COMING TOGETHER TO DO GREAT GOOD – the 2014 RCI Mission to Belize

By Amber Fisher

Having returned 10 days ago from the seventh mission of Resource Centers International (RCI) to provide much needed educational materials for primary school students in Belize, I have had time to reflect upon the enormity of the selfless sharing of talent and resources that underpinned the success of the project, and the potential of what was done to pay big ‘quality of life’ dividends well into the future.

During a one week period, a core team consisting of three District 6600 Rotarians (Team Leader and RCI founder Mel Honig of the Sylvania Club, IT Specialist Kent Iler of the Elyria Club, and me – also of the Elyria Club), my fourteen year-old daughter, an IT Specialist and former school teacher from Belize, and the former Early Childhood Development Education District Coordinator of Belize’s Ministry of Education worked to disseminate and set up educational materials within Northern Belize. On a personal note, I have never done so much physical work and gotten so ‘dusty’ in my professional career as I did on mission week, nor have I felt so good in decades. But ‘mission week’ was really the middle of the story…

Each mission begins with the collection of items to be disseminated by RCI: the much-coveted computers, projectors, televisions, VCRs, children’s VHS tapes, carts, cabinets, tables, shelving, toys, games, puzzles, colorful floor matting (the reaction of the children to this matting is priceless!), and – perhaps most importantly – books, books, books. On RCI Mission 7 to Belize, we were able to provide these materials to thirteen primary schools (two rural schools did not receive computers because they rely strictly on solar energy insufficient to support the computers), and one adult education center. Hats off to Mel Honig (who is too modest to relay the huge time and effort required to collect needed items) for working tirelessly for many months prior to each mission to solicit donations/subsidization of and organize materials to be disseminated by RCI. Kudos to the many vendors (e.g., Sam’s Club, which provides the floor matting at an enormously discounted price), libraries, organizations and individuals that supply these goods. And many thanks to MESA (a gem of Rotary District 6600) for storing and shipping the resources to their destination country, and for supporting the mission financially.

Space does not permit a just recounting of the roles of the many host country partners that contribute to the successful distribution and use of the RCI donations, but I would be remiss not to remark upon the impressive dynamic that I witnessed. Consider that the president of the (very small) Rotary Club of Orange Walk (Belize) owns a hardware business, and was able to provide a huge warehouse and lot for storage and dissemination of the large MESA shipment. Consider that our key contact in Belize, a wonderfully tenacious woman and former Ministry of Education employee named Carmen Carillo, was personally familiar with primary schools throughout the region and able to direct RCI resources to where they were most needed; additionally, she was clearly known and admired by school teachers and administrators alike, enabling her to effectively coordinate and give direction about the placement and use of items. (Carmen’s motivation and ability to check on the use and maintenance of donated items is invaluable, and guarantees the effectiveness of RCI missions long after international teams depart.) Consider that Byron, a former teacher and IT expert who witnessed the magic of a prior RCI mission to Belize, volunteered his time to work alongside Rotarian Kent to set up computers and troubleshoot technology issues. Consider, finally, that our RCI mission was featured on the nightly news (in what was the equivalent of a Channel 5 news story, but longer) not once, but on two separate occasions, based on different interviews, schools and footage. The positive media was just one indication of the significance of the RCI mission.

This brings me to the end of the story, well almost… I found the most compelling evidence of the importance of the RCI mission not in the nightly news, not in the effusive and sincere expressions of gratitude from school principals, not in the prepared student presentations for the RCI team (although these were unbelievably cute and moving), not in the plaques and awards prepared by some of the PTAs (as impressed as I was with the parents who came to help set up the resources and with whom I found – to my delight – I was able to converse a little using my college Spanish), and not even in my personal observations that the schools served had very few classroom resources, and that RCI was providing high quality and appropriate educational items (particularly children’s books!); rather, I found the strongest evidence of the importance of the mission in the eyes and actions of teachers who were clearly strategizing about the use of donated materials in everyday instruction, and in the reactions of students who were not only delighted by but also very much interested in using what they had received.

The true beauty of the RCI story is that it doesn’t really have an ending. Although there is every indication that the items donated through RCI will be highly valued and well maintained, most tangible items will eventually wear out or become obsolete. The impact of the learning and enhanced awareness that results directly from the use of these items, however, has no limits. RCI, particularly with its current emphasis on preschool and early childhood programs, provides critical resources and assistance for learning at the most critical stages of students’ development. More than once, I heard Mel say “who knows, maybe one of these children will become the next prime minister because he (or she) had the opportunity for a quality education.” There is no question in my mind that students in Belize will be capable of greater levels of achievement, greater capacity for critical thinking, and greater ability to effect positive change because of their enhanced learning environments. Important also is the potential impact of the demonstration of concern and “service above self” through RCI. I am quite proud to have been a part of, and to have involved my daughter in something that supports the World Community Services goal of fostering international understanding, goodwill and peace, and that will surely provide lasting benefits for the wonderful children of Belize who will, no doubt, be eager to ‘pay it forward.’

Respectfully submitted, Amber Fisher


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