San Felipe Medical Center Recap
“Hey Adam, it’s Kevin. I have some bad news. The Canadian government just closed the international border. Our flight was just canceled. Sorry, looks like we won’t be seeing you tomorrow. Kids are super bummed. Sorry.”
Little did I know at the time that soon all borders would be closed. Covid-19 was about to turn the world on its head. And for us, that meant cancellations were going to start flooding in. This one would be more painful than most…
In December of 2019 we were contacted by a teacher at the Ecole Mission Secondary School in British Columbia. There were a couple dozen high school seniors who wanted to have a special Humanitarian senior trip. They had been working hard to earn money to go to Africa to help build a school. However, some political issues had arisen in Africa making travel there impossible. They contacted us asking if there was anything they could do here in Belize to help someone. We assured there the possibilities were endless.
At first we proposed they build a library for the local San Felipe village. We know that literacy here in Belize is a major problem and thought a local library might help kids get interested in reading. The Canadian school told us to go ahead and set the project up. We did some initial leg work and approached the San Felipe village council with a full plan to build a small library. They were very appreciative of the offer, however, they asked if we could reconsider and build a medical clinic instead.
The council went on to explain that in Belize if a village has a small medical clinic, then government doctors can visit the village and help people there. If there is not a clinic then no doctors will come to the village. “Please help us get a medical clinic so our people can visit with a doctor.” This trumped a library. We immediately pivoted and pitched the medical clinic to the school. The school said yes and fundraising went into overdrive.
35 people, 11 days and a total of $12,000 USD. That was the cost of the medical building. It was decided we would build it in phases. First we’d put up the shell. Then in future years, and with future groups we could add to the building and work on getting power and running water in the building. Supplies, furniture and other things could also be added. But first the building. The village was so happy when we announced the project was approved and would be funded. The students at the high school were stoked as they prepared for their trip to southern Belize. We were excited to show them they can really make a difference.
By March 1st the only news was Covid-19. China, Korea, England, Germany and other countries were locking down. Washington State had a dozen cases. New York City was starting to make headlines. Numerous messages and phone calls were made. The group was going to stick to their plan and the trip was still on. 10 days later the group leader called me. They were at the airport. Already through security. Canada had shut down their border. Two hours prior to getting that phone call we had slaughtered a pig and some chickens to prepare for their welcome meal. Within days Belize was talking about locking down. Within a week Belize announced the international airport would be closed indefinitely.
So many emotions. So much work and planning. All those kids raising money for their senior trip and to help someone else. The materials had all been purchased and were at the site. We had already poured the foundation. At first it was decided to wait and see if things got better. The group talked about possibly rescheduling in June. We decided to store the materials and see what a couple months brought. Within days, all our other reservations for 2020 had cancelled. By May 1 we all knew no one was rescheduling a trip for June. Now the discussions were all centered on our cancellation policies. Belize was in complete lockdown. Our family was back in the states fighting with the state of Minnesota to be allowed to open our resort there for business. Our businesses were in dire need of cash and the Belizean government was banning people from working. Things were bad. The irony was that the world was in the middle of a major pandemic and we couldn’t build a medical clinic!
Summer came and went. A refund was negotiated with the school. Our business in the states ended up doing well, (apparently remote cabins on a lake in Minnesota are a big hit during a pandemic!), and by fall Belize was trying to reopen the borders. We knew we weren’t going to be very busy at CTL for the season. And we still had the building materials. Rather than try to return the items Kasey and I decided to donate the materials and I would work with our maintenance crew to finish the building.
The first day we started working on framing the walls people people would walk by and stare. The village council asked us to come by and explain ourselves. They told us they didn’t have funds to pay us for the building. We assured them we weren’t asking them to cover any of the costs. We had promised them a building and we were there to fulfill our promise. At first no one believed us. They knew resorts were struggling. People were out of work. People asked us, “Who decides to donate that kind of time and labor when money is tight and no one is traveling?”. We told them we had talked and prayed about it and felt it best to finish the building. God had blessed us with a good summer in Minnesota and we wanted to bless others. Our maintenance crew asked us why we were leaving the resort to go work elsewhere. We assured them they would be paid the same as if they were onsite at CTL working.
After a few days of working local villagers slowly became braver and would come look at the building and see what we were doing. Remember, for months everyone had been told to not interact with anyone outside of their own household. Everyone was scared of everyone else. Soon though someone showed up with a pitcher of cold juice and thanked the crew for thinking of their village.
This was a watershed moment for me. Things had been so tough for these people. They had been tough for us as well. But rather than lock down and only worry about ourselves we decided to get out and help someone. Even in the midst of a global pandemic. Villagers were shocked. People started talking to us, and to each other. Rather than sit in their homes and feel bad for themselves, they stopped by and thanked us. They brought snacks and cold juice. We shared our plans to convert the front half of the clinic (the clinic will only be open one or two days a week when a doctor is visiting) into a part time library. Smiles are contagious. Who knows what will happen someday in that building. Maybe a baby will be delivered. Maybe a child will have a bone set and wrapped in a cast. No matter what it is, I believe that people will benefit from this type of project.
Not everyone will agree with our decision to do this. From a business standpoint we should have just kept the materials and used them to fix or build something onsite. But we couldn’t. We didn’t come to Belize to simply sit back and keep things to ourselves. If you’ve read our humanitarian page
on our website you know we came here to find opportunities to serve others. And we know, that if you want to serve someone, ask God to give you an opportunity, He will provide one. Even during a pandemic. Even though the pandemic, and government regulations were crushing us, making it nearly impossible to keep our business open, we made a decision to get out and help people. We hope this is just the first of many projects to be involved with here in southern Belize. There are so many small villages who need something. We have talked with a few groups about other projects. Hopefully more people ask us to help them with a humanitarian project. And hopefully next time it isn’t in the middle of a pandemic!