Geography and Environmental Studies (G&ES 363M) Field Experience: Belize is a regional geography class focusing on the small but amazingly diverse country of Belize, Central America.
A G&ES COURSE
offered over Spring Break
CLIMB TO ANTUN HA
900 AD, at the peak of Mayan civilization, over 1 million Maya may
have lived in Belize. Belize still has Maya residents who escaped oppression
from Mexico and Guatamela. The Spanish wished to colonize it; the English
did, making today's Belize culturally far different from the Spanish-dominated
countries of Central America. English is the official language.
The indigenous Maya traded and farmed in-country and on the cayes.
|Seventeenth century English pirates hid in mangrove coves behind the safety of the coral reefs, and then settled there to harvest valuable timber. Many other groups of people found haven in Belize. Living in this small country (8,866 sq. miles, about the size of New Hampshire) today, you will find Garifuna/Garinagu, Mennonites, Creoles, Mestizo, Maya, East Indians, Chinese, and people from other Central American countries. Even with this variety, Belize is the least densely populated country in Central America. Belize is physically as well as culturally diverse. The northern lowlands, the highlands along the northwestern border with Guatemala, the beaches, the southern mountains, the coral reef and the cayes (islands) and the rivers provide beauty and diverse habitat for many species of animals and plants. Much of the natural area of Belize is intact and healthy enough to support populations of jaguar, who require a great deal of land, howler monkeys, who live compatibly with people, and birds, who are everywhere. Tourists flock to Belize, and many of them stay at resorts run by Americans.|
|The Belize class aims to understand Belize as Belizeans experience it. Perhaps that is one definition of ecotourism. We stay at Belizean-owned establishments (sometimes rudimentary but always wonderful), eat the local food, talk with the locals, try to understand how Belize is attempting to transform itself from a "third world" to a "first world" country, while also trying to save the flora and fauna that attract needed dollars from tourism. The class travels around in a big yellow school bus, chartered from James' bus company. We visit towns, fishing villages, Mayan archeological sites, and ecological reserves. We drive through banana and citrus plantations. We snorkel at the cays and stay overnight in Mayan villages. We discuss the importance of everything we see. Our class preparation before the trip, including a research paper, prepares us to reap the most from our visit. The field trip is intense; students find new experiences coming at them from every direction 16 hours a day. Our Belizean guides share personal insights into Belize as well as into their own lives, religions, occupations and dreams.|
|Wil Maheia is our chief and indispensible guide. Wil is a native Belizean from the Toledo District. He is an alum of NEIU in Geography and Environmental Studies, with a Masters Degree from University of Idaho. He is Executive Director of the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) TIDE, which stands for Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment. TIDE was recognized at the August 2002 World Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, (follow-up to the 1992 conference in Rio) as the "most innovative" NGO out of approximately 420 applicants. This rich experience of combing the history, landscape and cultures of Belize leaves many students wanting more.|
|Students make life-long friends and many return to Belize
on their own. For ten years this class has been a powerful link between
NEIU and Belize. A student from my 1996 class recently wrote to me:
"My trip to Belize, along with my Redwood National Park internship after
NEIU as well as my High School photos are the only ones worthy of putting
in an OFFICIAL photo album for all to see. Thank you."
- Libby Hill, instructor