Even though we shared a campus for years, it took a trip to San Carlos, Belize for a group of ten student-athletes and three advisors to create an everlasting friendship. On this journey we encountered many different lifestyles and met amazing people, that in the end changed us.
Some of our main objectives of the trip were to build a multi-purpose court for the people of San Carlos, immerse ourselves in the culture and to get know our fellow student athletes and advisors. We started off each day with a word, something for us to ponder and figure out how it applies to our lives and the trip in general. Our first word was “Legacy”.
Our first adventure in Belize began not far from the village in an old Mayan ruin called Lamani.
Here we climbed old temples, overcame fears, and grew closer as group. That experience was one of the best examples of legacy that we could ask for. The Mayans were here years before we long before us and they were remembered long after they were gone.
They created a long-lasting impression that we hoped we could replicate in San Carlos by the time our trip came to an end. In addition to having a word of the day, everyone was given a challenge that they had to complete by dinnertime. The challenges were designed for us to interact with the community, learn more about them, push ourselves to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and practice another language.
Once the day was complete would share what our challenges were and what we learned from them.
Every morning, afternoon and night we gathered in a restaurant near the Lagoon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was also a place we could go to relax and just be with each other. In the beginning we would have our meals, play games and talk amongst ourselves. But by the end of the trip we were so immersed in their culture the community would meet us for dinner, and we would all share laughs and play games all together.
When we finally began building the court on the second day of our adventure, figuring out our work rhythm was little rocky at first, but as we continued to work in the hot Belize sun we quickly found our groove. As we tackled the court, section by section, there was an amazing chemistry between one local father and his son.
The father would throw buckets of sand and rocks to his son, and the son would fire the materials into the mixer. As time went by and we became closer with the community, the men showed us how to execute their maneuvers. Soon afterwards we were chucking the rocks and sand into the air just like them, snatching them from the sky and dumping them into the mixer until the very last bucket poured.
Building the court is where we really began to form ties with the community. At every station we were laughing and having good time which made the workday fly by. Once the last bucket of cement was tossed into the mixer and the last wheelbarrow delivery laid and leveled it was great to see the proud expressions on the faces of the community.
As we waited for the cement to dry everyone reconvened to the restaurant.
We played games and told riddles late into the night. The next day was the opening ceremony for the court and it was the most amazing that I have ever experienced. Seeing all of the kids playing on the court was everything we had hoped for. The joy that was on their faces was amazing and getting to teach and play with them on their brand new court was very rewarding. They were just so happy to learn something new, and taking moment to step back a watch them was so fulfilling.
I got so much more out of this trip than I could have ever expected, getting to practice a new language, try different foods, experience a different way of life, and just live in every moment. Another word we focused on was “family,” and I found some in Belize.
In little over a week I met a nine other student-athletes, three advisors, and two peace corp volunteers who I consider to be a part of my family. This trip has really emphasized that family is so much more than just a blood connection, it the trust and love you have for a person. In a little over a week, I was able to find that connection with this group.
Traveling to Belize will forever be one of the greatest memories of my life.
Editor’s note: Louis Richard of Long Beach State University’s men’s volleyball team shares his story of the 49ers’ service trip to Belize.