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VCU ASPiRE Organizes Summer Camp on 5th Trip to Belize

ASPiRE trip to BelizeIn July, 14 VCU faculty members and students in VCU ASPiRE and VCU LEAD traveled to Belize to partner with the Sand Hill community to offer a summer camp for children in the area. This is the 5th year that VCU ASPiRE has traveled to Belize.

“Students begin to recognize the connections between local and global issues, realize the commonalities between their experiences and the experiences of others, and come to understand better both the challenges and the assets of a local community in the developing world,” said Michael Rackett, VCU ASPiRE assistant professor, who helped lead the group, along with VCU LEAD instructor Kimberly Matthews. “Over the past five years, the Sand Hill community has been very appreciative of the summer camp, and the children and youth look forward to the week every year.”

According to Rackett, an important part of ASPiRE’s work in Belize is to adhere to Fair Trade Learning principles, including considering both student and community outcomes of the partnership; involving local individuals in planning and service; purchasing food, lodging and supplies from local vendors; compensating local guides and experts for their services; and providing numerous opportunities for intercultural dialogue and reflection.

The VCU group organized and led the five-day camp for approximately 80 children and youth. While in Belize, they also repainted a bus shelter and sports field bleachers; worked with senior adults at an assisted living facility and visited cultural and ecological sites, including Mayan ruins, a Black Howler Monkey eco tour and the Museum of Belize.

Patrick Godette Jr. '17, graduated from VCU ASPiRE and went on to serve as a student liaison for the program. He participated in the trip this summer and commented that the youth camp was the most memorable part of the trip for him.

"From this trip, I learned how important it is to bring positive energy and support to children of all ages and locations across the globe," Godette said. "You can make a huge impact on what kind of leader they become in the future, and this butterfly effect will lead to a better world."

Now in his final year of earning a master's degree in public health at VCU, Godette said ASPiRE directly influenced his career interests.

"At first, I was a biology major wanting to enter the research field, but after learning about community engagement and civic action from ASPiRE, I was inspired to use my education in biology in the public health field."

Caitlin Barbieri, '18, an ASPiRE student majoring in journalism, also attended this summer's trip to Belize. She said she chose to participate in the trip because she was excited to take her experiences with ASPiRE to another country.

"My goals for the future have always been to help people through my writing and to educate the public through journalism," Barbieri said. "I want to focus on social issues and civil rights journalism and put a face to the issues affecting our country. It is because of ASPiRE that I have an increased awareness of social issues, and the program has inspired me to continue to spread that awareness through journalism." 

For more information, contact Rackett at rackettmr@vcu.edu.