Since the Office of International Programs began study abroad trips to Belize in 2013, Meredith students have found meaningful scholarship, strength, and service in an every-other-summer pilgrimage back to San Ignacio—visiting several Maya ruins spanning Belize and Guatemala, studying courses in postcolonial literature, young adult literature, Maya history, or digital literacy and serving Faith Nazarene, a local K-8 school, through the MeredithReads program.
This year, students showed their love for “the land of the free by the Caribe Sea” even more powerfully as they completed a playground space first built by Meredith through a partnership with the Colton English Club and the chaplain’s office. For the last two years, the Colton English Club has raised funds to provide another piece of play equipment, outfitted with a slide, fort, two swings, a set of rings, and a parallel bar. The playground serves about 300 students each day with a total of nine swings, four see-saws, three slides, and a shaded resting bench. Because harsh weather requires that the playground equipment be painted each year we visit, students stained each structure as well.
The school was immeasurably blessed this year with a newly-minted alumna, Macy Allen, ’17, who had served in Belize in 2015 and returned to work in the K-8 school and to utilize her skills in art. Allen painted a large mural of silhouetted students in each “standard” or grade, national symbols, notable ruins, and a phrase from the Pledge to Belize.
“It was a hot and messy project that challenged me artistically, but to see the final product and the school’s reaction was priceless,” Allen said. The mural and the service of all of the students were recognized during the school’s graduation with a plaque to bring back to campus.
In addition to the service projects and impressive mural, the Meredith group also facilitated the MeredithReads program at Faith Nazarene. Each morning, our students could be seen reading books to elementary children on picnic tables outside the open-air classrooms. As a lover of children, literature, and the literacy that brings them together, my heart swelled each time I turned the corner. In heat that would turn even Southerners into snowflakes and conditions plagued by poverty, Meredith students engaged children with classic books and interactive extension activities.
Reams of construction paper, miles of hiking rainforest, pages upon pages of reading, and gallons of oil paint later (some semi-permanently in our hair), we came back tired, dusty, and stretched in meaningful ways.
Rising junior Kirby Jones captures it perfectly: “There wasn’t much I could hide from Belize … so layer by layer, I agreed to show her. I showed Belize my dry sense of humor; my love for any and all beings in a public school; my weird obsession at the intersection of feminism, theology, and social justice; and my inability to function for more than 24 hours without a cup of coffee. Belize accepted and loved me, no questions asked.”
—Submitted by Associate Professor of English Kelly Roberts