by Moira Cullings
Atchison — Although Belize is known for its recreational opportunities and coastal tourist attractions, life for the native people of this country is anything but easy.
But if you travel south to the town of Benque Viejo del Carmen, it is not the poverty of the Belizeans that strikes you.
If you look a little closer, in fact, said Zane Littlefield, a senior at Benedictine College in Atchison, the innate kindness of the Benque community will “blow your expectations out of the water.”
For nearly 10 years, student volunteers from Benedictine have dedicated their spring break to travel to Benque for mission work.
This year’s trip will take place from March 4-13, and the student leaders are more than excited to go back to what they call their second home.
“Once you go, it’s kind of hard not to want to go back,” said Littlefield, one of four students that will lead this year’s group of 27 to the small Central American country.
“Ever since we’ve been going, the relationship down there has just grown a lot, which is really cool to see,” he said.
Anna Hagenkord, a junior at Benedictine as well as one of the Belize leaders, is excited to return to Benque for the second time and see the people she worked with last year.
“The relationships I made with the people of Benque changed my heart,” she said. “I got to experience a beautiful part of the world while helping the kids grow in their faith and education.”
What makes this trip unique is the social aspect, said Littlefield. In just one week, the Benedictine team is able to build lasting relationships with the people they work with, and to spread the faith through actions.
Each morning, the women tutor at Benque’s Mount Carmel Primary School. Although the children lack basic school supplies, said Hagenkord, they are “overwhelmingly grateful for every little thing they are given.”
The children’s first response when they see the Benedictine women is to give them anything they can find in their desks. Erasers, coloring book pages and pencils are just a few of their offerings, even when those are the only supplies they have.
“They are some of the most outgoing, yet kindhearted, children I have ever met,” said Hagenkord.
While the women are at the school, the men work on construction jobs at the local church, the schools or wherever they are needed.
“Last year, we helped an elderly lady who had a large family and no husband,” said Littlefield. “She had a terminal illness and was very, very poor.
“Pretty much everything that she had was given to her.”
The Benedictine team rehabbed her flooring, outdoor kitchen and outdoor shower.
“Before, the shower was pretty much just a mud pit with four tree branches coming out of the ground,” he said.
At the end of the week, some of the Benedictine students were able to put together their extra money to buy soap, kitchen supplies and toys for the family, along with other basic necessities.
“That’s something we’ll try to do again this year,” said Littlefield.
Each afternoon, the Benedictine team hosts a soccer camp for area kids.
Soccer, said Littlefield, is a way “for the kids to be able to come together and do something they love, and to get them away from the hardships of life.”
For a lot of the children, this is the only organized camp they will participate in all year. Many of them play barefoot and in their school uniforms, for lack of anything else to wear.
In total, the Benedictine students usually host anywhere from 60-100 kids.
The goal of the camp is to bring the community together and to teach the children values they might not learn at home.
“Last year, we had one kid who was kind of the bully of the pack,” said Littlefield. “But the teenagers gave us an idea of his house situation, and how his parents were drug addicts, and how sometimes they would give him drugs.”
“Just to see that is actually happening is really sad. And how it’s expressed in his personality is really hard to see,” he continued. “But we go down there for people like that.”
Katie Miskin, a sophomore making the Belize trip for the first time, is most excited to experience a different culture and new way of life.
“I would say I have lived a very sheltered life and I rarely see poverty,” she said.
“I believe this trip will help to open my eyes and heart to how most of the world lives today,” she added. “I am ready to be part of the change.”
Lend a hand
For more information on the Belize mission trip, go check out their GoFundMe page or contact Anna Hagenkord at: Anna firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial donations, school supplies and soccer gear can be mailed to:
1020 N. 2nd St.
Atchison, KS 66002