Leading in Belize: Kaelin Gillis

Recently, we sat down with Kaelin Gillis to talk with her about her teaching experience in Belize. Here is what she had to say:

” Last summer was amazing for me as I had the opportunity to complete a service learning course through St Francis Xavier University in Belize. Traveling with 12 other pre-service and in-service teachers, we had the opportunity to provide education programming to local Mayan children in a small community called Maya Center. This service learning experience was one of a lifetime. Traveling to a developing country was a first for most of our group; composed mainly of physical educators, along with some elementary specialists and middle/high-school teachers.
While I could write volumes about my time in Maya Center and the surrounding communities we visited, I’ll share with you a few big take-home lessons:
1.Children naturally love to play. The Belizean students loved taking off their “slippers” (sandals) and joining in an impromptu game of soccer, or climbing the closest tree, trying to hang upside down from the big branches. We (in Canada) need to do a better job at fostering play in natural environments, and allowing some risky play to happen for our students and children.
2. We are fortunate to be teaching and living in this amazing country. Opportunities are seemingly endless for you in Canada – if you wanted to become a personal trainer, a scuba diving instructor, or a dog walker, you have access to do this in most provinces, and support from institutions. Belize is an incredible country that has much beauty but is still developing economically. I saw so many students we would describe as being extra talented who will not necessarily have the opportunity to see their goals and dreams met. The 14-year old girl who was a firecracker on the field will most likely end up taking care of her siblings and cousins instead of pursuing her passion in sport. This is a message I remind myself of daily, and I have shared this story with my students and colleagues.
3. Having fears is a natural thing. Facing and working to overcome them is a liberating experience. The excursions we experienced on our weekends while in Belize seemed to provide exposure to many of our group members’ fears: snakes, horses, water. Being among supportive colleagues spoke volumes to our comfort levels in facing our fears. There is something to say about a group of 14 people, over half of whom did not know each other going in to this experience, working together daily, experiencing incredible opportunities professionally and personally, being so naturally cohesive.

SLC Belize

It goes without saying that if you ever come across an experience to do service learning – whether through a practicum in your Bachelor of Education program, a Masters course, or simply an opportunity to volunteer in a developing country, you will be happy you took it. I know I am.”

Thank you for sharing this amazing experience Kaelin! We look forward to your future travels as you lead around the world and in your local community!



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