I finished Peace Corps in 1999 and since then I have been fortunate to usually spend a month or more in Belize every year. For most of my visits, I coordinate university field studies courses. During the last few years, I have also been conducting community surveys; these are each unique, challenging, and extremely rewarding experiences. But I can honestly say that I feel the most pride – in a back-to-your-roots-Peace-Corps-way – when I represent Full Basket Belize on visits to schools and communities we support with scholarships and project grants. In late March 2014, I visited Orange Walk Technical High School and met some remarkable FBB scholars and their mentor, Ms. Licia Castillo.
Ms. Castillo is the OWTHS’s counselor and is one of the most energetic, organized, and kind people you’ll ever meet. She is a mentor and a motivator, and she cares deeply about her students and her community. She creates opportunities for her students and helps them find the support they need to thrive. She even empowers her students to give back to their community and school. She’s especially proud of her peer mentoring club (all of our Orange Walk Technical High School FBB scholars participate in this club) where they as upperclassmen tutor first year students and talk to them about important topics like abstinence through high school and doing well in school.
Ms Licia holding the 2013 Belize Youth Award for her Peer Helper club.
There are two 4th formers in our cohort of FBB scholars. About to graduate, both FBB scholars are neck-and-neck in the running to be the valedictorian of their entire class (see below for valedictorian results). Our FBB scholars are bright-eyed, motivated, intelligent – and they’ve learned from Ms. Licia that they can do anything they set their minds to. Our FBB scholars are all incredibly humble and appreciative that our organization has made it possible for them to continue their education.
Left to right: Allison Danis (4th Form), Suleimi Roberts (4th Form), Dalia Jolon (3rd Form).
Not pictured: Maritza Mejia (3rd Form)
Interviews with our OWTHS scholars and Ms Licia:
KRISTI: Allison, How important was this FBB scholarship to you and your family?
ALLISON: Well, if it wasn’t for this scholarship, I’m not sure where I’d be without that.
KRISTI: After you graduate this year, what are you planning to do?
ALLISON: Just yesterday I was informed I was accepted to Corozal Junior College. (Big smile). I like studying biochemistry; I want to study Environmental Biology and work in the medical field.
KRISTI: When you’re successful, do you think it’s important to give back to your community? Will you "pay it forward"?
ALLISON: (nodding) I volunteer all I can. I help tutor younger students (peer helper) and help in the Library too. I like to help people in my community.
KRISTI: Suleimi, how has this scholarship helped you and your family?
SULEIMI: It’s helped a lot for me to continue my studies. My family has a tight budget; I have 3 siblings - I’m the second oldest- [my siblings have to go to school too.]
KRISTI: What do you want to do after you graduate?
SULEIMI: I want to go to college and further my studies. I want to start my own business so I can provide employment and help people in my community. I would also like to do medical study in Cuba. I have a strong desire to be someone in life and help society.
KRISTI: Dalia, how has this scholarship helped you and your family?
DALIA: It’s helped a lot. When Ms. Licia announced the scholarships at school assembly, I cried with emotion. Both Maritza and I cried. It was wonderful. Help from your organization made it possible for me to continue with school.
KRISTI: What do you want to do after you graduate in a couple of years?
DALIA: I want to be a teacher of Math and Physics and help students. I plan to go to Corozal JC and finish 6th form.
KRISTI: Dalia, I hear you have to travel far to OWTHS every day?
DALIA: Yes, I live out by the [sugar] factory and I bicycle every day to school. I start about 6:30 in the morning.
KRISTI: You’re friends with Maritza—did this scholarship help her too?
DALIA: We’ve been friends from 1st form. The scholarship helped a lot because she has no father and her mother works to support the family. Maritza only had hope she could continue school; she didn’t expect it.
We’re both so thankful with this scholarship. This school opens a door and it makes us closer to what I always wanted.
KRISTI: Ms. Licia, it’s clear you really love these students. You find scholarships and encourage them. You have inspired and empowered these young women.
LICIA: These are really good kids. They have so much potential and we’re so proud of them. Once you invest in them, there are no barriers. I try to build their confidence and show them the opportunities. We do public presentations. They help with the peer helper club.
KRISTI: How has the FBB scholarship support helped the students?
LICIA: This is about the best scholarship they can get. Because I want to get as many students scholarships as we can, some students want to trade other scholarships for this one.
KRISTI: How do you pick the students to apply for FBB scholarships?
LICIA: I pick kids who achieve well and who really have a need. These are role model students and ones who really need and deserve the scholarship.
KRISTI: We’d love to continue helping your school with scholarships.
LICIA: We really do hold you at Full Basket Belize in high esteem; we really appreciate all the members and stakeholders that are a part of your organization. The money is really being invested – not just spent but invested in the future of Belize. It really gives me a lot of pride when my kids get the scholarship and I can announce it to everybody (at the school assembly) that when there’s a will there’s a way; you just have to do your part. So it really does make a big difference in the lives of these children. There are so many deserving kids. All they need is one opportunity [FBB scholarships] to push it for them and to make the difference.
Editor's note: Allison and Suleimi have written the FBB board to update us on their impressive academic accomplishments. Their letters and photos from graduation are below.
"It's me, Suleimi Roberts, Orange Walk Technical's student whom you granted two years of scholarship. It's an honor for me to have been one of those students whom you helped greatly. Full Basket Belize's really helped me in accomplishing one of my goals. I want to extend my most candid and sincere gratitude towards Full Basket Belize.
"My family and I are really happy and grateful for your help. It is with your help and support that I managed to complete high school. I'm really proud and happy that you helped me to make one of my small dreams become a reality. I am the valedictorian of Orange Walk Technical High School this year 2014. I graduated this Saturday, June 7th, 2014.
"I did my speech and I mentioned that I'm really grateful to Full Basket Belize for helping me with two years' scholarship. It is with your help and support that I was able to complete high school and be 2014 valedictorian! Once more, thank you. I am more than happy to share with you a picture from my graduation."
Valedictorian Suleimi Roberts and Salutatorian Allison Donis on their graduation day
"I'm Allison Donis, a recipient of a scholarship for the past two school years. I am writing to you to express my sincere gratitude to your organization for supporting me and giving me the opportunity to be able to complete my secondary education. Because of your generosity, this weekend, I made it through high school and graduated as an honor roll student.
I pray that the good Lord will continue blessing you and your members so that you can continue reaching others in need and help them as much as you have helped me. Once again, thank you so much from me and my family for your tremendous help."