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.