All the Way to Belize! June 8-June 18, 2012

by leafrunningrabbit

Dear Gentle Readers,

A monumental task has been accomplished, and I have returned to dry land, very dry land, to tell the tale.  Running-rabbit Fine Art in Home Building, Inc. has been all the way to Belize, and back.

I was lucky enough to be a part of an incredible work mission between my daughter’s school here in Colorado, Nederland Middle-Senior High School, and their sister school in Belize, Central America, Faith Nazarene School, where we went for 10 days, committed to working 5 out of those ten, on our sister school in need of help.  Faith Nazarene School is an under-funded and poor school, parts of which was in major disrepair, and some of which simply needed some tidying up.  And tidy up we did!

We have travelled the long distance toward the equator, we have set up camp, we have painted, we have guttered, we have built, we have had trials and tribulations, we have cleaned up the land, we have made new friends and built new relationships, and we have returned to the high mountain with the story of success filling full our pockets and backpacks.

We have made a difference, not only to a school and community in need, but to ourselves, in ourselves, and for ourselves, by doing for others.  Numerous are the lessons me and my daughter, 23 other teenagers, and three other adults, have learned.

Please, grab some tea, sit down in a comfy chair with plenty of natural sunlight, and read the tale to be told.  If it was half the journey my mind has made it out to be, then you will not need the fire in the woodstove, for the fire shall burn in your heart as a result of reading of our accomplishments.

The tale begins with a nasty sounding alarm clock, beeping spitefully, at 2:30 AM on June 8, 2012.  By 5:30 in the morning we were already 2 hours plus from our mountain abode, at Denver International Airport, with all of our supplies.

What you see below is what I personally gathered as my share:  200 pounds of electrical supplies collected and salvaged off of my remodel job sites, from my home collection of junk, and from what I bought at ReSource Yard Boulder for a mere $20.  This suitcase was HEAVY, to say the least.  Too heavy, in fact, for the 50 lb limit without having to pay extra.  So I got there early and waited for everyone else.  As they each came up to the check-in counter to weigh in and get their boarding passes, if their suitcases did not weigh the full 50 lbs allowed, I started shoving electrical stuff into their suitcases until they each reached the 50 lb limit or close to it.  In this way, we were able to spread the weight out enough in everyone’s luggage that we didn’t have to pay anything extra.

In fact, as a group, the kids had been collecting supplies such as books, school supplies, clothing, tools, painting supplies, office supplies, paper, folders, etc., for a couple of months.  We asked each person to pack up all their own personal clothes and whatever else they were bringing, into their carry on bag.  That left all 28 of us with a free 50 lb stow away bag available to bring supplies.  So if you do the math, and in the end we probly had an average weight for all 28 bags of approximately 40 lbs. each, we took around 1,120 lbs of materials, supplies, equipment, and tools with us all the way to Belize, Central America.

The reason for the electrical supplies is due to the fact that free public school in Belize only goes to the 6th grade level.  After that, to continue into High School, a family has to pay the equivalent of about 1/3 their annual income per child for them to be able to go.  So most families simply cannot afford to send their kids through high school.  Thus, at a very young age, kids go into the orchards to pick oranges, or into the jungles to cut back the bush for more orchards, or to alcohol or to nothing.

So there is a program there that takes promising young kids with the interest in becoming an electrician, and teaches them the trade.  But the country and the program is so poor, that they dont even have the electrical tools and supplies to teach the kids.  So we were told how helpful it would be to get all the switches and receptacles and metal electrical boxes we could get our hands on.  So I scrounged up all I thought we could bring.  It was about 200 lbs worth.  The reason they wanted metal electrical boxes is due to the fact that the majority of all building that goes on in Belize is done with concrete.  And in concrete construction, you have to have metal electrical boxes.

So anyway, we left high elevation mountain dry and cool weather (I mean I was wearing pants and socks and long sleeve shirt from my house to the airport) to hot and sticky and humid and buggy and itchy climate in a matter of a few hours.  This is us having just landed and walked into the Belize City Airport, no air conditioning.

This is the plane we just got off.  There were no air conditioned portable and enclosed walkways from the airplane to the inside of the airport.  It was get right off the plane and onto the ground, suddenly encompassed in a neverending and unrelenting heat and wet that lasted the entire time we were there and until we climbed back onto the plane to go home and they shut the door.

After going through Customs and getting out of the airport, we had a bus waiting for us with, as far as we know, the Best Bus Driver in the Whole Wide World, named Miguel.  We piled in with all our gear, all our 1,120 lbs of supplies, and our tired and hot and sweaty bodies, and settled in for about a 2 hour ride to an organic eco-farm called Hummingbird Haven, where we spent our first 2 nights acclimating.

This here is Hummingbird Haven, an absolutely awesome and wonderful place to stay.  It has a magnificent running river for swimming, full blown jungle, and all kinds of edible foods growing all around.  I saw bananas, cashews, pineapple, bread fruit, star fruit, papaya, coconut, and more with my very own eyes.  We ate a little bit of all of those things, but we ate the most of banana.  They were shorter and fatter than what we are used to.  They were not plantains, although there were plantains too, they were just different.  And they tasted ever so good.  I never had so many banana pancakes in all my life.  I don’t even like pancakes.

As soon as we got there and the kids threw their bags into their rooms, it was right to the river they went.  And DANG did it feel good, until I suddenly heard some of them start screaming.  They swam under this log here and caught their first glimpse of jungle wildlife!  This mack daddy was significant.  Bigger than our daddy long legs.  But they eventually chilled out, moved away from the spider, and carried on.

This here is Jaime and his son James Bond.  That’s what he named him.  They speak Spanish, but if you ask the name of the boy, he will tell you James Bond in a funny accented sort of way.  Jaime lives and works on the farm and he knows a lot about the bush and the medicines and herbs and edible foods that grow there.  Here he was giving my daughter Ella some advice on chopping open a coconut with a big machete.

This was the view from our rooms.  Stunningly beautiful.  Made you want to go for a walk out there, in the jungle.  But no.  Period.  There is no way.  It simply is too thick to walk anywhere, not even one step, beyond the edge of that grass there.  Not to mention the fact that there are poisonous snakes out there yonder.  But I still wanted to go out there.

Our first two nights there we were treated to the delicious cooking of Donya and her adopted daughter, Donyita.  They are local Mennonites who live close by, and they served us up a traditional Belizean meal with nothing less than handmade flour tortillas.  In fact, all of us had the opportunity to roll and pat out our own personal tortillas and cook them ourselves.  It was a lot of work for so many people, but way worth it and a great memory maker.

We had chicken and rice and some Belizean dessert I don’t know, and man it hit the spot.  I learned while being there that the Mennonites came in a long time ago once the English had been in and taken all the hardwood lumber that they wanted.  Hardwoods were, and still are, a huge money maker.  So in the wake of all the lumber clearing, a lot of free and open land was left for the taking to be easily farmed, which is when the Mennonites came in.

They now have all kinds of their own communities in the bush where they farm and raise animals and live off the land.  They convert Belizeans to their religion, but in a lot of cases, they do not give back to the community as much as they could.  They have their own compounds, their own mini-villages, and do their own thing.  I saw them riding around in their horse drawn covered wagons and everything.  The women and girls wear heavy fabric hand-made dresses, white caps, and leather shoes toes covered.  The men wear hand-made heavy cloth black pants, button-up shirts, suspenders, and a particular kind of hat.  Their hands are very worn and tough and dirty.  You can tell they earn their keep.  But they will hardly even look at you let alone speak to you.  They looked at me as strangely as I had to be looking at them.  They have lots of babies too.  I wish I could have taken a picture of them, but I didn’t want to be rude.

Donya was not from a village of Mennonites.  She lived her own way with a non-Mennonite husband.  But they obviously still had converted and considered themselves Mennonites.

This is Little Donya, or Donyita, twirling around in her matching dress and hat.  A miniature of her momma.

My first night going to bed I found a new friend in my bed.  Among others.  But this guy was the biggest.  That’s one thing I learned real quick:  you HAVE TO check your bed and sheets before getting into bed.  You HAVE TO!  There were scorpions, spiders by the hundreds, uncountable flying and buzzing things, and creepy crawly doesn’t EVEN begin to name all the other possibilities that were wanting to sleep with me.  And there was no stopping them.  You basically got to clean them out when you first crawled in and went to bed, but after that, all you could do was close your eyes, try to fall asleep, and hope (dream) for the best!

This photo is the result of our one and only experience going into the bush.  Another guy who lived on the farm, Cameron, led us into the jungle and to this hidden waterfall and pool, and man was it breathtakingly AWESOME!

And then we were off to work.

This was our destination, The School.  Located in a town called San Ignacio, Cayo District, it is a run down under-funded and very poor school serving some of the community’s poorest citizens.  This is a school where even hunger is a reality.

This is the “Before” picture of the school.  I estimated it out to be around 6000 sf of school building floor space, so even more wall and walkway space, which we painted all new, with 2 colors.

The first day we had come up with a plan of attack as far as dividing up all 24 teenagers and ourselves, the four adult chapperones, into groups with their own sections to paint, colors, brushes and rollers and pans, and all the motivation we could muster.

But as soon as the Belizean students came to school, and in between classes and at breaks and lunch, they swarmed down on us like ants on honey, and practically made it impossible to work efficiently, or even work at all.

The children wanted to help us, talk to us, play with us, hang on us, ask a million questions about us, and just be with us.  It was a beautiful thing to witness.  Most of the children spoke English, Creole, and Spanish.  So our kids could communicate with most of them.  But they were fascinated with our kids’ clothes, their jewelry, their backpacks and glasses, our hair and eye colors, and just everything.  It must have been mind-churning for our kids to consider these questions and see such raw and new interest in things we take for granted everyday.

It seemed at times like there must have been hundreds of kids running and screaming and playing and helping and asking all around us.  You can imagine wet paint everywhere, the students in their uniforms, pans and pales of paint everywhere,…  It was a mess.  I can only imagine what some of the students’ parents said when their children came home with paint all over their dresses and shirts and pants and skin.

We did not have the luxury of a school not in session, or a school that was closed for our work.  We just had to try and ignore the fact that school was going on, try our best not to disturb class any more than necessary, and get the job done.  But it was hard.

Our kids, of course, wanted to play soccer with them, give them piggy back rides, just hang and talk with them, etc.  How could they not!  It was absolutely awesome for all kids involved.  They all enjoyed each other so much that lots of new relationships were made.  It’s true they may not ever see each other again, but the memories will last forever.  Some of our kids gave away their sunglasses and other things that they just wanted to share.  One of our kids even bought a kid a new pair of shoes he really wanted because it happened to be his birthday.  And what’s more, is that when the little kid went home that night with a new pair of shoes, the mother actually took them away from him, and brought him and the shoes into school the next day, and tried to give them back to our student who had bought them.  The mother thought her son had stolen the shoes!  So our student explained to the mother that no, he really had gifted them to her son and that he really wanted to do it.

So she gave in, and the kid got to keep his new pair of canvas converse all stars. 

After getting all the painting going on as best we could, me and Timex set out to install gutters all along the front of the building where the walkways are.  As it is now, the water from rain, which there is A LOT of, just comes splashing down all over the place, soaking children and teachers alike, ruining the paint, and just making things unnecessarily miserable.

We had no good tie-offs.  We had one rope.  We had a cordless drill with weak batteries.  We had a SUPER hot tin metal roof to lay on under the beating sun.  This here is Timex hanging about 25 feet above the ground by his arm pits.  For this section of roof, I had a rope tied around his waist, strung over the roof behind him, and tied to a fence down on the ground.  And I am right under him as a back-up and handing him screws as he moves down the eave installing the gutter clips.

Not long after this, and while all the painting was going on right underneath us, it started raining.  We had nearly an entire section of handrail painted and the rain completely washed it away.  There were two colors of paint running down the sidewalks, dripping from the second level walkway down to the first, and making color puddles all over the ground. 

And then the bell rang, and a hundred kids came out and trompled it all around even more, got it all over their skin and clothes, played and splashed in it for fun, and in general made a messy situation into a comical one.  You couldn’t help but to just laugh.  There was nothing else you could do.  Except to start all over, which we did.

You can see below the gutters as they looked installed.  They are white plastic and will make all the difference in the world.  There were not enough downspouts to get all of them all the way to the ground, but at least the rain will now be consolidated into just a couple of water outlets, rather than splashing all over up and down the walkways.

This is the back side of the building, and you can see some of the obstacles we overcame to get the job done.  We were on a mission to paint this building, and by george that’s what we did.  We had all the best climbers and people not afraid of heights doing this wall.  That’s Liam at the far end, my daughter Ella bending over, or doing yoga or something,  :-), and then Diego and Sam moving this way.  And that’s Mackenzie standing down on the ground.  They all did an amazing job all said and done.  It was a TON of work.

Actually, just imagine the cleaning up everyday of 30 paint brushes, a dozen rollers and pans, pales, hands and bodies, etc.  It was crazy.  But we got’er done.

In fact, another project we managed to accomplish was the building of a new outdoor school room for expelled and troubled students.  Students who are actually in trouble with the law, the police, and who will take classes in this room with a police officer.  Remember, this is a school of kindergarten through 6th grade.  SIXTH!  THE LAW!  POLICE! 

Good gawd, that seems crazy.  It is crazy. 

We were given a stack of treated posts, 2×4’s, and 1x material and told to put something together on an existing old foundation the best we could.  And we had not much time.  The foundation was very old and falling apart.  There were old and rusty rebar spikes sticking out of it.  I had a saw, a broken tape measure, a pen and pencil, two guys (Timex and Joe), and a police officer.   That’s right, we had a police officer sort of guarding us the entire time.  He helped out and gave his suggestions on what he was after.  I don’t know why I don’t have a picture of him.  He was a very nice guy.

We threw level and plumb and square out of the way first thing.  Then we divided up the posts evenly between the corners, doors, and wall space.  We did away with double top plates all the way around.   And we worked fast.  When it was time for us to go that afternoon, all the painters had cleaned up and were ready to go, we were so pumped on adrenaline that we opted to stay longer.  Three other boys wanted to stay and help too, Jaden, Jake, and Luke, and together we took the thing all the way through the roof all on the first day.  We worked til I think 6:30 pm.   And in the rain.  We roofed the thing at the end of the day in the rain.  We didn’t care.  We wanted it done.  And it did get done.

These pictures were taken the second day, the day after we had roofed in the rain.  Standing L-to-R is:  Timex, Joe, me, Jaden, Luke, and Jake.  Jaden has a tape measure on his head.

The police officer was so excited about how fast we built it, he went to the store on the second day and had hardwood planks like full dimension 2×12 treated hardwood beams brought over and said he wanted us to make a bench and writing “desk” all the way around.  So the second day, that’s what we did.  It actually only took a half day, but you can see the stomach high writing plank and rustic bench travelling all the way around the new room.  The room measured roughly 12’x26′ I think.

But that whole deal, the new room, roof, desk and benches, we pulled off in a day and a half.  And man did my back hurt that second day.  It was a rough day for me.  I’m not as young as I used to be.

Here is my daughter Ella Wren happily covered in paint.  Oh, and I just noticed how Jenna does not look very happy in the background.  And you notice how that kid is literally hanging off of Jenna, this is how LOTS of the Belize students were.  Some of our kids could not get them to stop doing this to them.  They demanded your attention and were not going to be denied.  It was interesting to see how each kid dealt with this.  Some went along no problem.  Others could not get away from them and did not know how to ask them to stop.  I observed a lot of this dynamic.

I’m not sure who painted this, but it is absolutely beautiful.  I just love it, good job!

We added lots of touches like these to the school.  Really fancied it up.

This entire sign and the two black figures were painted by Amber, who has on the white shirt and red bandanna around her neck.  It also is fantastic! 

You can see above the sign the windows into a classroom.  There are no windows, only shutters.

One morning, actually on our last morning if I remember correctly, a local man came up to our bus and asked permission to come in and speak to the children about AIDS.

One of the other chapperones told him it would be better if he wanted to come into our lunchroom where we were all congregating for a meeting.  He told us that he was embarrased of how we was dressed.  He looked kind of like a homeless guy.  They told him not to worry and everybody came in and the man was ushered to the front to say what he had to say.  I’m not sure if anybody knew exactly what he wanted to say, but he felt safe enough to let into our group.

He went up and started off by saying we was a victim of AIDS, and how terribly his own country treated him because of it, and that he could not get hired for a job, could not get an education, could not pay for his medications for his disease, and was basically on a downward spiral to nowhere.

BUT, he had this genuine shark’s tooth necklace that he was hoping to sell to someone who heard his story, his story not of shame and blame and pity, but a story of hey, this is how one can turn out with just a few bad decisions, a few missed opportunities; a story of being smarter, making better decisions, and taking advantage of opportunity.  This man had a story of making the world a better place for humans, and with only $2.50 American money, he would have enough to buy his daily medication he needed in order to live with AIDS for one more day.

And it was quite a nice necklace.  I gave him $20 for it, thanked him for his story, and then gave it to Jake to give to one of the little Belize students.  But Jake had other intentions.  He is the proud new owner himself of a unique shark’s tooth necklace!  Lookin’ good there bub!

Some of our students managed to make time to plant a garden.  We actually bought several plants and bushes and such to try and spiffy up the school grounds, instill beauty and pride.

The pride and cleanliness thing was probly the hardest thing to overcome.  We could spend the first 20-30 minutes of our day cleaning up the school grounds of trash and debris, and then as soon as the kids came out to play and eat lunch and snacks, the trash and litter was right back again.  They seemed to not even notice we were cleaning it up.

So we painted a few reminders to help them remember!  🙂

Another reminder…

And on our last day, we were visited by a surprise visitor who had a special project for us to do.  His name is Fernando, and he is a local mural artist and painter in general.  He brought over his personal collection of paints and brushes and other goods, and asked us each to paint our “signatures” on a back wall of the school.

So that’s what we are all doing in this shot.  And that is Fernando there in the blue jean shorts and his hair all pulled up on top of his head, probly keeping it clear of the paint!

This is Ella’s signature, an image of the mountains where we live, Eldora ski runs up high, and the Barker Reservoir in Nederland  down below.  Very nice job!

And this is my signature, the 4 Direction symbol, with 4 Golden Eagle tail feathers shooting off in the four directions.

I’m pretty sure it was on our last day of working on the school that Holden and me were walking through the playground to go look at fixing the swing set, and a board that we walked over had a sound come out from underneath it.  It was this cat.  Nothing but skin and bones and practically on the verge of dying.

In the end, we got the cat shots, cleaned and fed and watered her, gave her a name (Nazarene, after the school), bought it a one way plane ticket to the states, and imported the thing back to the mountains of Colorado.  They call her Nazzy for short.  One never knows, this could be the very first ever Belizean cat to get imported and transplanted back here in the states!

This is most of our group who went on the work mission trip.  It was taken on our last day, right before saying good-bye to our new friends.  The black girl you see in the pink shirt between Julie and Lori, her name is Birdie.  She is one of the expelled and troubled students who will have classes in our new room with the police officer.

While we were there working, Birdie was asked to join our group and work, to help us out everyday instead of just be expelled with nothing to do.  She was a hard worker and worked as hard as us and everyday on whatever we were working on.  She was so sad when we left.  She had become a part of us.  I have no idea what she did to get expelled.

This is the “after” shot, last day before leaving, with all the painting and guttering done.  It doesn’t quite do justice to the actual difference it made to the school as a whole.  The school definitely looks better than it did when we first got there!

This here is Mr. and Sir Bob Trausch, peace activist extraordinaire.  He was the person who orchestrated all the work that we did.  He was the one who saw the need in the first place.  He was the one who personally raised the more than $15,000 in materials and supplies and paint and lumber and gutters and roofing for us to do what we did.  This is an honorable 74 year old man who continually and never-endingly sees needs in the world, takes steps to address the needs through fundraising and organizing, and simply having the courage to stand up and say “Hey!  Something’s not right here!”  and doing something about it.  He is truly an inspiration.

In fact, by the time we had left and arrived back to Houston, TX to change planes, Lori was on the phone with him and he was already at another school back in Belize that had several wheel chair-bound students who could not attend school due to a lack of wheel chair ramps.  He was already figuring out how much money and what it would take to get some ramps built at the school for those students.  Incredible!  And for no other reason than that is what fills his love tank.  He wants to help, and he is driven.  And he does not accept impossibilities.

I should give a nod to our students’ fundraising as well.  For all 24 of our students, myself and 3 other adult chapperones, we had to raise $50,400.00 to get us their, accommodate us, feed us, move us from one location to another, and get us back home.  FIFTY THOUSAND!  And we did it.  The kids had bake sales, worked for money at odd jobs, asked neighbors and family, just whatever it took.  But our kids own that accomplishment, and we own the accomplishments of what we did while in Belize.  An incredible and life-long experience and memory.

This is me and Ella saying good-bye to the island of Caye Caulker, where we spent the last 2 nights of our trip.  This was on our way home.  Another father-daughter feather in the hat.

This is the kind of thing I want Running-rabbit Fine Art in Home Building, Inc. to be about.  Helping where there is a need for help.  And getting nothing in return for our efforts other than new pillars that help to hold up the character of who we are becoming.  This time it happened to be in Belize, but next time it might be right around the corner or down the block.

I believe we are in this world for more than money, and for this company at least, we build more than houses.  We build communities, relationships, character, integrity, and self-esteem.  These are some of the values of my company, and these are the values shown by everyone who went on this trip.

It was our destiny to be together on this trip.  In fact, George Dana Boardman once said:

“Sow an act, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

I don’t like as much the saying that says “you are what you eat,” but I do like the above quote, which I read as “you are what you do,” or “you are what you act.”

We ARE what we do.

So, kind readers, step on out there, do something good, and build upon the good character and destiny of our neighborhoods and communities. 

For it is those same neighborhoods and communities that make up the entire World…

Bluebird out.

My number:  303-229-7202.