Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
Related Topics
Volunteer Abroad
Volunteer in Central America

Volunteer Teachers Needed in Belize

Opportunities Available for Non-Educators Too

From the moment my Miami-bound flight took off, serendipity set in. Out of hundreds of passengers bound for far-flung Latin America destinations, I happened to sit next to a fellow traveler to Belize, a tiny country (population under 300,000) on the Central American coast. He was a doctor in the Belizean Defense Forces who had just been in my hometown of Washington, D.C. on an educational mission at Walter Reed Medical Center, the center of American military medicine. I was heading to Belize for an educational exchange of my own, volunteering with Teachers for a Better Belize (TFABB), a 9-year-old nonprofit partnership of Belizean and North American educators that focuses its work in the southern district of Toledo.

Teacher training is the core of TFABB’s programs; half of Toledo’s teachers have no training beyond a high school degree and work in schools with scant resources. This summer’s workshop, held in the coastal town of Punta Gorda, focused on teaching Toledo’s 240 teachers and principals a balanced literacy approach of both reading comprehension and creative writing.

As a special experiment, 16 Belizean teachers (half of whom also serve as principals for an extra $25 to $50 per month) were selected to attend a weeklong training focused on developing leadership, coaching, and training capacity, as well as strategies for teaching reading and writing. These teachers—as wide-ranging as Toledo’s students with their demographic mix of Garifuna, Maya, Creole, and Mestizo—then taught during the teacher-training workshop, alongside nine visiting North American teachers. If the National Ministry of Education approves TFABB’s proposal for ongoing teacher development, they will also serve as peer coaches and trainers during the school year.

I had been involved with TFABB as a Board member for several years, but I am not a teacher. I didn’t see how I could be useful as a volunteer. As an independent consultant, I do a lot of facilitation with emerging and seasoned nonprofit leaders, activists, and artists, so when the opportunity to teach coaching and leadership skills emerged, I jumped at the chance.

The experience was exhilarating. I learned much more than I taught, some of it related to the Belizean educational system, some of it simply to how I want to live.

I worked harder on my 10-day trip than I anticipated; even weekends were packed with meetings with the local education office or preparation, though there was plenty of time for the much-needed swim and R&R. The teachers I worked with were appreciative of my efforts, but the best feedback was my sense of utter delight when I observed them using new skills and tools in working with their peers, or in figuring out how they might renegotiate agreements with their families in order to carve out precious time for self-care. I discovered how much I like working with teachers and plan to seek out opportunities to do teacher training closer to home.

Volunteer teachers are always needed, but even non-educators are welcome to apply to TFABB to do summertime tasks ranging from supporting the registration process to distributing books and supplies. (This year, 150 boxes were shipped from the States). There is also a group of volunteers that goes to Belize over the winter break to help build a school, library or teacher’s residence.

For more information on TFABB and to learn how you can volunteer or make a contribution, please visit its website at www.TFABB.org.