The Journey Begins… Undergraduate Public Health Field School in Belize

| Intl Programs, Monday Letter, Our World

This summer, five students from the College of Public Health participated in the first Undergraduate Public Health Field School in Belize. The students were in Belize for just over two weeks, from July 19th until August 4th. The goal of the Field School was to establish meaningful engagements and partnerships with Belizean communities, educational institutions, emergency management operations, and health organizations while providing the students with an in-depth understanding of the public health framework of Belize.

Students met with visited and met with representatives of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre Headquarters, the Maternal and Child Health Division of the Belize Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Health Advisor for HIV/AIDS, the Belize National Fire Service, and La Loma Luz Adventist Hospital. The students also met with Mrs. Pearl Ellis, Director of the Western Regional Hospital and alumna of the USF College of Public Health (MPH 2009).

The students traveled to three underserved villages in the Cayo District in western Belize, where they had the opportunity to experience firsthand what it is like to live in a developing country with limited resources. During the time they spent in these villages, the students also gained valuable insight into the importance of public health education and the impact sustainable programs can have on the lives and livelihoods of the Belizean people.

Additionally, the students were invited to participate in a regional disaster tabletop exercise with the National Emergency Management Organization, the Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team, the Cornerstone Foundation, Belize Red Cross, and the United Nations Development Programme. Throughout this experience students observed what they had learned in the classroom being applied in various projects and programs being implemented in Belize.

While in Belize, the students contributed to the USF College of Public Health Disaster Management and Humanitarian Relief blog. The following is an excerpt from the submission of Haley Connor. To read more about the students’ experiences in Belize, visit

The Journey Begins…

With a bus, as most days do. The kind stranger will smoosh her small children over in the 2-person bus seat to make room for you as she smiles and points to the six-inch space she has graciously reserved for you. As a foreigner, the gesture is overwhelmingly kind and courteous. The journey continues as we jiggle and bounce through the country-side, taking in all the scenery, smells, and the occasional nodding of our heads. What a beautiful and encouraging beginning for the day.

The first meeting took place at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, located in Belmopan (Belize). Carlos Fuller gave a detailed and educational presentation surrounding the issues with climate change and how it impacts the Caribbean. A main point focused on the coral reef and specifically the barrier it provides against huge storms. There are many elaborate efforts taking place throughout the Caribbean to educate and empower those in the direct line of impact to start improving programs considering the imminent climate change for the Caribbean.

UG Students at UNDP & CARICOM in Belize-cropped

After touring the climate change headquarters, a Belizean fire chief was kind enough to speak with us about the protocol, or lack thereof, when fires arise in the country. The process, like too many things, touches more hands than necessary and inevitably, unnecessary damage ensues. However, while the outlook may be bleak, Ted Smith’s desire to see a better implementation of emergency management was evident.

La Loma Luz Adventist Hospital sits on a beautiful hill overlooking the cities of surrounding Belize. The hospital ran quite efficiently, more so than imagined. While there are issues, from diet of the staff to lack of technology and resources, the facility is quite impressive and still budgeting room for growth. As we wandered the dimly lit hallways, maneuvering the twists of past add-ons, a great appreciation for hospitals in the States was clear. However, the size of the hospital and the wards and wings they offered surprised me. We toured every single stock cabinet, laboratory, pharmacy, surgical room, and specialty ward our eyes were allowed to view. Ardis McPherson, the hospital administrator, gave a detailed history of the site as well as the donors over the years that have dutifully kept this center of healing running.  As an aspiring nurse with my love of clinical work, the experience was overwhelming and exhilarating.  A simple tour of a hospital became so much more.