Allana Hayes traded in her quiet upbringing in suburban Minneapolis to teach in a violent neighborhood in Belize. The 2009 graduate in special education is finishing two years with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She reflects on living simply, the cycles of violence and the brother who made her who she is.
My life: Part of the JVC program is living simply in an intentional community. I live with six volunteers in a poor neighborhood that lies in a gray zone between two rival gangs. We have no TV or other major electronics. We receive $2.50 a day for food. I try to eat meals my students would eat. That sounds great in theory, but I am not a good cook, so it doesn’t always work out. We bake our own bread. I have a rainwater vat where we get our drinking water. Sometimes I miss consistent electricity. I miss the voices of friends from home. I miss berries and apples. I miss nuts. I don’t miss the consumerism of America. I don’t even want to think about the first time I go into a Costco. It will be too overwhelming.
My job: I’m the reading intervention teacher for fifth and sixth grade at St. Martin de Porres School, one of the poorest in Belize City. I have five classes a day and run the library. I’m also the school counselor, nurse and part-time softball coach. Many students come from single-parent working homes and at least a third can’t read or write proficiently. There’s usually one or two fights a day. Teachers have to pull students apart.
My neighborhood: Belize City doesn’t have a lot of petty theft. The main issue is gang violence. I’ve fallen asleep to gunfire. People have been shot and killed within a block from my house. There have been eight murders in the past six days. My students have been shot in broad daylight on their walk home from school. I asked 35 students if they had seen someone killed in front of them and 34 raised their hands. Every day I say a special prayer for teenage boys in Belize City.
My inspiration: Brett is the reason I’ve done almost everything. He looks like a typical 20-year-old man. He is taller than I am, much stronger, faster and more stubborn. He is my brother, and such a blessing in my life. Brett is one of only 36 people in the world to be diagnosed with a condition called Ring 22. He is missing pieces of his 22nd chromosome. At best he has the intellectual level of a 3-year-old, at worst, a newborn. But it is because of Brett that I care so much about the disability movement and started volunteering in junior high. I can’t imagine my life any other way.