Students bring light to community in Belize

Eight students from Rutgers University-Newark, including two Rutgers Business School-Newark undergraduates, embarked on a 10-day service trip to Belize, united by a shared goal of making a difference in a foreign land. Organized by the Office of Global Initiatives and Experiential Learning, the trip offered the students a transformative summer experience.

Their mission? To install solar panels and light fixtures at the community center and school in Double Head Cabbage, a village near Belize City that had been hard hit by Hurricane Lisa.

Upon reaching their destination, Monica Celi, a junior marketing student at Rutgers Business School, said the group was particularly disheartened to see the school’s unsafe conditions. With its roof caving in and lights destroyed by the hurricane, the building was a hazardous setting for children and an unsuitable learning environment, especially during inclement weather.

As they set about their volunteer work, the Rutgers students divided themselves into three teams. The first group, which included Celi, collaborated closely with community members to strategize about the best placement of new light fixtures in the school, avoiding classrooms with the most structural damage. The second team worked to attach solar panels on the roofs of the school and community center, while the third focused on installing a solar suitcase.

Celi was touched by the positive change this act of service had on the schoolchildren and the broader community. “Installing the light fixtures was a small action yet had such an impact,” she said. “We provided light to the village, literally and figuratively.”

Sarah Delva, a senior accounting major at Rutgers Business School who was assigned to the solar panel project, echoed Celi’s sentiments. “Serving this great purpose for Belize and the Double Head Cabbage community was one of the most breathtaking experiences for me,” she said. “It helped me have a different perspective about how we live in America — how privileged we are.”

While some on the team, such as Delva, possessed hands-on electrical skills, they collaborated closely with peers from the University of Belize who specialize in this field when installing the solar panels and light fixtures. Nonetheless, Delva was impressed by the talent of the all-female Rutgers crew.

Rutgers University-Newark students helping to install solar panels in Belize.
The students worked alongside individuals from the University of Belize with experience in installing light fixtures and solar panels.

“There was a lot of women empowerment,” she said, noting how the unconventional sight of females working with tools caught the attention of the local community, challenging their traditional gender roles.

During the latter part of the service trip, the students journeyed south to Hopkins, where they met members of the Garifuna tribe, an Afro-indigenous ethnic group originating from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Celi said she found it remarkable how the Garifuna community relies on natural healing resources like herbs and plants from the land to treat health conditions. Delva was also impressed by the tribe’s deep commitment to preserving their cultural heritage and identity. Despite the fast pace of modern life, she observed that they remain steadfast in upholding the rituals and traditions that bind them together.

Both students expect the trip to have a lasting impression. “The service trip to Belize was a life-changing experience for me,” Celi said. “It showed me how my choices and actions can affect people and the world around me.”

“The Belizeans showed me that no matter the hardships, they never seem to let their limited resources impact them,” Delva said. “That helped me gain perspective when I got back and changed how I see life in general. I want to help more people in the world who may lack some of the resources I have.”

In addition to Celi and Delva, the group of students from Rutgers University-Newark included: Ayoko Kessouagni, Ria Monga, Jarleny Tejeda-Chavarria and Taitu Ustanny, all students at the School of Arts and Sciences; Temitope Ogundare, School of Public Affairs and Administration; and Diamond Veney, School of Criminal Justice. The students were accompanied on the trip by a professor of social work and several Rutgers University-Newark administrators.

- Elise McIntosh

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