Part of our agenda in Belize includes a service-learning project, where our class went into the local schools and help out in the classrooms, sharing our knowledge with those from ages 4 to 20. We split up into two different groups; one went to Tumil K’in Center for Learning, which is a private Mayan upper school, and the other went to a primary Catholic school located in a Mayan community called Santa Cruz. The two of us went to Santa Cruz and were assigned to the Infant Levels I & II, which consisted of 24 four to five year olds.
When we first entered the classroom at Santa Cruz and introduced ourselves, we were on our own without a teacher, and the children were very shy and hesitant to speak up. However, after we played some games and sang the alphabet song, most of them opened up quite a bit. As we continued with our lessons on shapes and letters, we found them harder and harder to control. The kids aren’t as heavily disciplined here in Belize compared to our experiences in the United States, so we found that the kids were much more physical with each other. We constantly had to break up physical fights, between both boys and girls, and when we asked the teachers for band-aids, they stared at us blankly. We began to realize the cultural differences in their teaching methods and rule enforcement. It seems that the teachers do not baby the children when they get hurt, and don’t punish them very often but when they do, they use physical force, as suggested by some of the students. Many of our kids kept trying to jump out the windows, but they politely raised their hands and called us “Miss” whenever they wanted to leave the classroom to get water or go to the bathroom. In fact, all day we walked around to constant choruses of “Miss!” and “Sir!”
Not till the end of the day, did we realize the language barrier between the younger children and ourselves. We assumed most, if not all, knew basic English but found that children who we had assumed were shy, in fact could not understand what we were saying. After finding a girl with a bleeding split lip, I (AIice) kept asking one girls in the class how it had happened and if she wanted to go outside to wash it off. She just looked at me with sad eyes and did not respond. I figured that she was on the verge of tears and could not respond. When, at the end of the day, we were playing games, I saw her sitting by herself so I went over to her to ask how her lip was feeling. She again did not respond. It was then that one of the older boys came up to me and said she did not speak any English. I was shocked and tried pantomiming to her see if she was okay, but the language barrier made it impossible. It stunned me how isolated the Mayan culture was from the main of Belize, as the children do not learn any English until attending school.
I (Stephnie) was walking to the field after school, and a boy from our class walked next to me, and he kept smiling at me while I was talking to him, but did not answer any of my questions, instead showed me the toy he had made out of carved wood and string. It finally dawned on me to ask him if he spoke English, and he shook his head no. I was stunned because I had been talking to him all day in English and had just assumed he understood me when he kept nodding his head at everything I said.
The isolation from modern culture was even more apparent when we brought out cameras. All the children pushed to be in the middle of the photos, and even more wanted to take photos of their own. They were so excited to see themselves on the camera screen.
It was definitely an exhausting day but so worth it when we saw how quickly the kids got attached to us, fighting to hold our hands and stand next to us. We got an insight into the lives of the Mayan people, and the new understanding clarifies what we have learned and observed about the Mayan people, past and present.
Global Health – ENST – IR
Class of 2014
Class of 2013
Photos by Sarah Wescott