Greetings from the Cancun Airport! Well the trip is wrapping up. We had a great two days on Caye Caulker. The weather was not that great. It rained a good bit both of the days we were there, but luckily we did get our snorkeling trip. Caye Caulker was a very cool island. It was very small and rustic. There are no paved roads, most everyone walks and some ride bikes and golf carts. There are very few vehicles on the whole island. It was a much needed downtime after spending many days in the Belize heat and sun all day.
The snorkeling trip was pretty awesome. Only two students had every snorkeled before so it was a new experience for which everyone enjoyed. While snorkeling we saw many fish as well as a sea turtle and even snorkeled with sting rays and sharks. We even got to touch the sting rays and sharks.
Friday afternoon we took the water taxi back to Belize City to catch the bus back to Cancun. As on the bus ride down to Belize it was very cold on the return to Cancun and this bus was very crowded. Along with the cold I think they forgot to clean out the bathroom and the bus had a strong urine smell for the 9 hour ride back to Cancun. We arrived at the Cancun airport this morning around 6am. We had breakfast and are waiting for out 12:30pm departure to Atlanta.
Everyone has had a great trip and are very tired. Many are sleeping at the airport now. I believe we can call Armstrong’s first international service trip a success. I think we can look forward to more international service trips in the future.
On Tuesday afternoon we finished all of the painting. This included the infant division building and the playground area. We managed to finish one day ahead of schedule. This allowed the group Wednesday morning to get some much needed rest. It is amazing to see the transformation of the building and playground area for the students.
Wednesday was a neat day at the school. We arrived at the school for lunch and the school had an assembly after lunch with all students at the school to honor us and say thank you for what we had done for the school. The ceremony was a very special event. One of the students got up and said made a few remarks thanking us for our work and how much it meant to the school. The principal of the school also presented us with a gift. The students excitement, energy, and appreciation for what we had done was very moving and even emotional for our group. Wednesday afternoon the Armstrong students spent the time after the assembly with their classes for the last time. The Armstrong students have truly touched the lives of the students at San Francisco School. Everyone had written many thank you notes to our group and begging us to not leave. The afternoon was filled with giving “autographs” for the students saying good-bye. We left San Francisco School knowing we had made a difference in their lives and will hopefully be the beginning of a relationship between Armstrong and San Francisco School.
On Thursday we head to Belize City to take a water taxi to Caye Caulker. Thursday afternoon we will go snorkeling in the waters off the cayes and spent Friday relaxing before heading back to Cancun on Friday night to fly home on Saturday. It is hard to believe it has been a week, but the trip is beginning to wrap up.
The painting is going very well. We are way ahead of schedule. The days have been overcast with a breeze so we haven’t been experiencing the brutal Belize heat and humidity. The entire infant classroom building at the school is 80% completed. The only part we have left to do is to put a final coat of paint on the back of the building. The rest of the building is done. One thing I think the students have learned is they prefer to paint with water-based paint over oil-based paint. The white paint is all water-base paint, but the green trim and brown door paint is all oil-based paint. Needless to say it took a lot of gasoline to get the paint off of our bodies on Sunday.
Monday was an exciting day for everyone. It was our first day painting at the school with the students present. The students were so excited that we were there. During each recess the students would flock to our work area and want to do nothing but watch us work and play games. Their energy and excitement is like none other. Along with painting the school, the Armstrong students are going into eight of the classrooms at the school in the afternoon and are reading to the students and leading the students in games and activities. This is an opportunity for us to not only be the people outside painting the school, but to also go into the classrooms and be part of their classroom experience. This is a rewarding experience for not only the students of the school, but also the Armstrong students.
In the midst of the heat and humidity of Central America, we are well on our way now. Friday we spent all day on tour of Lamanai Mayan Ruins. We took a boat ride which was about 1 1/2 hours long along the New River out to the ruins site. Along the way we pulled into this lagoon and a monkey came down onto the boat and took a banana from us. None of us have ever been those close to a monkey before that wasn’t in a cage. The tour at Lamanai was very interesting. We got the opportunity to climb the tallest of the temples on the site. Many of the students are short so climbing the large steps which was also very sleep was a bit of a challenge, however everyone made it to the top and back down without any issue. The view from the top was pretty awesome to look out over the top of the tropic vegetation. The ruins sit in the middle of a jungle.
On Saturday we began painting. The principal was there to let us in and one of the teachers who assists with minor maintenance around the school also was there to help. We did not have a goal of what to accomplish on day one because we were not sure how long it was going to take and how the paint would take to the building. Our only goal is to be done by the end of the day on Wednesday, however ended up going incredibly fast today. The front of the school is 90% complete. The only thing that must be done on Sunday is to finish the green base of the building, painting the classroom doors, and to get the sides of the building painted. We did want to make sure the front was completed by Monday when the students return to keep the front access unblocked and this is not going to be any issues. This will leave Monday through Wednesday to get the back of the building painted and hopefully if time and resources are available the playground area spruced up. The team was incredible today. They worked hard, stayed motivated and organized. Without that, we would not have accomplished what we did in one day. With the fast and organized pace of work we finished by 2:30pm. There was a large canoe race and festival next to our hotel today and we enjoyed going through the festival. The people in Orange Walk Town are very friendly and glad we are here. We are eating good local food and staying well hydrated. The weather is very similar to Savannah, the only difference is that it is a bit hotter since we are closer to the equator here. If the next four days go as well as today did, we’re going to get a lot done at the school.
Our full day of traveling went well. No delays, everyone’s luggage arrived and customs and border control in Mexico and Belize all went very smoothy. (That’s a great way to start off the trip) Yesterday was a long day. We flew from Savannah into Cancun. We arrived into Cancun early in afternoon and our bus did not leave for Belize until 10:30pm. We spent the afternoon in old Cancun and once it got dark we camped out at the bus terminal. The bus ride to Orange Walk Town was about 7 hours long. The bus was very cold, but luckily it was a first class bus so they were nice accommodations. We arrived into Orange Walk Town around 4:30am (local time). We are two hours behind eastern time. Everyone went to sleep and spent the afternoon resting and visiting Orange Walk Town. This evening we were invited by the San Francisco School to come to their Mother’s Day Program. It was a neat program which was comprised of the students dancing and acting. It was a good show and the school principal introduced us and told the parents of the students about what we would be doing at the school. The parents were very excited about the school getting painted. The school only receives funding to pay teachers. All operation costs must be covered by the school so getting large projects like this done are not usually easily done so the students, school, and family members are very excited. The school fed us fresh tamales which were very good. Everyone is very excited about being at the school and doing the painting and spending time with the kids. We will kick off painting on Saturday!
The day has started off well. We have started out in Savannah flying into Atlanta. We then fly to Cancun where we will spend the afternoon and evening before catching a bus to Orange Walk Town tonight. It is about a 7 hour bus ride but luckily is a first class bus. Long day ahead but the group is very excited.
It is hard to believe we have been planning this trip since September and departure day is one day away. It looks like everything is coming together well and going to be a great trip and great experience for everyone. There are ten people total going on the trip which is made up of nine students and one staff member. We look forward to sharing more when we arrive into Cancun or Belize, but until then here is the group:
Chris Nowicki, Assistant Director for Student Union and Activities (trip director)
Janelle Waugh (nursing major)
Dena Eaves (chemistry major)
Trisure Perez (liberal studies major)
Brandi Webb (respiratory therapy major)
Meagan Stachurski (adult education major)
Andrea Huisa (pre-med chemistry)
Jasmine Lebron (early childhood education)
Claudia Alverado (biology)
Lisa Affuso (early childhood education)