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Underprivileged and Determined

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by Patrick Decker, Belize ’12
Mount St. Mary’s University ’13
Director of Retreat Ministry, St. Peter Claver Parish

As director of retreat ministries at St. Peter Claver Parish, I have the unique opportunity to work directly with hundreds of diverse principals, teachers, and students from 30 different village schools in the Toledo District of Belize. My experience is not limited to the classroom. Each trip to the village is accompanied by a customary visit to the home of a teacher or student. Although facilitating reflections in a classroom often leaves me feeling inspired, nothing rivals the stories and friendships I have formed while sharing meals in these homes. Through dialogue in the villages, I have come to understand how patriarchal authority can marginalize not just a school but also an entire community.

Working side-by-side with dynamic teachers like Ms. Jasmine, I strive to address gender-based inequalities. I organized a series of 13 fine arts competitions for students known as the Christian Spirit Award.  The award was shaped to spotlight the creativity of young Belizean students and to encourage artistic expression and public speaking, especially with girls in the remote villages. I have seen the light of the Gospel message shine through enthusiastic students who bring to life classic Bible stories through essays, art projects, poetry, musical showcases, and quiz bowls.

In Belize, I have witnessed the strength and determination of teachers and students in underprivileged school communities. These individuals have shaped me in innumerable ways and I will carry their spirit with me as I continue to work for a more just society in the United States.