“Are You Peace Corps?”

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As a foreigner meeting a resident of Southern Belize, the first question asked is always, “Are you Peace Corps?” Initially this came as a shock to me: I had never visited anywhere so impoverished that the mere presence of an American was automatically associated with volunteer work. After a couple of weeks in the area, it became clear why this assumption is made. The Toledo district, being the land of superlatives, has the highest population of indigenous Maya, is the most impoverished region of Belize, has protected areas of the highest levels of biodiversity, and each watershed drains into the second-largest Barrier Reef. This unique amalgamation of issues of concern causes many a NGO’s mouth to salivate, setting up shop in Toledo with focuses ranging from sustainable agriculture to land rights to coastal development. NGOs are practically synonymous with expats in Southern Belize and therefore the few foreigners you find around the area are usually dedicating their time to something for the greater good.

I came to Belize after the job market forced me to realize that either I could get paid to do nothing in the USA and endure the winters of the Midwest, or I could get paid to make a difference while living in the tropics. Having majored in Spanish, I set my sights on Central America, but somehow I ended up in the only English-speaking country on the isthmus.

My placement is with Ya’axché Conservation Trust, a community-oriented organization that advances integrated landscape management for equitable development in Southern Belize through sustainable land use management, strategic advocacy and awareness, and by supporting socially innovative and economically viable enterprises. In short, Ya’axché is a unique organization that understands the need to work and cooperate with those occupying the land in order to successfully protect it.

Home sweet home for the next six months!

I receive free housing in the rural field center located in Golden Stream, Belize. It is solar-powered, quite austere, and home to tarantulas, rats, bats and fellow volunteers. I have been dabbling in project management, community resource planning, creating income-generating projects for women, freshwater monitoring, and sustainable agriculture efforts. I also hope to gain experience in sustainable development and working with women in the developing world.

Okan (Welcome!) to my blog. I hope it proves to be a helpful resource to those out there considering joining the ranks of the unpaid in Latin America!

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