University of Wisconsin-River Falls

News Source

May 7, 2004


UW-RF Students Travel to Belize, Bring School Supplies
By Sarah Matara
UW-RF News Bureau

School children flock around tables overflowing with pencils, backpacks, crayons, books and notebooks. Their eyes shine as they select carefully from the piles of treasure

. A group of 26 UW-River Falls students traveled to Belize for 12 days during spring break, led by anthropology Professor Ed Robins. They brought school supplies with them to give to local school children in the village of Cristo Rey in the Cayo District of western Belize.

Belize is a small English-speaking country situated on the northeastern tip of Central America. Once a British colony, this country of 200,000 people was known as British Honduras. It gained its independence in 1981.

"By third world standards, Belize isn't that poor, but by our standards, it is. People get by on very little," Robins said.

Students spent about $10 each and selected which school supplies to bring with them, Robins said. The principal set up tables and arranged the school supplies, and students lined up, said a prayer of thanks for the gifts, then performed a skit for the UW-RF entourage.

Amanda Hirsch, a senior psychology major from Menomonie, said even though she didn't get to see the children react to the gifts (only a limited number of students went to the school), she feels good about the donation.

"It was really gratifying to know that we would be helping the children and community rather than merely being tourists," Hirsch said.

Robins said next year the group would like to know which school supplies are most needed, so it knows exactly what to bring.

"Ideally, I would like to see a bridge built between UW-RF and the school," Robins said.

Robins said the trip gives students an international experience where they can see how people live in another country, learn more about conservation and the environment, become global citizens and learn by doing.

UW-RF students divided their time between two regions: the Cayo district in western Belize and Ambergris Caye, an island off the coast.

While in Belize, they visited Mayan temples, hiked in the jungle, explored caves where they saw the remains of Mayan rituals and human sacrifices, canoed, biked, snorkeled and took a manatee tour, among other activities.

James Grosek, a sophomore biology major from Appleton, said his favorite part of the trip was visiting Actun Tunichil Muknal, or Cave of the Stone Burial.

To get into the cave, students had to swim across a deep pool while wearing hard hats with lights. Grosek said they were walking or swimming in an underground river the whole way. They also saw skeletons, which are believed to be the remnants of human sacrifices or accidents.

"I call it our Indiana Jones adventure," Robins said.

Grosek said the UW-RF coalition was part of the first few thousand people to visit the cave since it was opened to the public a couple of years ago.

"We were literally walking on ancient history rather than reading about it or seeing it in a museum," Grosek said.

Brianna Larson, a junior biomedical major from St. Anthony, Minn., said her two favorites parts of the trip were visiting Actun Tunichil Miknal and Tikal, an ancient Mayan civilization over the border in Guatemala.

Robins said one reason he wanted to donate school supplies is because the Belizean people are so gracious to UW-RF students when they visit.

That's influenced some of the students to try to arrange internships in Belize in the future.

"I have fallen desperately in love with this country, its people, history, culture and recreation," Grosek said. "Who wouldn't be after visiting this place of wonder and beauty?"

Other students that went on the trip include biology majors Gina Hoops of Elk River, Minn., Lisa Hennessey of Oakdale, Minn., and Stephanie Schulze of Wyoming, Minn.; sociology majors Jennifer King of Stillwater, Minn. and Andrea Peterson of St. Paul, Minn.; fine arts major Michelle Davidson of Wisconsin Rapids; English major Tara Schneider of River Falls; communications major Nate Dobbratz of Rothschild; biotechnology and business major Lynn Korsman of Eagan, Minn.; broadfield science major Sarah Lenz of Cedar Grove; broad area social studies major Alex Schultz of Deephaven, Minn.; land use planning and conservation major Tiffany Brunner of Arkansaw; broad area business administration major Lindsey Schrum of Chanhassen, Minn.; animal science major Charlotte Anderson of Minneapolis, Minn.; English education major Gretchen Peck of White Bear Lake, Minn.; pre-veterinary medicine major Stephanie Jirele of Owatonna, Minn.; political science major Marnie Burau of Lake Elmo, Minn.; secondary education major Jessica Neis of Lake Elmo, Minn.; business administration and marketing communications major John Laughlin of Ellsworth; marketing communications major Jeff Rutkowski of Lake Elmo, Minn.; theatre major Christina Vanda of Clayton; and journalism major Anna Permann of Montrose, Colo.

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