When it seemed like everyone I knew was headed to beautiful beaches scattered across the U.S., I was packing my bags for a Buck-I-Serv trip to Belize, where I would be doing service for a week with nine people I had only met a handful of times.
I had no idea that I was in for the trip of a lifetime.
After spending Spring Break last year bored in my hometown, I was determined to have a better time this year. When November rolled around, I hadn’t made any plans yet, so in a panic, I applied for Buck-I-Serv, thinking that going somewhere random was better than going nowhere at all.
I was shocked when I got the email a few days before Christmas telling me that a spot had opened up on the Belize City service trip with One World Running, a nonprofit organization that collects athletic shoes and delivers them to people around the globe. I eagerly accepted the spot on the trip, knowing almost nothing about Belize. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had to look it up on a map.
A few months later when we landed in Belize, 20 army-green duffle bags jam-packed with sneakers in tow, we got started that day, planning how we were going to go about distribution and keeping things organized at Stella Maris School, a school in Belize City for children with special needs that became something of a base camp for us.
The next day we organized the shoes for distribution, and it wasn’t long before we realized that we weren’t going to have enough shoes to give to everyone who needed them.
At Stella Maris, our first priority was making sure the school children had shoes, so on the day of distribution, groups of us went to every classroom to fit shoes to the kid’s feet. We were essentially shoe salesmen, making sure the shoes fit OK and trying to really sell them on the colors and style. It was frustrating at times to have kids complaining about the shoes they were given, because we didn’t have a wide selection to choose from, and in our eyes, they should have been grateful to get shoes at all. It was hard to remember that even though these kids didn’t have much, they were still normal children and of course they wanted the “cool shoes” and not just ones that fit.
At home, no one in our group had ever had to buy shoes just based on whether they fit or not. We’ve always had the luxury of going into a shoe store, selecting a style we like most, and then finding it in our size with ease. Remembering that, it was hard to blame people for wanting to be selective about the shoes they got, especially considering that might be the only pair some of them get for a long time.
After we gave shoes to all the children and teachers and opened up the distribution to other people in the community, we started running out of shoes – everything between sizes 7 and 11, along with a picked-over children’s section. We had to close our doors while there was still a line formed outside. Some of them were people we knew had been there all day.
Turning away so many people was hard and being stern with them was even harder. How can you be annoyed with someone who is upset because they aren’t getting a pair of shoes? It’s something we buy new every season in the U.S., but for some of those people, they might not have the opportunity to get new shoes again for months.
Two days later, One World Running held a three-mile road race, and it was amazing to see the people out there running, many of whom had received shoes from us earlier in the week.
There was no way to give shoes to everyone in Belize City, but knowing that we were able to at least help some people was a really rewarding experience.
After the race we had a few days to tour the country and have some fun, doing things like snorkeling at a coral reef, hiking in the jungle, swimming and shopping at a local market, all a total blast. However, the memorable part of the trip and the part that will stick with me is the service we did and the people we helped.