Jennifer Von Ohlen
COKATO, MN Kimberly Moy of Cokato packed her nursing skills alongside her toothbrush as she ventured into Belize for a study abroad experience last November.
Moy, a 2012 Dassel-Cokato High School graduate, traveled for three weeks with 12 other Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University students and their professor to satisfy a nursing cultural emersion requirement.
Belize, located in Central America, was one of several countries to choose from, but Moy said it was the one that spoke the most to her.
“The things we were able to learn there were incredible,” Moy said. “You just fell in love.”
The country was a British colony from 1840 until 1981, meaning all of its current residents speak English. While there was not a language barrier, the locals were hesitant to interact with the American travelers.
Moy explained that through the country’s efforts to Americanize their lifestyle, its citizens turned away from traditional gardening and started consuming more processed foods.
As a result, diabetes and other health problems have become a concerning issue.
“The people were still respectful, but they were also cautious because America has caused so much harm to the country,” Moy explained.
This concern focused the trip’s mission on diets, and encouraging the locals to return to gardening.
Day by day
The group spent most of their time in the southern town of Punta Gorda, and also traveled to the Barranco village and a Mayan village called San Pedro Columbia.
A typical day for the travelers usually started at one of the five schools they were assisting with health education, and caring for those of the diabetes association.
Once they were finished, the students moved onto community projects such as building shelters for children to play under or planting coconut trees. During their time in Barranco, they made home visits to the elderly while residing in a dirt-floor temple with trinkle showers.
Afternoons were left open for group members to explore the country or engage in local activities, such as cave swimming or Garifuna festivals.
The Garifuna is a group of people whose ancestors, Nigerians, were originally captured to be sold as slaves.
When two ships carrying the Nigerians were wrecked in 1635, however, the prisoners sought refuge at the nearest island, St. Vincent. There, the survivors intermarried with the locals, and their descendants became the Garifuna people.
However, it was not until 1832, after many years of fleeing further persecution, that the Garifuna found a permanent home in Belize. The country annually honors Settlement Day each November with drumming, dancing, music, and a reenactment of the Garifuna coming ashore to Belize.
For Moy, experiencing celebrations like this were some of highest points of the trip. “You’re seeing the heart of what a people are.”
Home, but grown
Even after returning to the States, Moy said she can still feel the impact of the people.
“They really value happiness, which I don’t think we have here. We put value in the things we own, and saying we have a good education or a good job, but not happiness.”
This realization opened Moy’s eyes, and shifted her priorities when considering her lifestyle and future. After graduation this May, she will be working as a nurse at Red Arrow Camp, a summer camp for boys in Wisconsin.
“The trip really influenced my choice in that, because it’s not about being a desirable employee. Rather it’s because this job will make me happy,” she said.