After touching down and stepping out of our cool, comfortable, air-conditioned plane, the first thing I noticed about Belize is that it is hot. It may have been early afternoon, and it already felt like was hot and humid enough to bake breakfast on a sidewalk. Inside of the airport was not much better. While here, in the United States, we are spoiled enough we keep the inside of our buildings warm or cool according to what we desire, the buildings in Belize only provided shade and shelter. No air-conditioning. Residents of Belize didn’t care about the heat because that’s all they have most of the year. Belize only has two seasons all year round: hot and rainy.
Our bus driver and program coordinator, James, gave our group a tour around Belize City before heading to our boarding house for the week. The moment we started out, I noticed immediate differences between our cities back home and the city here. While in the States, people try to live apart from each other as much as possible. In Belize, it seems like the entire city was stacked on top of each other. All the buildings were meshed together and the entire populace was out and about. The streets were full of vendors selling the fruits of their trade to any passerby. Some sold fresh fish; others, fruit, hot lunches, and other goods. James went on to explain that Belize’s nationality is a mixed population of Maya, European, Spanish, Middle East, Asian, and American. Because of the density of the population and scarceness of resources, the people really don’t care about racial superiority. Nobody in Belize can afford to be picky about their neighbors. They only care about living their lives and will take any help where they can find it. The only real crime in Belize is illegal drug trafficking. Even the customs regarding driving differed between the United States and Belize. The rules weren’t difficult to understand. The main rules were whoever has the biggest car has the right-of-way and pedestrians are to make like a frog in traffic and DODGE!
We stopped by the Starfish House to drop off our luggage. But before we got comfortable at Hand in Hand Ministries’ (HHM) Belizean home, we were taken to the sites of past HHM house-building projects to meet the families who now reside in them. This tour was to give us newcomers an idea what the houses actually look like inside and out and to see how the families best utilize their home. This was also an opportunity for us to meet the kind of people we were helping during our stay.
After the second house visit, my consciousness began to steadily fade. Like a brick lunched from a second story window. My lack of sleep from the night before had finally caught up with me, and I felt like a dying phone battery. After we said our goodbyes to the families HHM has helped, we set off to the Starfish House, our home for the next seven days.
HHM uses the starfish emblem a lot during their line of work. They use the starfish as something as a mascot in a lot of their functions. The reasoning behind this is because HHM draws inspiration from “The Starfish Story.” The story goes like this:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a figure in the distance. As he got closer, he realized the figure was that of a child picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.
Approaching the child, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Dear,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the child bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one”.
HHM uses this story as their symbol, philosophy, and inspiration towards all of their endeavors. A metaphor I tend to agree with. In the line of social work and even as an individual, one person can’t change the world alone, but one person is enough to change the lives around him.
It was about late afternoon when my group finally returned to the Starfish House and my eyelids couldn’t have been happier. As soon as we crossed the doorway of the Starfish House, everyone soon drowsily migrated to their assigned beds and took a much-need nap before finishing dinner and a lovely mass at the open-air St. Martin’s Catholic Church.