Belize Trip #4:
Building an Orphanage for Jaime and Nancy
They say that when
you help others, you get back more than you give. Regarding my many
service trips to Belize, that's been very true and it's one of
the main reasons I keep going back to Belize.
When I tell people
about my service work in Belize, they sometimes ask me how I got involved with
it. Believe it or not, it all started with two hitchhikers. Late one day in the summer of 2007, I drove to the Fred Meyer grocery
store in Tualatin, Oregon, near Portland, like I do every week to buy
groceries. As I was driving into the parking lot, I noticed a woman in her late
20's wearing an old t-shirt and torn jeans talking to a motorist who was leaving
the parking lot. It just looked odd but I let it pass. I parked my van and
started walking into the store when she approached me and said, "Excuse me,
sir. Are you heading south on Interstate 5?" I replied, "No, I'm going into
the store." She was polite and said, "Oh, I'm sorry to bother
you," and moved on.
I came out of the
store 45 minutes later and she approached me again and asked me the same
question, then recognized me and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I already asked you
that," and started walking away. But then she turned around and came back. "I'm
sorry, but it's getting dark and we really need a ride down to the
Interstate Rest Area in Wilsonville so we can catch a ride to California." She
explained that she and her boyfriend had been in the parking lot all
day trying to hitch a ride but with no luck. It was
starting to get dark and I was concerned about them, so I said, "Sure, I'll give
you a ride." It was 10 miles in the opposite direction from where I was going,
but I drove them down I-5 and dropped them off at the Rest Area, and they were
appreciative. I don't know what happened to them after that, but I
hope they made it to California and are doing all right.
After getting home
that evening, I picked up my mail and saw a course catalog from
Portland Community College (PCC). I flipped through it and noticed a
travel class called, "Build a School in Belize" sponsored by a service
organization called ProWorld, which sounded intriguing, but I turned the page,
finished browsing through the catalog, and threw it in my recycle pile. A
few minutes later, I picked up the catalog again and re-read the
description of that Belize class. I felt good about giving that couple a
ride down the Interstate, so I pondered over the Belize class, thinking about
how good I'd feel if I volunteered for service work. Then I thought about
the work my father had done helping to build schools in Central America in the 1970s and all the stories he told me about
his work there, and that sealed the deal.
I signed up for the PCC class and
went to Belize in 2008 as a participant, then the next year
I led the PCC group to Belize, and went again in the spring of 2009. In December 2009, I went down for the fourth time in two years, this
time leading a small group from PCC including a jovial guy named Gregg, his girlfriend Kate, and a
named Charlie. We were joined in
Belize by a group of 18 American college kids who had each signed up
independently for a ProWorld program called "Winter Break in Belize." None of the kids
knew us PCC folks or each other, and none had been to Belize before.
met at the Belize City airport on Sunday afternoon by a fellow from ProWorld and
we all hopped on a school bus, which we rode for two hours to San Ignacio in western Belize, our home for the next week.
As we drove along the jungle highway with all the windows down, I played tour
guide and pointed out the scenic highlights, like the Hattieville prison, one of
the most notorious prisons in Central America. As I told the group with a
wink, "You don't want to spend your vacation in
The next morning at
orientation, Adrian Bartley, the ProBelize country director, told us about our project that week. A Belizean couple wanted to
build an orphanage called
Barzakh Falah on their land outside of San Ignacio and our goal was to
build the first structure at the orphanage, the caretaker's house. We were
going to employ a new construction technique using bags of compressed dirt instead of
timber, and we'd build something like an igloo. The building would be much sturdier
than the wood-frame construction that's so common in Belize and would be able to endure hurricanes, an
important factor in this area.
The Belizean couple, Jaime and Nancy, were going to help
us that week. Jaime (pronounced "Hi-mee") was an architect and engineer with the Belize government
in Belmopan and had
recently learned about this technique, and his wife, Nancy, had
always dreamed of running an orphanage. They were a charming couple who I got to know well during the next week and they
warmed my heart. They were
both dedicated to their cause and had already adopted several children, so I was going to do everything I could to help them
realize their dream.
Arriving in Belize on Sunday afternoon after a 3-hour flight from
Above center: We had
orientation in San Ignacio on Monday morning, 18 American college kids
and four of us "older kids" from Portland Community College.
That's Adrian Bartley, the country director for ProWorld.
Then at noon we walked to the nearby Cahal Pech
Mayan ruins, on a hill above San Ignacio.
Here's the library in the village of Succotz, which I'd worked on during my two previous visits to Belize. It's looking good and
is starting to take shape.
Above center: Here's a
better picture of Adrian with ProWorld. He organized the whole project.
After orientation on Monday, we took a dip in the Mopan River near
We started building the orphanage the next day.
This is Jaime and Nancy, who own the land. Jaime is an architect and engineer with the
Belize government and Nancy is a former Miss Belize Tourism, but more than that,
a very sweet person. They're both
very warm and generous.
Above center: Making progress on our first day. We've laid
the first ring of bags for the caretaker's house. This was a new,
environmentally-friendly and affordable way to build a house and was probably
the first structure of its kind in Belize.
Jenna pouring dirt. The process was the same:
fill the bag with dirt, place it and tamp it down, then repeat
the process until an entire layer of bags has been placed.
Good Progress, and Visiting an Old Friend
on Monday, we started working at the orphanage on Tuesday morning and the four
of us PCC folks and 18 college kids made steady progress, with Jaime leading the
way and showing us what to do. It started raining the next day, though,
and by Thursday we were
working in a mud bath, but we still made good progress. Ben, one of the
got us a large canopy to keep the rain off the structure, which helped a lot. He
had to buy several cases of beer from the owner to get it, but the canopy proved
invaluable and we had 10 cases of beer, to boot, which the kids made quick work
of on New Year's Eve.
process itself was pretty simple. First we filled a bag with dirt, sealed it shut, and
put it in a circle on top of an existing bag, staggering the overlap. Then we
pounded the whole layer of bags flat, laid down a string of barbed wire to
reduce slippage between layers, and started a new layer. When a layer of
bags was finished, we
plastered the outside to keep the rain from getting in. The roof would
gradually taper inward like an igloo and the building would have a living area
below with a sleeping loft above. Jaime estimated that the whole
structure could be built for less than $1,000 and it would be very sturdy and able to withstand strong
hurricanes. It was a great concept and as we finished each layer, it seemed
to be working.
I was working at
the orphanage on Thursday afternoon when I glanced over at the field and saw a
familiar face. It was Carlos Jimenez, my friend from Succotz village who'd
I met two years earlier during my first visit to Belize when I helped build a
library in Succotz. I saw him again last year on Belize trip #2 when I
worked with a group of PCC folks in Succotz, but I was really surprised to see
him here at the orphanage, many miles from his village. He walked over and with a shy smile
said, "Hello, Mr. Del," (Carlos is very formal), then gave me a hug (and
sometimes he's not). He
heard I was coming back to Belize, so he took a bus from Succotz to the
ProBelize office in San Ignacio and asked about me and they told him I was
working on the orphanage, so he took another bus and found the worksite.
was touched that he'd go to all that trouble just to see me, but not surprised, because that's how many Belizeans are. I'd given Carlos my business card on my first
visit in 2008 and shortly after I returned to Portland, I got an e-mail from him saying,
"Hello, Mr. Del. This is my very first e-mail," which made me
smile. As you can probably tell from my stories about Belize, there's a
greater emphasis on personal relationships here than in America and less
emphasis on money or possessions, which is one reason I always enjoy coming back. Things
are just different here, and in a good way.
Our group worked
on the orphanage all day Thursday despite more rain, then we had our annual
New Year's Eve bash on the roof of the ProBelize office Thursday night. Us
PCC folks stayed up until midnight to watch the fireworks and then promptly went back to
Log Cab-Inn and went to bed (that's what happens when you get older),
but some of the college kids
stayed up until the wee hours drinking those 10 cases of beer, which they
probably regretted the next
day. Some of the girls looked a little sick on Friday morning and had to
make a few trips behind the shed, but were in
good spirits nonetheless and got a lot done. Friday was the PCC group's final day and after putting in another hard day's work,
we said goodbye to everyone. I'd enjoyed working with
all of them, and they
with us, and there were lots of hugs. The college kids were going to visit the
Carribean keys that
weekend then return the following week to continue working on the orphanage. I
was thinking about extending my stay in Belize an extra week so I could help
them out, but my sister in the U.S. was having some health issues, so instead I
returned to the U.S. after a quick trip to the keys.
After we said our
goodbyes, Gregg, Kate and I returned to Log Cab-Inn and hosed each other off -- and I'm not kidding. At the end of each day, we were so covered with mud
that we literally sprayed each other with a garden hose to get it all off.
But despite the mud, it had been a productive week, we'd made a lot of progress,
and Jaime and Nancy were well on their way to realizing their dream.
Nancy, another Nancy, Jenna, and Carla taking a break.
Above center: Here's
Jaime tamping down the second layer. After laying some barbed wire down to
increase cohesion, we could begin laying the third layer.
Jaime and three of his kids. What a cute family!
The caretaker's house is slowly taking shape. It had
rained a lot so things were starting to get muddy.
Above center: And here's
proof. At the end of each day, I was covered with mud and had to wash it
all off with a garden hose. But we were making
Glenn, Emily and Carla having fun and getting muddy, but
not necessarily in that order.
My friend, Carlos Jimenez, who took two buses just to see me.
This picture was taken last year in his village of Succotz when I worked there
on the library.
Jenna's laying barbed wire so the layers don't slip.
By the end
of the week, we'd made good progress. This was the PCC group's last day,
but the college kids were going to work here for another week.
Gregg and Kate, my PCC compatriots, enjoying another great
meal at Log Cab-Inn. Gregg
has a great sense of humor and Kate is a good singer, as she proved during
On New Year's Eve, we had a party on the roof of the
ProBelize building in San Antonio. Adrian's sister from Belize City is cooking up
some BBQ chicken.
At midnight, we watched the fireworks from the roof, then us
PCC folks went to bed. Of course, the college kids stayed up all night
drinking... and most of them regretted it the next day!
Time for Fun, and Caving with Carlos
Saturday is always
our play day in Belize, our reward for a long week of hard work. In the
morning, Gregg, Kate and I went to Barton Creek cave, about an hour's drive from
Log Cab-Inn. We had a great leader, an independent tour guide named
John Chuc, who
I highly recommend (and I don't make recommendations in this website very
often). John picked us up in his van at 9 a.m. and we headed down the
bumpy road bound for Barton Creek.
It had been raining
most of the week, so the rivers were pretty high making our journey a challenge.
We approached a riverbank hoping to ford the river in the van and John stopped to
scope it out. The river looked awfully high to me and I would've turned
back, but John wanted to drive through it, so I didn't object since I figured it
was his van and his transmission. As we slowly drove through the river,
water started pouring into the van and I lifted my feet so they'd stay dry, but
we made the crossing intact without drifting down the river and out to the
Caribbean. Barton Creek cave was spectacular, as always, and we canoed
through it with our spotlights for a half hour, checking out the cave formations
and the Mayan pottery left here a thousand years ago. As I've said before,
Barton Creek cave is sort of like the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at
Disneyland, except you get to paddle your own canoe.
As we paddled
through the cave, I saw a spotlight up ahead indicating an approaching canoe and
then I faintly heard a familiar voice. As the canoe got closer, I could make out the guide in the back and recognized his voice. "Carlos!", I
shouted. "How's it going?" It was my friend Carlos Cisneros, a teacher in
the village of San Antonio, who I see every time I come to Belize. I'd sent Carlos an e-mail a few
weeks earlier from Portland saying that I was coming down to Belize but didn't
hear back from him, and now here he was in a jungle cave 20 miles from the
nearest village. Yep, it's a small world. After our cave expeditions, he
talked and it was great to see him again, and he said he hadn't been
able to check his e-mail for a while. Gregg and Kate were laughing
hard because all week, no matter where we were, I kept bumping into people I
knew -- and now I bumped into my good friend Carlos in the middle of nowhere.
But that's Belize.
John, our guide,
drove us back to Log Cab-Inn that afternoon, we ate lunch, and then headed off
for Xunantunich (pronounced "shoe-NAN-too-nitch"), a group of spectacular Mayan
ruins about 10 miles from San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border. Despite
the drippy weather, Gregg and Kate had a good time exploring the ruins and
learning about the Mayan culture. The three of us made a
good team and we had a lot of fun together all week, in fact.
The next day,
Sunday, Gregg, Kate and I took the bus into Belize City and they flew back to the U.S. while I went
on to Caye Caulker. It was windy and rainy the next day, though, and all
the dive boats had cancelled their dives, so I spent most of the day walking around the Caye
and taking pictures. I flew back to
Belize City the next day, hopped on a Continental jet, transferred planes in
Houston as I always do, and returned to Portland that night.
It was a good
trip, I bumped into a lot of old friends and made some new ones, we got a lot done, and Jaime and Nancy were
very appreciative. Once again, though, I received so much more than I gave, and I know
everyone in our group felt the same way. And for me, it had all started
with two hitchhikers in a parking lot.
Assessing a river crossing on the way to Barton Creek
cave. Um... John, is this a good idea?
Above center: We
drove through it but this river was too deep to ford, so we shimmied across the
bridge. That's our guide, John, helping Kate over the river. One
step at a time...
We finally made it to Barton Creek cave and paddled back
into the cave for a half-hour. Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate's life for me...
surprise encounter in the cave. This is my friend Carlos Cisneros from San
Antonio. Carlos and I are like two ships passing in the night. Oh
no, that's right, we have headlamps.
Above center: Gregg
enjoyed cranking the ferry across the Mopan River near Xunantunich.
Walking through the Xunantunich ruins, outside of San
Ignacio. Mayan ruins are everywhere in Belize and this is one of the most
impressive. This temple is about 140 feet high and we climbed to the
Gregg and Kate had fun on the bus ride back to Log
Cab-Inn that evening.
Above center: And I
enjoyed the bus ride to Belize City the next morning. I'm
burning DVDs of my photos for Gregg and Kate.
After saying goodbye to them in Belize City, I hopped on a
water taxi and went out to Caye Caulker.
It was too windy for snorkeling and no outfitters were going
to the reef, so I walked around Caye Caulker and enjoyed the laid-back
Above center: After a couple days in the keys, I hopped on a plane and
flew back to the Belize City airport...
Above right: ... where
I got my ticket for Portland. So long Belize, until next time!
February 27, 2011:
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
July 29, 2009: A
Wedding in Tucson
and a Road Trip to Montana
April 18, 2009:
Belize Trip #3 (Building a School with NYU)
January 24, 2009:
Abu Dhabi and a Road Trip in Oman
January 5, 2009:
Belize Trip #2 (Two Schools and an Orphanage)
6, 2008: Around the World in Eight Days (Part 2: Abu
Dhabi to Portland)
6, 2008: Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1:
Portland to Abu Dhabi)
February 20, 2008:
The San Antonio School (San Ignacio, Belize)
February 17, 2008:
The Succotz Library (San Ignacio, Belize)
February 16, 2008: Old Friends / Belize it or Not (San Ignacio, Belize)
May 28, 2007: Oregon
Bound (Portland, Oregon)
August 7, 2005: Back To
Work (Redmond, Washington)
June 25, 2004: Life
in Bellingham (Bellingham, Washington)
December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation (Bellingham, Washington)
March 28, 2003: My Father (Bellingham, Washington)
October 30, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
July 24, 2002 (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)
July 12, 2002 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 1, 2002 (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)
June 25, 2002
(Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)
June 18, 2002: Part 2 (Port Orford, Oregon)
June 18, 2002: Part 1 (Port Orford, Oregon)
May 22, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
April 7, 2002 (Sydney, Australia)
April 4, 2002 (Coffs Harbour, Australia)
April 1, 2002 (Hervey Bay, Australia)
March 28, 2002 (Airlie Beach, Australia)
March 25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
March 16, 2002 (Winton, Australia)
March 13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
March 11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
March 8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
March 5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
February 18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
February 7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
January 25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
January 20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
January 16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
December 24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
December 20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
December 10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
December 3, 2001: Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
December 3, 2001: Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
October 18, 2001: Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
August 30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
August 18, 2001 (Watertown, South Dakota)
August 17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
August 14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
August 6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
July 23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
July 22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
July 20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
July 18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
July 16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
July 14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
July 9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
July 8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
July 5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
June 29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
June 27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
June 24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
June 20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
June 18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
June 11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
June 2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
May 19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 19, 2001 (Bellingham,
April 5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)