Often, we take for granted the most basic necessities—reliable shelter, refuge from a storm, or an education, for example. Volunteering can provide us with some perspective and help others along the way, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more familiar with this type of hands-on work than AAV Sales Engineer Darren Brown.
In March, we profiled Darren’s 2015 trip to poverty-stricken Belize. There, along with his group from Victory Church in Audubon, PA and in partnership with Oasis Ministries, he took part in building the foundation of a home for a local family and also worked on the construction of a preschool for the village children.
Fast-forward to today, and Darren has just recently returned from his second trip to Belize—this time, accompanied by his 13-year-old son, Elijah.
For the first three days of the journey, the group ran a vacation Bible school for almost 100 children from the surrounding villages (see photo 1). Some members of the team also worked on a building that will soon serve as an office for the ministry’s church, and others painted a house for a local family.
When they heard that rapidly approaching Tropical Storm Earl (see photo 2) could potentially turn into a hurricane sweeping through the country, though, plans changed—and they replaced painting with storm proofing some recently constructed school buildings.
When Hurricane Earl hit around 4 am on Thursday morning, Darren’s compound lost power and water but otherwise suffered minimal damage. Others in the vicinity, though, were not as lucky. The team visited a few homes that had water damage, many because dirt floors had eroded into streams, ruining their food. Numerous roads were impassible because bridges were underwater. Also, some local banana farmers had lost most of their crop in the storm, and one family had their roof completely blown off from the 70 mph winds, soaking all their possessions. The following day, Darren’s team returned to replace the roof. (See photos 3 and 4.)
Friday, the group headed to the beach in Belize City only to find that the resorts were closed, beaches were swept away, flooding was still soaking some areas, and most of the homes and businesses were still without power. While stopping for something to eat, Darren and his fellow volunteers were told they’d need to hurry back to the mission because the government was planning to open a dam near the Guatemalan border to relieve pressure from the flood waters, causing the Belize River to overtake the bridge they had to cross. It turned out to be a stressful miscommunication that taught Darren the unfortunate reality of how natural disasters are often handled in poor, resource-strapped countries.
“We made it across [the bridge] in time but later found out that the dam release was one rumor among many after the storm. This was an interesting aspect being in a third world country during a natural disaster (though not a worst-case scenario) because most of the residents had to make decisions based on rumors and hear-say while the government provides little information to set things right,” Darren said.
After returning that evening, the ladies of Darren’s group hosted a prom dance for the girls in the community with the help of over 100 gowns group leaders had collected in preparation for the occasion. The men took the boys of the village out to play basketball and have lime slushies while watching soccer and building comradery after a long day.
Overall, Darren said he and Elijah were grateful to have worked with a team who had such positive, giving attitudes, especially in a challenging situation (see photo 5).
“While leaving this wonderful country, I didn’t want to forget these experiences because they are reminders for me that it doesn’t take much to be happy and that we all need to take time out to help others whenever possible,” Darren said.
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Darren’s volunteer effort was made possible through Oasis Ministries, an organization led by Pastor Ron and Linda Braaten. The New York natives have lived in Belize for 17 years and have already built almost 100 homes in addition to schools and churches. To learn more about the project, click here.