I have been volunteering with Cornerstone Foundation progressively for the past 3 years. (back and forth since 2012 till now, via online). We walked into the doors of Cornerstone Jan 19th 2012, as two soon to be college students that needed an internship to graduate. We were excited yet hesitant about studying abroad, by the time May came, we realize we benefited from the experience than we thought. Not only did we graduate, we had life changing experience of making lasting impacts of peoples life. For that, I will like to say thank you to Cornerstone. I was a community health student with global health concentration. After my experience, I enrolled in public health program for graduate school my experience with cornerstone impacted this decision very much. After my internship, I knew, I was in the right field. As Mrs Rita told me, in our field you work with your heart not your job description because most vulnerable people depends on you.
When we arrived, we had an orientation with the program coordinator who informed us about the different programs available, she told us about the do’s and don’ts of the organization then we on their culture and what to expect. Our orientation ended with a drive through town to help us familiarize with the town, (downtown, market, post office, police station, library)our main concern was groceries, they stopped for us to get our groceries and taught us how groceries stores functions so we don’t end up buying over priced items. After our orientation we met Mrs Rita Defour, she and the coordinator both asked about our major, our needs and expectations, we told them and gave them what our school required, weekly logs, agency summary, proposal for research study topic and of course a research project. Mine major demanded more than my friend’s but they worked with us to accommodate both our needs in meeting our academic goals. Like I said earlier to us we were there for grades. I was placed on the HIV/AIDS program. I recall Mrs Rita saying to us “we have very limited resources, bare with us, if you have new ideas and recommendations tell me, we need your skills more than you think so tell us how we can help you help us and our community”.
We were from New York, attended a State University, it was obvious our new environment was too slow for us, just as it was overwhelming. From Culture shock to different working environment and styles. We were use to deadlines and keeping our eyes on the price. Little did we know Belize was the opposite of what we were use to. I did presentations in different school, we did market outreach with the youth, we helped with the women’s program, we did condom distributions after the workers had left, we helped with fundraisers. We made somehow manage to find a balance to what we were use to and our new environment. They told us it was ok to work after they close if that worked for us so we did. That was how I gathered primary data for my research project. My project was to find out ways to reach out to the youth, empower them and educate them about HIV/AIDS and other risk behaviors. The results for the survey was very alarming to us. After discussing with the coordinator and Mrs Rita, the next step was to meet with National AIDS Commission, they never gave us the appointment. I was restless with my findings, so was my professors back home, and Mrs Rita, am sure she became tired of hearing me nag. She then asked I develop a curriculum for the youth, later, we realize we an merge the youth group and the HIV/AIDS program to use innovation and creativity to empower the youths. Beats for Life Belize was then implemented. It empowers through creativity and innovation, its done through music, dance, sport, skits, which the youths in Belize love. Instead of just attending to youth is school, the program focuses on the at risk youth that are drop outs and the community as a whole. We have had health fairs, jobs fairs and training, food drive on Christmas day, started peer educator program with the help of other volunteers in schools, fundraisers, and looking forward to doing more. I wrote a grant proposal, project proposal, business plan for a small business. We left Belize having than the most productive things in my life and the exciting part was, with very limited resources.
We had a shared room and a volunteer fridge in the kitchen. Our conflict was with some of the people we share space with. The new building also has a shared rooms, study area, kitchen, conference room and a much bigger space in the front. My experience with cornerstone stuff was more of a team work. My focus was on my work and achieving my goal, once I was booked for presentations and got help to plan my event I was fine and I got that help from the staff. I made list and assigned who does what and by when, its always been that way since I started there and every time I went back. They haven’t complained. If you are a young professional or student looking to make and impact and build on your experience, cornerstone is the place for you. You have the room to learn, and even in supervise your own work, although Mrs Rita will question you about its progress. I enjoyed that, it got me ready and prepared for the working environment back home.
My recommended go in with an objective mind and embraces the changes and differences as they come, it’s the only way to not get overwhelmed, annoyed or frustrated by the culture or the work ethics. Understand that all their holidays fall on Fridays and Mondays, and as a religious country, they observe lots of holidays that we may not find needed, respect and understand is their culture. Yes they close at 2pm but you don’t have to, I DIDN’T, you will enjoy your work with them.