Living through Hurricane Earl puts research experience in perspective for VIU student

Having just experienced Hurricane Earl, I consider myself very fortunate to be writing this blog post today. During the storm, I was lucky enough to be in San Ignacio, which was relatively unaffected by the initial force of the hurricane, although there was and continues to be (as the above photo shows) a considerable amount of flooding in the area. With a little more than a week until I return to Canada, I am already beginning to feel nostalgic about my time in Belize.

Internally, I have grown in many ways; professionally, I feel as though I have gained many soft skills that I will take forward into my future career endeavours; and personally, I feel that this experience has helped shape who I am. However, externally, it is difficult to say whether the work I have done has made much difference. I do feel the research I have been collecting is important and the resulting document could make a positive impact on future coastal development in Belize. However, it all seems for naught when something as immense and destructive as a hurricane hits a country.

Belize is not equipped to deal with the fallout out of a hurricane; there are few highways connecting the country, which are quickly washed out by flooding, and many coastal communities are at, or below, sea level, so any ocean swell has incredibly devastating effects. Emergency services are also spotty at best. Nonetheless, it has been encouraging to see the resolve of the local community to overcome this tragedy and ultimately rebuild.

Still, long-term solutions seem irrelevant when there are so many immediate challenges that face this country. So how does one feel accomplished? Even though I have been working all summer to create a positive outcome with my research, I feel I have taken much more than I have given. The personal growth has been incredible.

While Belize faces huge challenges, I take heart in the response of a few of my interviewees who have told me they genuinely enjoyed answering my questions because it forced them to reconnect themselves to the purpose of their work. In their words, it has helped them recommit their resolve to create a better Belize; through a more scientific, rational, and most importantly, inclusive process of development that will lead to more sustainable cities and a country of Belize.

So I will return home in just over a week filled with the knowledge that I have collected from nearly 20 interviews and extensive observational photographic research of various development sites along the coast of Belize. I will also carry with me the memories and experiences that have made this summer so amazing, hoping the former can somehow equal the positive impact to Belize that this beautiful country has had on me.

Devan Cranshaw, Community Planning, VIU