Before leaving the country, I am lucky to attend the Peace Corps Belize “Thanksgiving in December” banquet at the Country Director’s home â€” with the 65 volunteers gathered in Belize City for an in-service training and a chance to see each other.
Though sometimes jokingly called “Beach Corps” by other PCVs around the world, many PC-Belizers actually live in remote, inland villages which are among the poorest and most neglected in all of Central America. And despite Belize’s small size, Peace Corps sites in the remote Toledo and Orange Walk districts can be a full day’s frustrating travel to headquarters; so this time together is precious, reminding me of our annual conferences in Nicaragua.
I actually took Thanksgiving dinner at this very same table three years ago, though every single person in the room (including the director) is new. It’s a nice serendipitous deja vuey kind of moment, and I make great contacts for my research, as many volunteers are eager to promote their host communities’ tourism-related projects. I’m honored to pose with the PC men participating in the first annual PC-Belize mustache contest.
Actually, says one bushy-lipped lad, it’s more of a mustache festival than a competition. Whatever. Reminds me of Andrew in Tanzania, who Tay and I visited while he was preparing for the 2006 Peace Corps Pan-Africa Mullet-Fest.
The Peace Corps, by the way, is a United States government program created by John F. Kennedy in 1961. Its original goal was to improve America’s image in the Third World by sending young, idealistic volunteers deep into the countryside of developing countries. Forty-something years later, there are some 7,000 Volunteers serving in more than 90 countries around the world, with a standing order from Washington to double the number of Volunteers. Participants who are accepted serve a two-year tour (preceded by three months of intensive language and cultural training) and receive a bare-bones living allowance during their stay in-country.
The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Belize in 1962. Since that time, more than 1,600 Volunteers have worked in Belize in a variety of projects. Currently, there are approximately 65 Volunteers providing assistance in education, youth development, rural community development, and environmental education. Pre-service training is conducted in rural Creole and mestizo villages. Training lasts nine weeks and includes technical training as well as an introduction to Creole. Volunteers are placed throughout the country’s six districts to work with both government agencies and non-governmental organizations.