Social Work Director Serves Community, Takes to Village Life in Belize

“Village life is sweet. We eat fish from the sea and grow much of our food. We don’t have to buy much.”

–Robert, Gale’s Point, Belizean basket-weaver and philosopher

In January, 2013, Dr. Erlene Grise-Owens, Master of Social Work director and professor, worked with an interdisciplinary team to offer a medical and wellness clinic in Gale’s Point, Belize, a village of less than 300 persons. After arriving in Belize City and meeting with the Ministry of Health officials, the 26 member team took a school bus to Gale’s Point. Approximately 60 miles away, the trip was three hours by bus on a flooded and bumpy dirt road through lush tropical terrain. The team set up clinic (from the ground up) and offered medical, dental, wellness services —as well as community engagement.  During this exchange, Dr. Grise-Owens experienced a manatee watch, Sambi dance, a local artisans’ fair, and dined on gibnut and cashew wine. The village captured her heart. Grise-Owens notes:

I teach that social work is global. This experience brought home that truly we are a global village. For example, environmental degradation is urgent. Gale’s Point endures extreme environmental changes (including increasing damaging hurricanes). The peninsula has been damaged and eroded to the point that, literally, the place could cease to exist.  Likewise, Belize is an economically poor country that is impacted by the rampant consumerism of richer nations. Many of Gale’s Point youth leave, seeking employment. While I was there, a man born in Gale’s Point, who was second in command of a gang, was killed in Belize City during a police raid. Ecology, economics, and violence are clearly connected. This small village is a microcosm of our global village.

Yet, this sweet village offered us hospitality and beauty, as well as a philosophical perspective that does not worship consumerism. Inspired by Robert—who measured good life by what he does NOT buy—I’ve declared ‘Frugal February.’ I am refraining from material purchases this month. Professionally, I commit to my Belizean neighbors to continue to learn and teach social work at Spalding.”