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What Belize Taught Me About Serving

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about service? Do you think about volunteering, working for free, or helping those in need? Before participating in this Alternative Service Break (ASB), I didn’t think about the importance of understanding what it truly meant. As part of our activities, we participate in evening reflections to further understand the purpose of us being there and working with the farmers. These reflections helped me realize the different between volunteerism and providing service to a community. There is a very hard line between both and that is determined by how involved you are with that foreign community. Volunteerism is not an effective way of understanding a culture. It sends a false message of that community and portrays them as something they’re not. As someone who is passionate about traveling to new countries and experiencing various cultures, I fall in the middle of the volunteerism and service spectrum. I have been incredibly self-aware about the message I send about a particular culture. But alternatively, I have not conducted service in a foreign country before this trip.

A common western ideology is to “help those in need” and to “help the less fortunate”. A common theme is for people to donate money to the less fortunate or to volunteer for others, even if they may not have requested it. What many people realize is that some people that are less fortunate do not need or want our help. Once we begin to think that they need our help, we declare that our life is more valuable than theirs. That is not what service is about.

This ASB has made me realize something incredibly important about my own life. The Belizean people value their culture and home more than I valued my own. While I was there, I realized that even though they may have less materialistic things than us, they have more value elsewhere. This has led me to realize how important it is to value what we currently have in our life. This balance of different benefits of our lives ruptures the thought of having a more valuable life than them. This allows me to see them as equals.

Service is not helping those in need. This ASB has helped me realize that service is an exchange, similar to bartering. We did help the farmers by providing our time and labor to supporting their business. However, they helped us a million times over by teaching us a variety of lessons. The Belizean farmers taught us the importance of farming and how it impacts the lives of every single one of us. They also introduced us to their culture and gave us an understanding of what it is like to live a day in their shoes. Fundamentally, we developed an appreciation for their country, culture, and their hard work as farmers. As an Environmental Technology and Chemistry double major, it is experiences like these that shape me into someone who understands the world just a bit better. It will also help me make more conscious decisions in my field when interacting with farmers. Since agricultural runoff is a serious issue throughout the world, I believe my time in Belize has better prepared me to understand the opposing side in agricultural-environmental issues.