Alumni Spotlight: Elsie Storm

Why did you decide to volunteer with ProWorld in Belize?

Elsie: I initially decided to volunteer abroad because I was at a stage in my life where I was able to take time away from work and didn’t have very many commitments tying me down. I had always wanted to volunteer abroad so that I could have an international experience, yet also be of service at the same time. A friend recommended ProWorld to me and as I was browsing through their countries that I could volunteer in, Belize seemed like it would be the best fit for me as I liked that it was English speaking and their projects and staff support seemed like a good fit for what I was looking for.

Elsie working with an old man at a nursing home

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Elsie: A typical volunteer day consists of me waking up, eating a yummy breakfast made by my host mom Lily (my favorite is when she makes fryjacks with scrambled eggs and beans….YUM!) and then heading to Octavia Waight (the nursing home) for the first part of the day. I start of my day at Octavia Waight by greeting all of the residents and checking in with them and then assisting them with their physical therapy. I have learned most of their therapy routines and I have found that I really enjoy the days where we get to do therapy. After therapy I sometimes help out in the kitchen or the gardens. Everyday around 10:00 a.m. the residents get a snack which consists of fresh papaya, mango, avocado or cashew that they pick from the trees right outside of their kitchen. It is amazing. I am getting so spoiled by all of the fresh fruit here - it tastes so much better than the fruit you get back in the States. After we serve a snack we sometimes play games or I will take some of the residents into the greenhouse to pick spinach and water the plants, or I will just hang out and chat and provide company.

One of my favorite residents is a man named Leo. Leo had a stroke awhile back and the stroke caused him to become blind in both eyes and disabled on the left side of his body. One of Leo’s favorite games to play is Bingo; however he obviously can’t play it without assistance. So today I told Leo that I would be his “eyes” for him so that he could join in on the Bingo game. We had so much fun playing Bingo together and every time that he would be able to place a playing piece on his game board he would get so excited and would tickle the palm of my hand with his finger – it was so sweet. The people here are great and I think that I am going to be sad to leave them once it’s time to go.

When my shift ends at noon, I walk back to my house – sweating like crazy by the time my 10 minute walk is over…lately I have been able to tell how hot it is by how sweaty I get on my walk home…hahaha it’s so gross, but I am becoming strangely accustomed to just being sweaty all of the time and I actually don’t mind it as much as I thought I would.

At lunch I get an hour break and Lily, Hamid (my host dad) and I all eat lunch together. Then I brave the heat again and walk down the hill to meet Michael at the ProWorld building. Working with Michael is typically the highlight of my day as everyday with him is something different and exciting. As I mentioned before we are doing research on jaguars and the importance of prey/predators in a healthy ecosystem. One of the great things about Michael is that he knows tons of people in Belize, so we are continually meeting with all of these phenomenal people who can give us information on jaguars and their prey. Thus far we have gone to the Belize Zoo to see the jaguars, we have meet with villagers who hunt in the jungle, we went to a butterfly farm and spoke with retired professors who know a ridiculous amount about the jungle, as well as done research of our own and talked with locals who know different things here and there. Soon we are planning on going into the jungle for a few days to see if we can find more evidence to support our research. I’m so excited for that – I love it here, every day is an adventure.

Physical therapy at a nursing home

How has this experience impacted your future?

Elsie: When I first went to Belize, I had never really traveled abroad by myself. I was scared and nervous and didn’t know what to expect of life outside of the United States. But while in Belize I caught the travel bug and couldn’t sit still in the States anymore, so I am now living and working in Mexico. Since then I have also worked and traveled throughout Latin America and plan to continue to travel the world for the rest of my life. I’m sure that I will eventually move back to the U.S. but right now I am really enjoying the adventure that living abroad brings. As a small town girl from the Midwest, my ProWorld experience really opened my eyes to how amazing this world is – I encourage you all to go abroad as it is guaranteed to change your life in one way or another.