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Genevieve L.

“I’ve learned that my curiosity for all things Belizean is matched by Belizeans’ curiosity about all things American!”

Genevieve L headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

I have volunteered throughout my adult life. I was raised in a family where community service and volunteering were an integral part of our lives. I always wanted to travel to different countries and learn about other cultures so I could share about it with my community, family, and friends. I was able to travel internationally during my career and that increased my interest in joining the Peace Corps when I retired.

I have enjoyed working with a youth organization, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY), for the past 17 years after my daughter attended the HOBY Vermont seminar in 2003 and my son in 2015. Their mission—to connect students with others in the community through service and volunteering—is like Peace Corps’ mission. I passionately believe the exchange of each other’s cultures, beliefs, and traditions can bring understanding and improve global communication.

2. What projects are you working on?

I’m currently supporting the youth health and well-being project, which began in 2022 when Peace Corps Volunteers returned to Belize after the COVID pandemic. I was assigned to co-plan and co-teach health and physical education in a primary school. My project is to help plan and re-establish physical education (PE) classes at my school. I also co-plan and co-teach health and family life education in grades 1 through 8.

I also collaborate with the teachers and principal on creating an action plan to fundraise for classroom equipment, such as projectors for each classroom.

I particularly enjoyed collaborating with the teachers and the principal to jumpstart PE classes. Following the pandemic, the school was focused on catching up academically. I’m glad I could provide additional support to the school by planning and executing a new PE class schedule to provide weekly physical education classes for the students. I am also co-coaching volleyball, track and field, basketball, and football.

Ball handling during PE - Genevieve L
Genevieve works with a student during a physical education session in Belize.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

In addition to being involved with school staff meetings and co-coaching school sports teams, I volunteer at community fundraising activities. So far, I have volunteered at evening adult sporting events, holiday 10K races, and at the local humane society. I also attended other local activities promoted on the community Facebook page.

I am fond of the Belizean custom of greeting everyone you meet on the street, in the stores, or in any situation by bidding the time of day. Simply acknowledging the people I encounter has led to new connections and unexpected, yet delightful conversations with my neighbors. I believe the custom helps build strong community connections, so I will continue this when I return home.

Having fun with the Belize national bird while volunteering at the 2023 Codicader U-15 games in Belize City
Hanging out with Belize's national bird while volunteering at a sporting event.

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

When I first arrived, PE only took place during the last 45 minutes of school on Fridays. With all the grades conducting PE classes outside at the same time, it quickly resulted in one large school recess that was hard to control. Some students participated in athletic activities during this time while others hung out and visited. This prompted me to ask the principal if teachers would be interested in each grade having its own scheduled time during the week. I presented this idea to the teachers initially at a staff meeting. After they expressed interest, I met with each teacher individually. Once I collected their day and time preferences, I drafted a weekly schedule for them to review and suggest changes. When the class times were established, I attended each class to support the teachers. Sometimes it was helpful to send a reminder to the busy teachers. By December, each grade was maintaining a weekly PE class.

I love getting to know the students and being able to work with them both in the classroom and outside through sports. It’s been fun to see them enjoy getting active!

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

I enjoy how friendly and inclusive the teachers, students, and staff at the school are. I appreciate being included in all the school activities and outings. I love being able to take the bus everywhere in Belize to see archeological sites, natural wonders, and attend cultural events like the Garifuna Battle of the Drums competition and the Settlement Day Reenactment—all of which have helped me better understand and appreciate Belize’s culture.

I’ve enjoyed learning Kriol from community members who want to keep their language alive for future generations. I especially enjoy living with my host family. My host mother is a wonderful cook and makes delicious, traditional Belizean meals. I enjoy chimole, which is a black soup made with recado. She also makes fry jack, which is deep-fried dough. I plan to make fry jack for my friends and family when I return to the states.

My host father has always watched out for my safety by providing suggestions when I want to go somewhere and helping me purchase a bike from the local merchants.

Genevieve learning to make Tortillas with host family
Genevieve learns to make tortillas with her host family.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

I recognized early on that showing respect for the culture helped me integrate and make a home for myself. I’ve learned that my curiosity for all things Belizeans is matched by Belizeans’ curiosity about all things American! Living in a community provides such a richer and deeper understanding of the people.

Trying new things in the Peace Corps has given me some great new experiences that I never would have had otherwise. Although I was involved at my children’s schools, I had never taught before.  In Belize I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from the teachers. I know that there is a shortage of substitute teachers at the school in my community back home, so I plan to apply my new skills as a substitute teacher.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

I like to volunteer, which gets me out in the community. For instance, I support the Belize Audubon Society’s membership and recruitment by sharing their opportunities with new Volunteers. They offer excursions around Belize. I attended the society’s annual membership meeting, did some bird watching for the first time, and got to meet other members. I spotted a neotropic cormorant and many boat-billed herons. I’m new to bird watching and have discovered that I really enjoy it!

I also enjoy visiting national parks and cooling off in nearby creeks. There are great hiking trails and even weekly football games to attend. Living in a rural area in the states, I really didn’t have the opportunity to attend professional or club football (soccer) games. I find them exciting to watch in person. Other volunteers in and near my community join me at the games.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

I am looking forward to collaborating with the teachers and principal to document all the ideas and tools we created together to ensure things continue after I leave. I will spend as much time as possible attending school and community activities to soak up the friends I have made during my service.

Before I close my service, I hope to provide tips that can help incoming Volunteers integrate and make the most of their time in Belize. I have made friendships here that I will maintain when I return home. I plan on visiting Belize after my service ends.

I have been contacting my HOBY friends and reached out to parents here in Belize to gauge their interest in starting a HOBY Belize. HOBY is an international organization with seminar sites around the world.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

When I return to the U.S., I will continue to promote Peace Corps service and share my experience with organizations that are interested whenever I can. I believe in the mission to build an understanding of other cultures.

I will resume my involvement with community organizations in my home state of Maine. I enjoy volunteering and will continue to work with HOBY when I return. I am also currently serving on the board of the American Legion Auxiliary and The Pembroke Historical Society. Lastly, I enjoy being on the planning committee for an annual pirate festival in Maine. My connections with those organizations will no doubt lead to opportunities to share my personal Peace Corps experience in Belize. I hope I can inspire people to serve others, appreciate a different culture, and grow in ways they didn’t expect.