Youth Camp Week 2:
Entering the second week of Youth Camp, we really felt like we were starting to get the hang of things. We continued to explore our theme of Eco-Cultural Identity with days focused on Threats to the Marine Ecosystem, Human Health and the Environment, and Advocacy. On Monday, the San Pedro representative from Oceana Belize, Angel Briceno, came to speak to the campers about the threats of oil spills, plastic pollution, the work that his organization is doing to combat these threats, and how the children themselves can get involved. The children enjoyed answering his questions and receiving Oceana pencils as prizes, and one of the older campers asked us at the end how she could find out how to get more involved in the organization. They also loved getting to feel the shell-less egg that Emily and Rene created with vinegar to demonstrate the effects of ocean acidification.
On Tuesday, Glenda finally got to use all of the water bottles that we had all been collecting for the whole trip. Her water filtration lesson, using sand and coffee filters to “clean” dirty water was a success and Yeiny’s jeopardy about fishing practices was a big hit as well!
On Wednesday, the students started the day by drawing a picture of a place on the island that was special to them and later they made advocacy posters to illustrate something that they care about and want to protect. After one last Coral of the Day, the students spent most of the day on Thursday preparing their final projects for graduation.
Graduation was a sweet conclusion to a great year of camp! Attendance was good: we asked the Lions Den to set up 100 chairs, and they were all filled and several parents were standing in the back! The food was delicious: beautiful cupcakes donated from Wild Mangos and Blue Water Grill. We underestimated how fast kids can go through cheese puffs!
After allowing time for people to trickle in, the evening started with a presentation of the camp picture slideshow that Glenda created while people were eating their food. Next, we opened up the floor for final project presentations from the students. One camper, who was returning to camp for her third year, impressed us with her in-depth poster and presentation about how a coral polyp develops. Some other campers presented about their favorite Coral of the Day.
After final projects, we presented the campers with their Expert Cards– first to the REEF Program students and then to Youth Camp students– signifying that they had successfully completed the program. There were around 70 students who graduated this year!
To end the night on an energetic note, the students performed the two songs they had been practicing for two weeks: Don’t Litter the Beach and The Mangrove Song (with dance moves!) They knew them both so well and sounded great! The audience loved it!
Glass Bottom Boat Trip:
We all agreed that the Glass Bottom Boat trips on Friday contained some of the best moments of camp. It never got old to see every one of the students shriek with excitement every time a new type of coral came into view in the glass. Remembering them from the Coral of the Day lessons, they would shout out their names at the top of their lungs: “PURPLE SEA FAN!” or “LETTUCE CORAL!” and point them out to their friends. They were also excited to see the swarming of sharks at Shark Ray Alley and the captain gave them each a piece of fish to throw to them. It is so special for the kids to be able to see in person what they learned about in the classroom at camp, especially considering that some of them had lived on the island their whole lives and never been out to see coral in a boat. The six of us ended Friday with a delicious dinner at El Fogon restaurant which was a gift from Olive, the restaurant owner and mother of two of our returning campers.
Saying Goodbyes and Wrapping Up at Smith:
We were heartbroken to leave our friends, so we put off final packing until Saturday night, spending every last moment we could enjoying the sunlight together. We ended our trip with breakfast at Neri’s tacos, one of our favorite food spots, where we bumped into one of our favorite campers for a final farewell.
The adventures did not stop on the island: we sprinted through the airport to make our connecting flight with only three minutes to spare, and then the airline lost eleven of our bags. Despite these trials, we still found time to call our Belizean friends from the airport, and we returned to Smith for a productive final week culminating in a successful presentation. As we shared with the audience at the presentation, our lives were certainly changed by this experience and we all hope to return to San Pedro in the future!