from a government funded agricultural research center, visited a high-end eco-lodge, took a look at the cruise ship terminal, and finally, observed a community-run wildlife sanctuary.  It was busy, but it kept us interested and was packed full of new perspectives, challenging questions and enjoyable experiences.  Here are some memorable photographs from the week:

We had to wear hairnets for our tour of Western Dairies.  Hairnets = photo op

Taylor and Mark petting a baby Brahman at Central Farm, which is run by
the Ministry of Agriculture for the purposes of research and helping out
local farmers

At the Community Baboon Sanctuary, local Belizeans work together to preserve
the habitat of wild howler monkey troupes on their own land.  They are around
the monkeys a lot and have gotten to know them, so this howler was not as
frightened of Derek as it would normally be.

When the week was over, we had Easter to celebrate!  We spent a lot of time preparing a very delectable and special meal.  A number of us contributed dishes that our families traditionally eat for Easter back home, and everyone spent much of the day in the kitchen helping.

Micalagh, Derek & Jeremy tackle the sweet potatoes

Fruit salad prep with Mara & Marissa

The group effort was a lot of fun, and paid off in the most delicious way possible.

Some of the spread

Happy (belated) Easter, everyone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two Weeks as Interns

Our students have just finished up two of the most challenging and exciting weeks that CCSP Belize has to offer: Internships!  These weeks include working with a Belizean organization that fits each student's personal interests & passions, living with a local Belizean family, an abundance of new adventures, and a healthy dose of personal growth.  Students gain new skills, new perspectives, new ideas on the futures they want to pursue, and a new respect for Belizean life.  Check out how each of our eight, great students experienced this for themselves:

Marissa Beversluis
The Belize Zoo
Marissa with two tapirs, the national animal of Belize
I had a fun and informative couple of weeks at the Belize Zoo for my internship!  I spent the majority of my time at the zoo helping out in the Animal Management department.  Most of the time this meant I was shadowing one of the keepers for the day and helping them with whatever they were doing.  The most common tasks I did included cutting up food (lots of fruit, vegetables, and chicken) and bringing it to the animals, cleaning out animals' enclosures, and washing lots of dishes.  Though I did many of the same things each day, there was always something new or different to be done, which kept things interesting.  One of my favorite parts of this experience was getting a closer, more personal look at the animals and spending some quality time with a few of them, like a macaw named Bella who was formerly someone's pet, and a rambunctious baby ocelot named Rhaburn.  I also enjoyed getting to know some of the employees at the zoo and interacting with the visitors from Belize and all over the world.  Getting to see the "behind the scenes" of the zoo was a very unique opportunity that I really appreciated and enjoyed.

Rachel Carson
San Antonio Women's Group

Helping out inside the gift shop
I worked with the San Antonio Women's Group for the past two weeks, which is a women's cooperative of 9 women that are working to keep their Mayan heritage alive, as well as help provide for their families.  They make pottery and embroidery, raise and sell chickens, and give short tours to school groups and tourists to give them an idea of what goes into making the pottery and corn tortillas (a staple of their diet).  The group is becoming better known for what they are doing, so we had several (5) groups varying in size come through during my two weeks there.  I helped a lot with preparing for them to visit, as many of them were larger groups that had ordered lunch with their tour.  I was also able to learn how they make their pottery and embroidery.  The pottery is made through a mixture of molds (which is what I did), handmade items, and the pottery wheel.  My embroidery was quite simple compared to the beautiful pieces the women make; plus I was much slower!  The women were a lovely, talented group that were very welcoming and made me feel quite at home.

Eric Grootenboer
Friends for Conservation and Development

I had a very rewarding experience with the Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) working in the Chiquibul National Forest.  I was assigned to work for one week in the Chiquibul with the rangers at Tapir Camp and got to experience life in the jungle.  I learned many valuable skills along the way including how to use a machete properly and how to make flour tortillas.  My duties in the Chiquibul were mainly based around the newly built visitor centre.  I did a lot of raking and cleaning up the area around the building as well as picking up garbage and tidying up.  I also gathered some wild orchids to be tied up as ornamental flowers by the entrance of the building.  Another task I was assigned to help with was cleaning and fixing the tractors that had served to transport rangers into the interior on patrols.  We also chopped the vegetation that had overgrown the Chiquibul National Park sign as well as the grass around Tapir Camp.  It was a very productive week in the Chiquibul and I enjoyed learning about the jungle and the challenges the rangers face in protecting the park from illegal activity. 
The second part of my internship involved working in the FCD office in San José Succotz.  I was given the task of laminating maps to make them waterproof, as well as other office duties.  I also was assigned to clean up the yard and rake all the fallen leaves around the office.
These two aspects of my internship served to benefit me in learning more about conservation and how the wildness in wilderness can be preserved; I had a great time at my internship with the FCD.

Taylor Estabrooks
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment

assisting in a Green Sea Turtle necropsy
I had the amazing opportunity to intern at the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) in Punta Gorda, Belize.  I participated in projects including Hicattee monitoring, water quality monitoring, a Green Sea Turtle necropsy, and Rosewood monitoring.  Hicattee monitoring involved tracking endangered aquatic turtles to determine their location.  This species is both endangered and an important cultural aspect to the local community.  Therefore, its conservation is both imminent and urgent.  Next, I participated in a four-day water quality monitoring expedition to the Cayes in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.  There, we took sediment and water samples at various locations in the marine reserve and completed a fish stock assessment of commercial fishing vessels in the marine reserve.  Thirdly, I assisted by taking the coroner's notes for a necropsy of a Green Sea Turtle found dead in the marine reserve (as seen in the photo).  This in particular was a truly unique experience and something I will not soon forget.  Lastly, I assisted in the beginning work of a Rosewood monitoring project.  My time here at TIDE taught me the true importance of conservation and opened my eyes to new fields of study.  It was an experience that will not be soon forgotten!

Derek Opp
St. Gabriel's Clinic

My internship at St. Gabriel's Clinic presented me with experiences that I would never have been exposed to in the States.  I was able to observe surgeries such as the removal of a forehead abscess, aneurysm, and gallbladder during my time in the clinic.  I was able to work alongside the nurse in the clinic, and was not bound by some of the regulations that limit patient contact in the States.  I performed several duties such as taking vitals, conducting basic clinical interviews, sterilizing equipment, organizing medical inventory, assisting the nurse, and shadowing various personnel in the clinic.  I also was given the opportunity to experience how a private hospital is operated in Belize by traveling to La Loma Luz Hospital.  There I was able to make some fast connections and be exposed to diagnostic testing in Belize.  I also took a couple days to investigate traditional medicine in Belize.  I spoke with a local bush doctor and went out into the rainforest to gather herbs that she uses in her herbal remedies.  She demonstrated how to make these remedies, and I enjoyed listening to her passion in her work.  This was also an experience unique to Belize; I was introduced to plants that have been used for millennia for their healing properties, and it fascinated me that the traditions have been passed down and are still used today.  Through these very different experiences, I was exposed to a variety of forms of healthcare in Belize, and gained a considerable amount of understanding of the country's healthcare system.

Lauren Dabiero
St. Hilda's Anglican Church

I interned with St. Hilda's Anglican Church, a part of the Anglican Diocese here in Belize.  My day always began with Morning Prayer, a beautiful practice in the Tradition that works as a spiritual breakfast.  Morning Prayer is designed to annually walk active Anglicans through most of the Hebrew Bible and all of the New Testament.  The Psalms are prayed through every seven weeks.  This was a treasured aspect of my experience, much like the daily home visits my supervisor and I took in the evenings.  Usually, we went about hearing the needs or joys pressing the hearts of those in Georgeville, and I gained a deeper understanding of Belizean culture as we visited people of every age and status group.
Aside from these valuable daily activities, the other major portion of my internship was working with the affiliated schools.  I presented eight chapel messages for local Anglican schools, beginning on my second day.  I was even blessed to lead the entire service by the second week and final school.  The church is highly involved in the schools, so I also led teacher devotions at two locations.  Small group discussions with the teachers and large group preaching with the students provided excellent new opportunities for me to learn about my skills and passions as I pursue a future in ministry.

Mara Vander Maten
San José Succotz Roman Catholic School

My internship was at the San José Succotz Roman Catholic School.  Over the course of the two weeks I did a couple of tasks.  Those tasks included supervising classrooms, leading some physical education classes for multiple grades, as well as doing tutoring and one-on-one sessions.  I spent most of my time primarily working with two boys who are in Standard IV.  They were ten years old and were falling behind in reading and mathematics.  All seven hours of the the school day I would take one of them and work with them on learning and memorizing sight words, learning how to sound out words, and reading comprehension.  The other half of the day we spent working on math.  On Fridays at the end of the day is when I would lead physical education classes.  We would start off with a variety of stretches and exercises and then end with a game of their favorite sport, softball.  This was a very humbling and transforming internship.  Being able to interact with the children, as well as the staff, was a great opportunity to understand more about the country and the people that are here.

Jeremy Van Woerden
Sustainable Harvest International

For the internship weeks I was able to work at Sustainable Harvest International - Belize.  This organization is located in the coastal town of Punta Gorda in southern Belize.  The staff were all very friendly and I was able to be completely immersed into Belizean culture and into all their roles at SHI.  Sustainable Harvest works to help farmers out in remote villages by providing them with training and tools which allow them to increase agricultural yields and better supply for their family, all while preserving the natural jungle forests that surround the area.  In order to achieve this, SHI has many ongoing projects.  I was able to experience a few of these practices, such as the building of a cement cookstove, the building of a solar latrine, and the delivery of chicken wire and coconut plants to needy farmers.  I was also able to accompany SHI staff in checking up on farmers who have micro-credit loans, as well as help in taking numerous soil samples.  Another event I was able to participate in was the day-long training sessions for farmers from a remote village.  This training day included classroom sessions as well as practical, hands-on lessons.  I greatly enjoyed my experience at Sustainable Harvest International - Belize.  They have an amazing staff who are dedicated to bettering the lives of the people they work with, while still promoting the practices that preserve the unique tropical forests of Belize.

Many thanks to the wonderful Belizean families and organizations who took care of our students for these two weeks!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tropical Forest Adventures

We recently spent a week in the forests of tropical Belize.  This was fitting, as it was our Tropical Forest Ecology course.  In fact, professor Jeff Port (Bethel University) took this quite seriously and made sure that we spent as little time in the building classroom, and as much time in the forest classroom as possible.

Learning about the strangler fig, a parasitic plant that grows around and smothers trees

Between the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (part of the largest national park in Belize) and our own 17-acre campus, there was no scarcity of things to explore, discover and learn from in the wilderness.  Thankfully we also had Jeff's expansive wealth of knowledge to help us focus our lenses and teach us the things that nature couldn't overtly tell us.

Gallivanting about in the forest with notebooks and binoculars in hand, we got to do and see some pretty amazing stuff.  For example:

See the dewlap of an anole (a male anole will display his brightly-colored dewlap to assert territorial dominance or attract a mate).

Try a taste of a termite (yes, you can eat them!  They taste like carrots or mint, depending on whom you ask).

Marissa grabs an unsuspecting termite off its mound

Have class literally in the middle of the (beautiful) bush,

Learning about relationships and adaptations in the forest

Eat lunch at the mouth of a cave.

Rio Frio cave in southwestern Belize

See Christmas plants in 80-degree weather.

Taylor discovers that we have poinsettia trees on our campus

And if you're lucky, you may even get the opportunity to push Harvey, our 15-passenger van, through some mud.

Handprint aftermath

One of the favorite activities of the week was mist-netting with birds.

Mara, Eric and Taylor scrutinize a Spot-breasted wren

Jeff, who has professional training in catching and banding birds, showed us how to catch some birds and hold them (without harming them), study them a little bit and let them go in a short enough time so as not to stress them out.

A Tawny-crowned greenlet

The stunning Blue bunting

Some of the students even got the chance to hold a bird in their open palms when Jeff was ready to release it.  Many times, the bird would lie there resting for a few moments before it realized that it was free to fly away (which was quite amusing).

Ren enraptured by the Ochre-bellied flycatcher

Rachel overcomes her fear of birds with the help of an adorably
 oblivious Dusky antbird

We certainly learned a lot from our adventures, and as usual the Belizean forest did not disappoint!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dreams of A Better World

Part 2 of our God & Nature course was nothing short of inspiring and thought provoking.  Professor Corwynn Beals (George Fox University) invited us to try on different lenses for the week as he presented theological and philosophical questions surrounding issues such as good, evil, and humans' place in separating and judging things as such.

He also led us through a bit of self-exploration to uncover some of our core beliefs that affect why we choose to live the ways that we live.  Once we uncovered these, and analyzed the deception and/or truth in them, we thought about what some of the core beliefs of our culture are, and how these may be hindering us from achieving the dreams that God has for his world.

There were several incredibly hopeful moments throughout the class.  One powerful instance was when the students all sat down together and brainstormed about dreams for how to create a better world, based on the discussion and reading they had been doing all week.  They also thought individually on the matter and presented papers with practical, first-step solutions that they could carry out back home.

A theme woven throughout the week was having class in outdoor settings, whether that was on our 2nd floor deck, walking along the Mopan River, standing in the water at Monkey Falls, or hiking to the place where the Macal & Mopan rivers meet up to form the Belize River.  True to its title, this week was certainly one that more deeply informed our relationships with both God and nature.

Hanging out at Monkey Falls after class

foot bridge over the Mopan river

Many thanks to Corwynn for leading such an influential and valuable week!