Belizeans have a saying: Once you get the sand in your shoe, you will come back to Belize again.
Twenty-five years ago, the mission board of my church in Arkansas offered me the opportunity to work and live on a Mennonite mission compound in Crique Sarco, a remote Mayan village in the southernmost part of Belize. I wanted to go somewhere in the world that needed me, and although I had never before crossed the borders to Belize, I eagerly said yes! The village experience transformed my worldview and ultimately put me on the never before imagined nursing path.
A doctor asked for my help with a worried Mayan mother regarding her son during one visit. The Mayan mother brought the boy to the clinic, saying he had abdominal pain. When the doctor examined him, he discovered an abscess on his abdomen. Then the child began to cry and didn’t want the doctor to touch him – so the mother would leave the clinic. The doctor turned to me and asked me to explain to the mother how imperative it was for the abscess to be cared for – that it was a potentially life-threatening situation. Using my limited Kekchi and the mother’s limited English, I helped her understand that this was very important to her son’s survival and that she would need to not listen to the child but think about what is essential for him to get well. When the procedure was over, and the patient was gone, the doctor commended my calm and helpful presence. He asked if I had ever considered studying to become a nurse.
I began training in a Licensed Practical Nurse program and immediately bridged to an Associates RN program at the University of Arkansas Community College near my home in Arkansas. After receiving my Associate of Science in Nursing with honors, I began working in nursing in the hospital setting. Two years later, while working, I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Arkansas Tech.
On a celebratory visit to Belize after RN school, I discovered that The Amigos, aka Tejas Missions group, was still making a yearly visit to Crique Sarco to do dental and medical work. I contacted them and joined them on a mission trip the following year. After accompanying this group for a couple of years, I began looking for a place to volunteer in Toledo District, using my nursing knowledge and skills more sustainably.
Friends in Belize recommended I check out Hillside Clinic in Eldrigeville. I was greeted by Dr. Angela Brown, the medical director. She was warm, engaging, and encouraging about what I could bring to Hillside. My volunteer application was selected for the Nursing Director of the Home Health Program in 2016.
As the Nursing Director, I found great satisfaction in providing Palliative Care to home patients while also contributing to our visiting students’ educational experience. In 2019, Nurse Jennie took over the Home Health Program and I transitioned to a more administrative role. My role as Student and Volunteers Director allows me to interact with all of our volunteers and students and strengthen my relationship with our Belizean staff. It is an honor and privilege to serve the people of the Toledo District while volunteering at the Hillside Clinic.
In the past five years, I have spent a total of forty-seven months in Belize. I’m pursuing Belize citizenship and am finalizing plans to launch an online business next year. The sand is definitely in my shoe!