We set off early in the day to travel to a village far away from most all existence, tucked neatly into the mountainside at the end of the road …. literally. After a slow cruise through a number of villages, lush rain forest and miles and miles of untamed jungle, not to mention the abundance of mud and enormous potholed roads (this seems to be a habit of ours!) – three hours to be exact – we came to the end of the road and into the village of Delores.
We were here in the fall to meet a young nutmeg farmer named Orlando and his family. To get to Orlando’s house, it requires a significant hike up a steep, rocky, slippery trail – only way in, only way out. Feeling pretty joyous that I was only about 80% breathless and my legs still moved in the right direction, we were invited inside. Sitting on a simple bench near the floor, we were served a glass of warmed tea. This has been our experience at every home we have visited, warm tea or a mixture of warmed corn milk and cacao – both a sign of hospitality. We were touched by Orlando’s quiet and humbled demeanor. We were told that he is a motivated and dedicated worker, traveling three hours by bus (one way) at times to find a few days work (which mean he doesn’t return until the work is done). As we left the village, we knew we wanted to not only return but find ways that we might be able to help provide needed resources to families in this village.
When we returned this week, Delores was bustling with many children at the school and the women were lined up at the health clinic to receive vitamins. Trying to imagine being this far from really most everything was beyond my comprehension, yet one thing stood out in glaring fashion – the smiles on the kids’ faces as they played in the swampy school lawn. After sucking up my desire to try and weave my way around most of the mud, I just tromped right through it like the kids – only difference was that I had rubber boots on, they had none, not even the standard flip flops. Like a 2×4 hitting me smack between the eyes, my gratitude for a $20 pair of boots left me feeling a tremendous responsibility to do what I can to bless these children. Immediately I knew that a “flip flop drive” would be in order. How awesome it would be to deliver 172 pairs of flip flops to the preschool and primary students!
As the whole village seemed to be hustling and bustling about, 15 men and 1 woman were learning how to identify and transplant wild vanilla. Orlando recently attended a training on how to establish a vanilla nursery, so he was now proudly passing on his newly gained knowledge. There was a lot of excitement among this group of men .. and woman, because finding ways to make an income are nearly non-existent for these villagers. At one time this village was flourishing with spices but now the crops are either overgrown in the jungle and unattended or they have perished. With the promise of sales for the spices long gone and no transportation (except for the bus that runs 3 days a week), the challenges for these remote villagers is, yet again, beyond my comprehension. Our partner farmer, Salucio, is working diligently to train young men and women (even those not so young) to revive the remnants of the spices and introducing them to vanilla to help bring hope and financial resources to Delores. We are excited and privileged to be part of this endeavor in dual ways: 1) through Sowing Seeds in Belize as we collect teaching materials, schoolroom supplies, bookbags/supplies for students, high school and technical school scholarships and beginning a back yard garden/nutrition/food preservation effort, and 2) through Maya Mountain Coffee & Spice Company by providing a market for their spice and vanilla crops.
Wild jungle-sourced vanilla is an EXCITING thought! It requires patience as it will take several years until it is mature enough to provide pods. Establishing this nursery will help teens and women to get involved in the process because vanilla needs to be hand pollinated … a laborious task indeed requiring small hands. I’m not the most patient person, but slowly I am learning how to cultivate it as life is at a much slower pace here and it doesn’t do any good to be impatient … and as a matter of fact, I’m kinda liking it!
I had a chance to meet with the principal to ask about the school’s greatest needs. Not surprised to hear his wish list of basic items, again, I was overcome with compassion and respect for how hard it is for the teachers to do their job as they would desire with such a lack of relevant teaching materials and supplies. They desperately wish for white boards, computers and educational learning toys for the preschool, among numerous other basic, very simple items. This list will be added to our bigger “wish list” of much needed resources we will be collecting throughout the summer – for Delores and numerous other villages.
We will be returning soon to Delores to begin a back yard garden project. With the cost of vegetable seeds being out of reach for villagers, our intent is to begin with a ‘training garden’ for those interested in learning, with the hope that others will then start a garden in their back yard. This will involve men, women and teens and will go far to introduce a greater variety of foods to their very minimal diet. We will incorporate a cooking session to teach new recipes and in the future introduce food preservation methods. This is a bit of a challenge – with no electricity there is no food storage for fresh foods and certainly no ovens, crock pots, griddles …. a simple wood fired grate or stone slab. My comfort zone will be stretched quite a bit, but I’m ready!
As we waved goodbye to the many smiling faces of Delores, they slowly disappeared out of sight … but NOT out of mind.