VIU geography student supports sustainability education in Belize

Hello from southern Belize!

I was lucky enough to receive a QEII Scholarship through the Building Resilience in Coastal Communities program at VIU this year. With this scholarship, I am spending about six months in the coastal town of Punta Gorda as an intern for an environmental NGO called the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). My internship revolves around TIDE’s environmental education and outreach programming, which is already keeping me quite busy!

The town of Punta Gorda is quite small. I bike across town to work each morning, along the ocean, and pass several fresh fruit stands on my way. So many of the plants that grow here naturally are actually ones I’ve had as houseplants back home; I seem to have collected a few to keep in my room here already! Many people here in Punta Gorda speak Kriole, which is a combination of Spanish and English (like Canada’s Frenglish). The people I work with keep telling me that I will start to pick it up, but I don’t know if I will! 

One of the hardest things to get used to has been that no one rushes here. It is very laid back. We quickly found this out when VIU Faculty members and Belize experts, Larry Wolfe and Vicky McFarlane, took us on a tightly scheduled road trip through the country to drop off all of the VIU students stationed in Belize. It took a day longer than expected, but we got to see a lot of Belize and were able to enjoy a night in beach-front cabanas and a swim in the Caribbean Sea.

This has rung true at work as well; no one seems to rush, yet things seem to be completed just in time. The office is quite relaxed. It’s nice to be able to take your time on a project and enjoy a relaxing lunch hour each day. I’m definitely enjoying this after a crazy year of school and research projects.

I’ve just finished my third week here at TIDE, and am slowly becoming familiar with all of their educational programs. I’ve spent a lot of time out in the field, meeting teachers and students at the schools with which TIDE partners. The kids are all very excited to chat with me, and always ask which village I am from.

TIDE focusses its efforts on communities within the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor, which can be found along the coast in southern Belize. Their mission is to engage stakeholders in the sustainable management of natural resources within this area, for the benefit of all. The education and outreach programs are designed to empower local residents to be environmental stewards, to raise awareness of how people benefit from ecosystems, and to teach people how they can take better care of these ecosystems.

I’ve been working closely with Norman Budna, TIDE’s Education and Outreach Director. We've been touring schools and learning about the environmental projects they have implemented so that they could qualify to play in the Freshwater Cup, an environmental soccer tournament. Some of the projects include vertical gardens, eco-parks, outdoor seating areas, and clean-up initiatives. We also facilitate a few soccer games each week between schools for the Freshwater Cup. 

I have plenty to do between now and when I leave in October. So many new friends to meet and fruit to try. I am most excited though about taking several trips out to the cayes and the Belize Barrier Reef in June with the children that are part of TIDE’s Belize Reef Guardians program. 

Haley Robinson, Geography, VIU