Aldergrove teens off to lend a hand in Belize

Some students will be packing up bikinis and sandals for spring break spent lazing about in the sun or partying.

A group of 30 Aldergrove Community Secondary School students and five adults will be leaving behind the bikinis and instead taking sturdy shoes and clothes that can withstand construction work.

The Grade 11 and 12 students are headed for the impoverished community of Placencia in Belize March 13-27. Vice principal Mike Carlyle suggested a trip abroad that would leave the students exhausted at the end of each day from work. The response was overwhelming.

“I think it’s going to be an awesome experience,” said Laurel Thachuk, in Grade 11.

Students have been doing fundraising for months to pay their own way, a cost of $1,800 per student.

“There’s a big appetite in this community to give back,” Carlyle said.

The Central American country is mostly English speaking so they should have no trouble navigating but it’s a completely new culture for the students who will spend the bulk of their time doing philanthropic works.

There’s a couple weeks of hard work in hot and humid climes in store for the young people, yet a large group of them signed on.

Grade 11 student Chelsea Turner said she’s in it for the experience.

“Learning other people’s cultures,” she said is a big draw.

And it’s not the same as reading about another culture.

“You’re getting hands on,” she said.

Belize has an active tourism industry. The students will get to enjoy some cultural activities but there are rules they must follow.

The students have been learning about where they will visit, cultural sensitivity and what not to bring to the Catholic community.

Two-piece bathing suits are to be left at home, according to Grade 11 student Terrisa Inthapanya. They’ve been asked to pack light, to not be ostentatious with possessions. For many, it’s their first exposure to the kind of poverty that just isn’t found in Canada.

ACSS students will be doing workshops on such things as life skills, leadership and environmentalism. They’ll even be building a playground out of secondhand materials, repurposing them.

Carlyle works with the NGO Youth Challenge International and its partner in Belize, Reto Juvenil Internacional.

The students will live at the school which has security for them.

Carlyle went on his first international volunteer project at 24 and can honestly say it changed his life. He was on track to become a chiropractor.

“It changed my perception on a lot of things. It made me want to be an educator,” he said.

So far, Carlyle has taken abroad more than 50 students from the then H.D. Stafford Secondary, Langley Secondary and now ACSS.

He sees the impact as young people help to change the lives of other kids. Students from previous trips have done such things as started their own NGOs (non-governmental organizations), gone into international studies programs or gone into helping professions. Sometimes the effects aren’t immediate but typically there’s a change in perspective as soon as they set foot on home soil.

“The whole intent is that when they come home, they appreciate what they have so much more,” he added.

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