Compiled Reports from WAIT Trainers in Belize

Following a few days of intensive preparations in DC and in New Jersey, the three WAIT Trainers boarded their flight for Belize. Sun Jae and Mie Smith, and Cathlene Bell had consolidated all the equipment, musical instruments, computers and personal clothing into just a few bags, for best efficiency. Arriving in Belize City to 80 degree weather, they were greeted by hosts Diesa Seidel of United Initiatives and Sports for Peace, and Ernesto Gomez of the UPF Peace Embassy.

The combined group discussed the appointments and schedules for the week which already seemed fairly full.

Coca-cola is big here and so is BTL (Belize Telemedia Limited).

The next morning, they woke up to torrential rain, which is unusual this time of year for Belize, as they are in their dry season. The city's drainage system is not so good, so many of the schools were delayed or closed due to flooding concerns.

“Thankfully our first school - a trade school called Tubal - was still open. We presented the powerpoint and a short performance for about 40 kids, many of whom are "unwanted" kids, a few having a history of drug use. However, several got extremely involved in the powerpoint, asking questions and shushing up their classmates. When the team then performed the songs “Hero” and the dance “Rose is Still a Rose,” everyone became enthusiastic,” The team reported. After a hurried lunch, the team zoomed us over to the next stop, the Belize City Youth Hostel (which is actually a juvenile detention facility). “Prior to the performance, we trained three kids in roles for the skit,” said Cathlene. “Then Sun Jae and I gave the powerpoint, which we followed with the skit and the song, ‘Hero.’ We could see how the performance was affecting them; a few of the kids in the back row were quietly singing along with us. It was a really special moment, one that I think I'll return to mentally when times get rough."

“Because the Youth Hostel kids are confined to the compound, it was not feasible to start a team amongst them, but we felt we should invest in them to ensure that these kids could feel that someone truly cares about them, and sees their potential,” the team wrote.

“As we were leaving, we spotted one boy, suspected by the staff for drug trafficking, hiding behind a building. One of the teachers saw him and alerted others to catch him. It saddened our hearts, and made us really determine to plant love in this sorrowful place.”

“We had dinner with the Gomez and Yanai families, and ended up doing a talent show! We performed several songs: Change the World, Save Yourself and Wait For Me, then the Gomez boys exhibited their breakdancing skills and the parents got in on the action as well! There was a beatboxing demonstration, and a rendition of the Hokey Pokey by 7-year-old Miki Yanai. It was a beautiful day.”

The next morning was a meeting with the director of the Conscious Youth Development Program for at-risk youth, Mr. Edward Broaster. He was very supportive of WAIT and explained the CYDP work and projects to help the surrounding communities.

“After that, we went back to the Youth Hostel again to continue our training performing ‘Wait for me,’ which they enjoyed greatly, and the game show where they could demonstrate their knowledge about HIV. We trained them in the skit, which was a lot of fun but somewhat difficult due to a shortage of people.”

“That afternoon, we decided to stay longer at the Youth Hostel and teach them “Wait for Me.” We divided into groups to teach the dance for “Been so Good" and for another group to learn to sing “Hero." The training ended with in a circle where we took turns dancing, applauding and encouraging each person.

“It seems that juvenile detention facilities like these don’t have positive activities like WAIT for the kids, but you could see that they really responded to the chance to learn songs and dances, and the chance to act with a positive purpose. They definitely enjoyed the experience of something cultural,” said Cathlene. “I think programs like this could really help.”

“That evening, we took a beautiful, super-fast water taxi to Caye Caulker, where we stayed with friends of Diesa.”

“The next morning, we woke up early to prepare for a performance at Ocean Academy,” Sun Jae explained. “We wanted to have enough time to train a couple students before our session started. So, we grabbed the first three kids who got to the school and trained them to play the roles of the ARV’s and the Defenseless Cell.

“The entire school of about 30 students gathered, paying attention to the powerpoint, asking and answering questions. Immediately after, we went into the skit with the students who volunteered to help doing a great job, and the students really loved it.

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“Then, Mie and Cathlene sang “Wait For Me," with Kimberly Cain of the CYDP (Conscious Youth Development Program) performing one of the rap verses. The students really got into the song, shouting, "Encore! Encore!"

“During the gameshow, there was a lot of participation from the kids, answering the questions and counting along. We then did “Hero,” “Rose” and the “Final Act.” Getting the kids to dance at the end was a bit tough, but we could tell they really wanted to learn some dance moves. Even the teachers did some breakdancing!

“Both the teachers and the kids responded so enthusiastically: they were very excited to start a WAIT team, learn the songs and dances. We didn’t have as much time as we wanted to work with them, but we left materials, DVDs, CDs and pamphlets with them. The teachers were especially grateful for the educational items for the kids because there is no AIDS or sex education normally available.”

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The hosts planned a snorkling adventure for the team. “A first for me,” said SunJae. “I was the only one who never went before. It took me some time to get the hang of it. We saw coral reefs, all kinds of colorful fish, a barracuda and sting rays that the tour guide was picking up so everyone could pet them. We're got really sunburned but it was a great day—Mie finally feels, after 4 years, that we’ve actually had a honeymoon!

They traveled back to Belize City, that evening, happy and exhausted.

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“We got up early the next morning feeling pretty tired, but as soon as we arrived at the Anglican College, our energy level somehow returned to full force. We presented to a class of some sixty 15 to 18-year-olds.

“After our abridged powerpoint, we performed the skit with student volunteers. The rest of the performance went so well that the kids requested and encore of “Wait for Me.” We wrote the lyrics on the blackboard so the whole class could sing with us. And then danced to “Beauty From Pain,” and another rap "Check Jill." After we concluded, four students did interviews with Sun Jae, and 18 signed up to join the WAIT Team. We invited them to come and perform with us on Saturday, and several of the kids (including a drummer and pianist) promised to participate.

“That afternoon, it started to rain again, which was a real issue, because our afternoon session with the Mayflower Neighborhood kids was supposed to take place outdoors, so we had to cancel that session. Instead, we decided to work with the girls from Kim's group, "STYLE.” Kim gave a substantial part of the powerpoint lecture, then we taught the skit, and ran through the performance. The girls wanted to learn Rose, so we taught them the chorus part, and Mie and I danced the parts to the verses.

“That night, we met several guests for dinner, including Mr. Jenkins, the director of Sports for Belize, and Dr. Kang, who was hosting many martial artists to come that week for an educational gathering. We shared about WAIT, and at their request, performed with the new trainees from Belize. Mr. Jenkins was very excited, and expressed deep appreciation for our work. The performance seemed to help the STYLE girls feel more assured and comfortable - a great sign! The Gomez boys also seemed eager to participate as well.”

“The next day began with challenges including possible rain, inability to contact people by phone, and other difficulties. However, the willingness and sincerity of the Gomez and Yanai children made up for these things. They were so happy to learn and to take on the WAIT mission, so we spent the morning training the seven kids in WAIT’s traditions and internal guidelines, such as positive thinking and communicating with parents and living the message 24/7. We went over the skit, arranged a breakdance act and headed over to BTL Park for our afternoon performance.

“At first, it seemed we would be performing only for a small handful of park visitors. Then, all of a sudden, a big school bus pulls up, and a huge number of kids and adults poured out! This was a church youth group that Uncle Ernesto had invited. In addition to our full performance, there was a Creole skit written by the mother of Shanice, one of our new Belize WAIT members. The girls did do a good job of acting and bringing the story back to the WAIT message. The event really inspired the youth group’s kids and pastors. A senior class group from a Canadian high school showed up too: they travel to Belize every year to do performing arts education on drug and alcohol awareness. They were really nice, and we enjoyed meeting them.

“At the Peace Embassy that evening, we were treated to a lavish buffet dinner in honor of both our departure and the arrival of several international Tae Kwon Do teachers. We were asked to give a short presentation, and the Belize WAIT members performed together with us, creating a very deep and inspiring presentation. We were later told that some of these guests said their hearts were melted by being able to see us in action.

“Looking back on the week, we counted up 12 presentations, which included both the scientific explanations of the powerpoint lecture and the performing arts presentations, and about 8 training sessions.

The heroes of the week were Diesa and Kim, who got pressed into performing and teaching with us, and Uncle Ernesto who did the lion’s share of the transportation and communication work.

“We felt very hopeful due to the strong core group of the Gomez and Yanai families as well as the STYLE girls, the kids we trained at each school or center, and the various teachers and leaders who encouraged the establishment of WAIT teams in their areas. Many wonderful and generous people contributed to the WAIT outreach in Belize: we’d like to thank all the people both in the U.S. and in Belize itself who helped make this such a wonderful success.”

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Reported by:

Cathlene Bell

Mie Tsubata Smith

Sun Jae Smith