In memory of Anna Lightfoot

Monday, April 26, 2010

Debbie's Visit -January 2010

In 1998 my sister, Anna Lightfoot, left her job as a Countryside Warden and travelled to Belize as a volunteer project leader with Raleigh International. Her task was to help a team of youngsters build a school in the remote settlement of San Pablo.


The team battled with torrential rain and tropical heat, but the work was progressing well until nine weeks into the project, Anna was robbed and murdered by two local men as she returned to the campsite from nearby Red Bank Village. In common with many countries these days, Belize has a problem with drug-related violence. The two men were captured and convicted of manslaughter.

The school was eventually completed by the British Army and named after her. It is now the thriving heart of the community.

In January I travelled to Belize for the first time to visit the school and see the work my sister began, accompanied by my uncle, Mike.

The six thousand mile journey was long and tiring – snow, freezing temperatures and cancelled flights meant that it took me 24 hours just to reach Heathrow! Finally Mike and I arrived in the town of Dangriga, home to Fr Dominic McDonagh of the Claretian Missionaries. Although the Belize government pay the salaries of the 200 teachers in the area, the Claretian Mission carries out all the administration and fundraising for 15 schools.

Fr Dominic is well known and respected in the community and we were delighted to have him as our guide.

He was thrilled with the pencils and story books donated by family and friends, and took us to meet local people who remembered Anna as well as to visit San Pablo school – to the delight of the children who had been waiting all day to meet us. They soon overcame their shyness and clamoured excitedly for their photo to be taken.

They were so happy and lively, Anna would have loved it and I felt so proud of what she had achieved.

When the bell rang the children filed quietly back to their desks to begin lessons in grammar, geography and maths. Although many of them speak Spanish or the local Q’eqchi’ language, all lessons are in English.

Click here if you would like to learn more about the work of the Mission.


Father Dominic

When we were planning our visit to Belize, Debbie and I realised that, if we were going to see everything in the short time available, we would need a guide – someone who knew the Stan Creek area and the local people well. We tried the British High Commission, the British Army, and the Belize authorities, but in the end it was the Roman Catholic Church that came to our aid, in the person of Father Dominic McDonagh.

Father Dominic is a very busy man. The Claretian Mission to which he belongs ministers to the whole of the Stann Creek area, covering 1,800 square miles, with a population of over 17,000 people. The Mission is based in a rambling, rickety, ex-nunnery in Dangriga, and is responsible for administering 17 churches, 15 primary schools and 5 pre-schools, with pupil numbers totalling 4,700 and rising, and 1 orphanage.

Father Dominic could be busy enough with those responsibilities, touring the churches, maintaining the buildings, fund raising, appointing and supervising teachers and dealing with truancy problems. But in addition to all that he also tries to inform the local people about the rising danger of AIDS, even touring bars and brothels to educate the sex workers.

And he still finds time to breed chickens, which he gives to local villagers!

Father Dominic found time in his busy schedule to spend a whole day driving us exactly where we wanted to go. The highlight was a visit to the school in San Pablo which Anna helped to build, and it was wonderful to see that the school is thriving, and to meet the pupils who soon overcame their shyness. They loved having their pictures taken and all clamoured round to see themselves.

During the rest of the day Father Dominic sought out and introduced us to local people who remembered Anna

Mrs. Yatz, in Red Bank Village, with her young daughter strapped to her forehead, used her machete to carve a path 50 yards through thick jungle to show us where Anna’s body was discovered, now occupied by a family of armadillos.

Odenia from Bella Vista remembered Anna playing with her when she was nine. Hermalindo from the Mayan Community worked briefly with Anna on the school. It was a memorable day, thanks entirely to Father Dominic’s kindness.

Wherever we went, it was clear that Father Dominic was a very welcome visitor, and as the day progressed Debbie and I were more and more impressed by his dedication to his work, and the breadth of his local knowledge. Because of his generosity, we achieved what we had hoped for and more from our brief trip, and we will always be grateful to him.

We intend to hold a fund raising event later in the year and make a substantial donation to the school. If anyone else feels that they would like to donate, see Debbie's post above for details.


Introducing Anna

My daughter Anna was born in Accrington, Lancashire, on December 6th 1970. It took barely twenty minutes for her to burst into the world, not exactly with hockey stick in hand but certainly kicking and raring to go, which proved to be a fair indication of how she lived her life thereafter.

And it was a full one, packed with hobbies and passions, in particular anything to do with outdoor pursuits, wild life and conservation. If there were fourteen days in a week, she would fill every one of them and still double book herself.

She was an outdoor, sporty sort of person. Walking, canoeing, abseiling, riding, archery, tennis, netball, cricket, you name it, she tried them all.

She’d climbed her first mountain, Coniston Old Man, by the time she was five, complaining loudly about the boring bits and then running the last ten feet to the summit while we were on our knees.

There was nothing she loved more than the challenge of climbing to the top and looking down upon the world. Her feet itched to explore every inch of it and for Anna there would always be another mountain to climb.

Her greatest passion was hockey. As a teenager she played centre forward for Cornwall Under 21s, and for the West of England. She twice got trials for England, but an ankle injury let her down so she wasn’t able to take part.

You could never accuse Anna of overwork on the academic front, and looking at her match and training schedule how could she possibly find the time? She had a bag full of trophies, her greatest achievement being when she captained St Austell 6th Form ladies Hockey Team when they won the British Association of Sport in Colleges National Championships in 1989.

When injury forced her to give up competitive hockey, she took up caving and climbing instead. Just in case she missed any corner of this beautiful planet, she decided it would be good to explore deep below ground as well as above. The very thought gave me claustrophobia but to Anna it was all good fun and an awesome spectacle of nature at its best.

We grew used to her ringing to say she was bringing a friend to stay the night after some expedition or other, which often involved washing them down with a hose pipe first. Her caving friends tell us of her fondness for mud fights, one of which landed her in outpatients with some mud in her eye. Apparently she was still joking until they actually started flushing it out.

She was also qualified canoe instructor and had worked at PGL in her gap year, and at Kielder Water Operations Centre where she was trained in general warden duties, land management, conservation and recreation.

She then studied for an HND in Countryside Management at Aberystwyth Welsh Agricultural College and went on to work as a countryside warden for Tameside, Greater Manchester.

She was affectionate, bubbly, outgoing, and strong, and even as a young girl always sensitive to the emotions and troubles of others, sometimes to her own detriment. It was this combination of caring and love of adventure, coupled with her passion for conservation, which led her to apply to go on the Raleigh Expedition.

What experience did she have?

You need few qualifications to go on a Raleigh expedition, other than enthusiasm and the ability to work hard as a team. So far as Anna was concerned, in addition to her sporting skills and outdoor activities such as climbing and caving which kept her fit, she had studied for an HND in countryside management at Aberystwyth Agricultural College. She called it a ‘have no degree’, thoroughly enjoyed her course and was proud of what she achieved there.

While she was at college she became involved with a project to build a footbridge at Denmark Farm Conservation Centre near Lampeter in Wales, which has since been dedicated to her. This is run by the Shared Earth Trust which exists to promote the ideals of sustainability and conservation in farming habitats and the wider environment, ideals close to Anna’s heart.

She did a sandwich year working for the National Trust at Hereford and Worcester where she learned a great deal about trees.

 After she graduated she got a job working as a countryside warden for Tameside, Greater Manchester. This was in that beautiful part of the country where Saddleworth moor meets Yorkshire and the Peak District. She worked there for 4 years, thoroughly enjoying the job, but then the situation changed and she was ready to move on.

First newsletter -preparing to go

Anna had arranged to write a newsletter which would be sent out to all the schools and organisations with which she’d worked as a countryside warden. She’d been involved in many educational schemes from teaching school children about how animals successfully hibernate by having them hide cans of warm water, to planting and creating a maze. 

She usually had her mongrel dog Holly with her, whom all the children loved, even if the affection was not necessarily reciprocated. Many of these people had been interested in the challenge she was taking up, and had generously helped with the fundraising. Anna had promised, therefore, to keep in touch. This is her first newsletter, in which she describes the preparation involved.

Belize – What’s it all about?
A big Thank You to everyone for supporting Raleigh International. These newsletters will give you insight into a Raleigh expedition and Belizean life, using as many photographs as possible. This is the first and gives some background information and all I currently know of what working for Raleigh International involves.

You will receive three more newsletters, two before the end of September when the expedition finishes, then one more giving you final news and pictures of the completed project you have watched develop.

I have a postal address in Belize (on the back page) for the three month expedition. Feel free to write with any questions you may have, but remember to allow for one to three weeks delay for an answer.

My energetic dog Holly has gone to stay with her friend Lad in North Wales for the duration of my trip and will be sending postcards to keep you up to date with her exciting time.

Getting This Far:
Applying for a staff position with Raleigh International is just like applying for any other job. I filled in an application form and was successful in getting a place on a selection weekend in Kent in October 1997.

The weekend was very intensive, beginning on Saturday morning at 6 am we went straight into a succession of team building and initiative exercises, testing both mental and physical skills. We then went on a time limited orienteering exercise, scoring points for reaching checkpoint, controls and incurring penalties (not too many in our case) for a late return. Personal interviews and a fact finding session followed a late lunch.

There were many ex-Venturers and staff to ask questions about Raleigh expeditions. More problem solving followed before we were told to go and set up camp at 8pm, (we had our own tents). We had to collect wood, light a fire and make a meal of rice, curry and broccoli and return for the next session by 9.15pm.

There were over thirty of us on the weekend and we all worked very well together distributing jobs, being all cleared up and beat the clock with ten minutes to spare! We were given a talk and a slide show about Raleigh International and then a very complicated mental exercise of compiling a detailed rota on a tight schedule and presenting it at 11.30pm. Before we could fall into bed we had a review of the day for half an hour.

A full night’s sleep was not our fate, however. We were woken up at 1am and a bunch of bleary-eyed potential staff were gathered into their groups. We were given a riddle to solve which seemed difficult at the time. This gave us a grid reference where our breakfast was stored two and a half miles away. We finally fell into bed at 3.30am having collected our rather pathetic bag of porridge oats, sugar and tea bags.

Sunday’s challenge was a combination of a physical test and logistics. News came in of casualties over a mile away with the first aid equipment and stretchers placed at different locations. Our team was to bring the two stretcher bound casualties back to base to meet the (fictitious) helicopter departure at 11am. We made it by 11.05 – they let us off! Four people didn’t complete the weekend but I was called on the Monday morning and offered a general project manager post in Belize!

Project Funding.
Raleigh International does not fund the projects it undertakes, it is not an aid organisation. There are many sources of funds and whoever the project is for organises the funding of materials. Sources include central and local government of the host country, community trusts, wild life organisations and grant bodies. Raleigh International provides the labour and expertise –us!

D-Day minus 7 weeks – Typhoid and Hepatitis A and B.
D-Day minus 5 weeks – Rabies
D-Day minus 4 weeks – Rabies.
D-Day minus 3 weeks – Hepatitis A and B.
D-Day minus 12 days – HAIRCUT!
D-Day minus 10 days – Start taking weekly anti-malaria tablets.
D-Day minus 7 days – Rabies.

Raleigh International is a UK based youth development charity which aims to develop young people through challenging community and environmental projects on expeditions around the world.

Raleigh’s aim is to continue developing young people and in doing so make a contribution to the future of young people worldwide.

Anyone between the ages of 17 and 25 who can speak English and swim can apply to join an expedition as a venturer, as the young volunteers are known. Those over 25 can apply as staff.

The Projects in Belize
At our briefing day in May, Raleigh International outlined some of the projects taking place, however it was stressed that little had been finalised and much was still being organised.

There will be two diving projects in the Cayes (pronounced Keys) off Dangriga. Studies are going on looking at any problems caused by excess silt and soil being washed out to sea over the coral reef as a result of vegetation clearance for farming inland. Venturers have been on weekend courses in the UK to enable them to dive, but many of them will be doing their first open water dive off the coast of Belize in the second largest coral reef in the world. It’s not all sunshine, white beaches and beautiful fish however, as dive sites are often exposed to wind, have sand flies which get through your mosquito net and involves lots of refilling air bottles and putting data into computers.

The other project in the south of Belize is a two classroom wooden school in the Toledo district. A three classroom school breeze block building will be built in the northern area, near Orange Walk. The Cockscomb Basin jaguar reserve surrounds Victoria Peak, the highest mountain in Belize and the adventure project will take Venturers to the top of this mountain.

Raleigh also talked about an environmental project erecting board walks and visitor facilities in the northern area Shipstern Nature reserve. Also in this reserve there was the possibility of a canoeing project, however, I know no more so will just have to wait for the next instalment.

Best wishes,

Anna's Big Adventure

As many young people do, my daughter Anna dreamed of travelling and seeing something of the world. During her time in college she and her best friend had explored Europe on a rail card for six weeks, but she longed for a bigger adventure. Unattached, and with no current serious commitments, it seemed a good time. She also wanted to involve herself in voluntary work of some kind, so that the trip had a purpose and wouldn’t simply be for pleasure. Raleigh International seemed the obvious answer, and would make good use of her qualifications. Anna’s dream was that she’d work on a three month project for them and then go off backpacking round the world.

We weren’t in the least concerned as Raleigh International are an excellent organisation with a firm set of rules in place for handling young people from all types of backgrounds who come on their projects, and very safe. We still feel this today, despite all that has happened. But obviously we were concerned about the latter part of the trip, as all parents are when their young fly the nest. Anna seemed convinced she’d find someone to travel with once she was in Belize, which in fact she did. She’d also arranged to meet up with a good friend for the New Zealand section of the trip.

We did what we could to help with the planning, giving all the usual advice and warnings, the financial and moral support, and when she heard that she’d been accepted by Raleigh we were thrilled and delighted for her. We knew she’d do the job well and felt that it would also be of great benefit to her personally.

She carefully studied all the detailed instructions Raleigh sent her, taking it all on board, including the importance of being fit. She went swimming every day, jogging, walking and climbing, determined to be at her best, ready for whatever challenges she might face. The week before she set off she climbed Stoer Sea Stack.

She reached it by shimmying across a cable over the open sea.

Raising the funds to go was part of the challenge, and Anna saved for months, held numerous fund raising events, sold her car, used her considerable charm to coerce family, friends and complete strangers into buying raffle tickets, sponsoring walks, and finally taking part in a grand auction. This took place at her Belize Bash which she held just a few weeks before she set off. Dozens of friends, work colleagues, and family members came along and we all had a great time doing country dancing to a folk band, eating good Lancashire fare and then bidding extortionate prices for bars of chocolate, meals out, T-shirts, and other things they really didn’t need.

We gave her a family send-off, Jamie baked her a wonderful chocolate cake decorated with spider’s web and spiders, not Anna’s favourite creatures. Finally, when someone told her that certain insects tended to make nests in your hair, she had her long blonde hair all cut off to within an inch of her scalp.

I took her for a last minute shopping trip, as any mother would, to buy her shirts, shorts, socks and other obvious essentials she hadn’t even thought of. She didn’t let me take her to the airport because she said goodbyes made her cry and she wanted to keep that bit private. I understood how she felt but I stayed with her the night before she left, and felt such pride as she showed me all her gear. She showed me her list covered in ticks and notes, and her stuff as she packed it: waterproof canoe bag, sleeping mat, mosquito net, first aid kit, etc., etc. Even though she’d pared everything to the bone as weight was of paramount importance, I couldn’t begin to lift her backpack. She swung it up on to her shoulders with ease and grinned at me.

‘I’m ready for off, Mum. What do you think?’
I thought she was very brave, and wonderful, and beautiful, and I told her to come home safely in one piece.


The Venturers

What is a Venturer? Good question. They have been mentioned many times in this newsletter already, and no doubt they will be mentioned many more times. Venturers are the young people who work on Raleigh International projects. There are three types of Venturers all aged between 17 and 25.

Standard Venturer:
Anyone in the age group who has enough get up and go to pass a selection weekend, and raise the funding for their own trip.

Commercial Venturer:
Many companies see Raleigh International as excellent training for young people and sponsor them to go on a Raleigh expedition.

Youth Development Programme or Y.D.P.:
This is a twelve month programme to help young people who have had a bad start in life. Raleigh International actively go and seek these youngsters in hostels for the homeless etc., and sign them on to the programme. As a Y.D.P. they attend several weekends learning to work as a team, learning camp craft and outdoor skills such as map reading but most of all they learn what they can achieve. Y.D.P’s do not have to raise as much money as Standard or commercial Venturers – they can’t ask friends to sponsor them – but they do still raise about £800 through writing to local councils and trusts. Y.D.P.’s spend another four months in touch with Raleigh International doing courses and applying for jobs, writing C.V’s, learning interview techniques etc.


The staff

On every Raleigh International expedition there is a field base from which all the projects are supported. Our field base is six kilometres north of Belize City and on the coast. At field base (FB) are the following staff:

Expedition Leader:
Jo, who has been in Belize for over twelve months running expeditions, and negotiating new projects.

Deputy Expedition leader:
Tim, who is specific to this expedition and is responsible for most of the day to day running of the expedition.

Logistics Manager:
Adrian and his assistant are in charge of distributing supplies. If we want absolutely anything on site there are people to convince that it is necessary and worth the considerable effort (in some cases) of getting it to us.

Press Officer:
Responsible for publicity material not only in the UK but more importantly in Belize to tell the local people what is going on, including meeting with local dignitaries and showing them round.

An unusual addition but an invaluable one, not only for depicting expedition life but for the many artworks that become part of the projects. Murals on school walls are a regular occurrence.

Every day each project site must report in three times to Field Base (FB) to state progress and of course if anything should go wrong our radio is our main means of calling for help form outside. Radios need maintaining and manning. All mail goes to FB and either someone from base will deliver it or we will get it on changeover.

Each project site will have at least two members of staff. A General Project Manager (G.P.M.) and a Medic. The lucky ones will have an Assistant Project Manager (A.P.M.) The type of project usually determines whether it will have an A.P.M. – a difficult project will obviously have first shout of staff. Raleigh is generally short of staff, however, so there are not always enough A.P.M.’s to go around.

General Project Manger:
Because Raleigh’s main aim is the personal development of the Venturers this is where the main role of the G.P.M. lies – in personal skills. Getting the best out of everyone, helping them to understand themselves and others. A G.P.M’s skills must include tolerance, they must be non-judgmental, they must be a counsellor and a mediator. They must give encouragement and ensure the group encourages itself. But most of all they must be themselves. No group will be able to trust a G.P.M. who is not honest and open. Not the job you first expect, I’m sure, but all this goes towards making a happy group of Venturers into a team, and a good team will complete the project. However, if the project is going badly, then the G.P.M. has to make the group a team again – it’s a bit like treating the problem not the symptoms.

Assistant Project Manager (A.P.M.):
A valuable addition, if you can get one. the A.P.M. can be a building expert (if you are lucky) for a building project or a general assistant on a big project.

Raleigh aims to get one medic on every project site. Medics are usually nurses or doctors taking time out.

All staff go out at least two weeks before the Venturers. We have one week of staff training, including an overnight stay in the forest with an expert in jungle survival. In our second week we will be allocated a project and prepare for the Venturers arrival. Evacuation procedures from remote sites must be agreed, risk assessments done, materials ordered and reports written on how the project will progress. Well – hopefully!


Anna's first letter home

Tues 30th June
Hi there folks,
So I’ve got 10 weeks to build a school with 13 Venturers and one motor mechanic as my assistant and building adviser. No medic until the 2nd phase as there are only 3 on this expedition of 8 project sites. Oh, and the village, San Pablo, is too new to be on the map and is on the other side of a river. But besides that everything should be fine!

It’s taking me some time to get used to the heat. I’ve got a big case of prickly heat on my arms, face and bum of all places! It’s improving now though. A bit tired cos although we are in bed by 9.30/10pm we are up at 6.30 am every morning. Mind you it’s too hot to do much else. Everyone is really nice and down to earth. We’ve spent a half day in Belize City, a lively place where we ate chicken, rice and beans with the locals. A large plateful for £3. We’ve also been tubing down Indian Creek River through some very impressive caves. Seen loads of fruit bats flying close to my head. Excellent! Other wildlife include: black vultures, frigate birds, pelicans – one really close up today, loads of crabs, lizards and very colourful birds, flycatchers etc.

We go on our site recce tomorrow, Mark and I, it will take us 5 hours to get to San Pablo. We are calling in at Dangriga first to speak to Father Siebert of the Catholic School Programme who are part funding the project. We’ll be away until Saturday when we come back to a BBQ to entertain local VIP’s. The Venturers arrive next Thurs (9th July), do four days induction then deploy out to sites on Mon 13th July. The logistics of getting everything on site is a nightmare as the main dirt track road stops a few kilometres short of San Pablo. They say there is tractor access around the back so all the building materials will have to come in that way, once we find it!

The insects aren’t affecting me too badly, got enough problems with prickly heat. Although some are suffering. I expect it will get worse once we are outside at dark and dawn as we’ve always been inside so far. Macaroni cheese for tea. Food has been fine here. It will get a lot worse once we are out on site. One of the assistant project managers is a local woman called Mary and she is giving us a talk tonight about Belize. She should have done it about twice so far but Belizeans aren’t very good time keepers so she doesn’t always turn up!

It’s fascinating listening to everyone’s travelling stories as most people here have travelled in one place or another before. I’m creating a huge list of places to go – can’t do it all in twelve months though, so I’m stock piling other trips. You never know I might just keep going round and round and round. Don’t worry I shall want the comfort of a bed before too long I expect. Well, I have no more news until I’m back from my recce. I’ve sent you all a postcard each but if you could circulate this letter I’d appreciate it, to help my aching sweaty hand. I’ve got enough reports to write for Raleigh thanks! Hope things are OK with you guys. Someone will hear from me next week – you’ll have to communicate with each other for up-to-date info.

Lots of love, Anna.

Anna's Diary week 1

Anna wasn’t usually one for keeping diaries but she clearly wanted a record of this special trip. She gave it the title Anna’s Big Adventure. In it she frequently speaks of her self-doubts in this huge operation she is undertaking, her concern for those in her care, and in this first week her excitement and anticipation for the whole enterprise. I present it without any editing beyond correcting the odd spelling mistake. I have changed some of the names of the venturers to protect their privacy, and taken out some private remarks to protect Anna's. Otherwise, this is the story of the trip in her own words.

Tues 23 June
Began well. I discovered my train ticket was valid only for Tues 16 June. Bodes well, doesn’t it? But seems my feminine charm works with short hair as well as long and the conductor was happy for me to travel on it. It’s now Wed 24th and I am flying 6 miles high over the Atlantic at 545 mph due to arrive in Miami at 5pm local time, 10 pm UK time. Still another four and a half hours to go!

Thurs 25th June
We arrived smack on time so I had around 18 hours to kill. I went outside. What heat! Lay about on some grass, snoozing and reading when a white heron-like bird appeared about 20yds away, which was excellent. Got a photo. Ate pepperoni pizza back at the airport then found a corner to sleep in for the night.

Met up with the group around 8.30 am this morning and am now sitting on a plane in Miami waiting for a rainstorm to pass. They’ve closed the air strip for fear of lightening. It’s a one and three quarter hour flight to Belize City so storm permitting we’ll be there for tea.

Fri 26th June
Except that time goes back another two hours so instead of arriving at 3pm its now 1pm. Had general introduction and briefing about what the next two weeks has in store for us. Then had a beer and a general mingle and chat before tea. Jo, our expedition leader, is going to speak to us all individually before she allocates projects on Monday. Then Tues or Wed we will go and see our project sites for a couple of days. There will then be reports to write before the venturers arrive on July 9th for their four day induction and deployment to project sites on 13th. Had lots more talking, the dive site people are sorting themselves out.

Spoke to Jo and it looks like I’ve got one of the school projects with a local builder. Rob is doing the other one – our only builder. Jo has an excellent book on team building games by Geoff Saunders. ‘A pictorial guide to group work activities’ Book 1 and 2. Excellent value. Book 1 is the best.

The crabs at dusk are amazing. Loads of them come en mass and hide under the Land Rover. Really creepy. Loads of amazing birds too. Social flycatcher and slate coloured solitaire are all I’ve identified so far. Also saw a huge bird of prey???

Still feeling a bit detached from the whole surviving-on-site project thing. We go out on to sites next week for 3 - 4 days which is daunting enough so far. Off into Belize City tomorrow which will be the first real bit of Belize we’ve seen besides these four walls!

Sat 27th June
Went into Belize City this morning. Had a look round the shops, bought a local cook book with stories. Really liked the place. The basket ball team have obviously won something recently as they paraded through with medals on. Had a couple of OJ’s in Bellevue Hotel watching frigate birds, pelicans and black vultures. Went to eat at Big Daddy’s, a local eating place and had chicken, rice and beans. Excellent! Loads for £3. Got back to base then went with Adrian to army base where all kit is kept. Ade gave us a kit list to fill in after our recce.

We project managers then got together back here and went over all our worries. It took ages. Tom joined us and we went outside and tried out some team games, then we adjourned upstairs and talked lots more. Off to the pub tonight. Really good to talk to everyone today and get to know them all lots better. Hope to do the same tonight.

Sun 28th June
Feel a bit shit this morning. Didn’t stay in the pub long as I was knackered. Heat rash is my problem today, all over my face, behind my ears, down my arms and worst of all my eyes are all puffy with it. Fortunately we are spending all today in water. Went down the western highway past Belize Zoo to Cheers Pub in the middle of nowhere then onto Jaguar Paw Cones.

Headed down this dirt track for an absolute age, well into the jungle. Saw loads of vultures. Then walked a short way to cave entrance. The group split up and my half walked on through jungle to cave three. Our guide gave us some good chats about the area and Caribbean Palm trees which are good for just about everything apparently.

Arrived at where we were headed with our inner tubes and cave lights. A few of us explored up in cave four orbit. I went off to the left and saw loads of fruit bats flying around really close. Absolutely excellent! Then we drifted slowly down and through the caves for half and hour. What a gorgeous place. Had lunch, delicious mango. While the other group headed off we explored downstream. So many colourful birds and butterflies. It’s a really idyllic place. Dived off a rock, mucked about then headed back. Once back at Field Base played basketball with Mark and Ben, then Frisbee. Then Ben and I tried juggling tricks. Waiting for takeaway now. Tomorrow is crunch day when we find out what projects we get. I’m hoping for the school in the south.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Anna's Diary week 2

The sum total of Anna’s building experience was a six week course, or module as they called it, at St Austell Sixth Form College.It was part of a scheme for the students to try out various crafts and take part in periods of job experience. I am sure such a skill stood her in good stead when faced with the challenge of building a classroom.Each venturer spent a few weeks, known as a phase, on three different projects.

Mon 29
Projects given out this morning and I have got the school in San Pablo, southern end of Belize. Excellent! Mark is coming with me on my recce and will stay with me for the first phase. Tiffany is the third medic and she will join me for the second phase. Third phase I’m on my own. Spent the day trying not to panic about it all. There are no plans drawn up so we will use the ones from another project. San Pablo is a really small village – 150 population - that has no road to it. We have to ford a river from Red Bank to reach it. I left a message on the community phone to say we would call by on Wednesday afternoon. We are seeing one of the project partners on Wednesday morning in Dangriga. I’ve spent the day trying not to be worried – the last lot have a tool and materials list so that should ease things. I’m too knackered to write owt else.

Tues 30
Fairly slow start today. Had another planning meeting with Mark, who wasn’t feeling very well. He hasn’t eaten for two days. Nick gave us a communications talk up until 11.30am so we can now re-tune the radio and set it up. Some of us then went off in the Land Rover and spent the afternoon watching England lose to Argentina in the world cup on penalties after losing Beckham at the start of the second half and surviving all through that extra time. Gutted! Came back and talked some more. Rang Clement Wade again – still no response. I set up a meeting for tomorrow with Father Siebert on Monday, so that’s all sorted. Mary gave us a short talk on the people of Belize. Macaroni cheese for tea, absolutely excellent. Wrote letters and this. Bed soon. Emma has just learned that the village she’s in aren’t keen on the project taking place so she’s all at sixes and sevens

Wed 1 July
Mark and I are now in a hotel in Independence. We got underway at 8.15 this morning. Mark had to check over the other Land Rover and we headed out to Belmopan then down the Hummingbird Highway – seriously bumpy road.It isn’t paved or tarmacked consistently – only every now and again. The rest of it is a hard-packed dirt road. Got to Dangriga at 11am and met Crescencio. He and an American priest from New Orleans are coming down with us. We go on down to Swasey Bridge separately but meet up at a café near Bella Vista, where Raleigh built the last school. After seeking some directions we proceed to San Pablo with caution. The road is dodgy but Mark handles the Land Rover excellently so it’s OK.

The village of San Pablo is awesome. All wooden huts with thatched roofs. It’s a crime to build a concrete school here, but that’s what they want. We go to find the Alcalde (village head) and chairman, and they show us round. We can stay in the old school building and there are two other spare buildings to use too. The river has quite a strong current which means it has less disease but is harder to cross. The Alcalde says there are some Mayan rivers we can go see and a waterfall too. Red Bank has the nearest phone but it’s across the river. We’ll go there tomorrow. On our way out we tried to speak to Tom at Banana Plantation but he’s in the USA. We can call tomorrow and meet the guy in charge at the moment.We are also meeting the Alcalde tomorrow in Red Bank.

After all this we headed to Independence to suss out supplies. We found M and M Building Supplies and the guy to see about a cement mixer. Working out how to get it all to San Pablo is the main challenge now. We have booked into a hotel for tonight and tomorrow. We’ve eaten and had a couple of beers (the first two with Crescencio and Father) Now it’s throwing it down and we are about to sleep. What a long tiring day driving on dirt tracks, and very bumpy ones at that. I forgot to mention, saw a racoon today. It ran across the track in front of us.

Thurs 2 July
Had breakfast in the restaurant. Headed out to Farm 14 but no one there. Stopped on the way back to Southern Highway because of loads of birds of prey. Vultures? Buzzards? Eagles? No idea. Got a good photo though.

Stopped at Bella Vista next and studied the school there to see how they made it. Went on to Red Bank. I inspected the shops then had a 7 Up waiting for Cruz Carl (The Alcalde). At 12.15 headed out towards San Pablo and met Cruz Carl. Got a dug-out canoe ride across – went up to the waterfall which is more of a rapid – pretty big right now because of the rain last night. Headed back to Red Bank, picked up Chairman and went to Bella Vista with them. Dropped them back close to village then came back to hotel knackered. The roads make everything hard work. Got just about everything sorted now except the tractor. Need to sort that tomorrow. Then we can go back to base.

Fri 3 July
Got up at 8am – positive lie in, had breakfast watching the first half of France and Italy game. (no score) I rang Farm 14 again but no one there today until 6pm so we decide to go home. Called at M and M supplies once more and at Whitney’s Timber on way back. Went back via coastal highway this time to Belize city, 3 – 31/2 hrs. Changed some money with difficulty at American Express place. Would have been easier at Barclays Bank. Bought a towel and a ball. Couldn’t find a football within my price range. Headed back to Field Base. Wrote up a couple of things. Sent fax to Farm 14. Went for a walk with Ben. Had tea, chatted, then bed. Nice atmosphere at FB. Forgotten note: Saw an iguana on the coastal highway on way home. It was huge!

It’s actually Sunday now. I didn’t write this yesterday because we had a big BBQ party in the evening. I spent the morning writing and typing my pre-expedition planning report until the others arrived back from their recces. Then we had lots of preparation to do for the BBQ. After a couple of hours cooking rice and pasta for salads I was well hot and pissed off. Had a bit of a downer for the rest of the afternoon until the party got into its swing. Spoke to Sharon from the zoo re: working there. Began the conversation badly but think I retrieved it and we agreed I would call by after Raleigh to talk about it.

Sun 5
Felt bad this morning. I didn’t drink that much but was still very dehydrated this morning. As a result none of us did very much. Went to the zoo this afternoon. Had a look round – got peed on by a tapir, much to everyone’s amusement. Saw the jaguar, puma and really cute otter, howler monkey, spider monkeys and a fer de lance and then we all went back and I got to have a boa constrictor around my neck. It was actually fine. Went on to a place to swim supposedly but it was crap, so had a drink instead and saw a green-headed tree snake (wild) which was good. Got back, wrote a bit, ate pizza (yum) and am now ready for bed. Trouble is it isn’t 8.30pm yet!

Anna's Diary week 3

Got no sleep, what with Lindsay on the computer until gone 11.30 and heat rash. I was very grumpy this morning and said so at the meeting. As a result Tom is working late with a sheet over the office door.

Planning day today. Finally spoke to Jeronimo at banana place but haven’t got a huge amount further because he wants me to speak to Tom on Thursday morning.

Spent the day preparing equipment and materials lists which I will fax tomorrow. Had a rant with Ashley when he was talking me out of sliding partition – well, trying to. I can’t work out if I’m being unrealistic or others are being negative. The third phase will tell us, I guess. Had to have brief on reports late because Emma, Dave and Mary got the Land Rover stuck and it took them four hours to extract it! Oops. Now finally to bed at 10.30. Knackered!

Tues 7
Had a long talk from Tim this morning re: the Venturer induction. We’ve all got our jobs now – I’m on tents. Then proceeded to sort out quotes from M & M supplies, Whitneys etc. Have it all pretty much ordered by the end of the day. We also had a communications practice and medical talk in the afternoon. Went out for a meal this evening to Moho Caye, a restaurant which was lovely. What a place! Being on the island has really inspired me to spend some time on a Caye at the end, on my own, sleeping on the beach. Trouble is, it isn’t that easy as I don’t think they like it that much, and I’d need a taxi out there. We’ll see.

Very leisurely morning sorting kit out, probably our last chance for some time. Write letters but discover I’ve lost my binocs. Bummer! Head out to Camp Oakley via airport camp an hour late but finally get to C.O at 4.30. I concentrate on setting up tents with local Venturers – seem an excellent bunch. Nice cool breeze here deserves a mention.

Finish tents as just going dark due to cock-up with wrong size canvasses.Once that’s done a quick assist with completion of long drops followed by a shower, tea, stall briefing, then bed. I’ve spent a bit of time getting clear in my head what I’m going to do with my group in our hour and been thoroughly through the induction time-table. I’ll forget it all I expect but at least I tried.

Tired now and as the Venturers begin arriving at 4 am, I’d better get some sleep. Bit of a cock-up with visas for some so they won’t all be arriving (only a couple short) tonight. Well, that’s it – it’s beginning – no turning back. I’m glad to be getting on with it actually. See you!

Thurs 9
Wow, what a day! I’m completely knackered. I missed the first lot of Venturers arriving but woke for the second at 5.30. The day began well. My talky bit was fine this morning and my group session. Even the camp craft bit was going well. The helicopter arrived and we all had a good look at that but then the trouble began when my group had to make supper. Having said that, they retrieved the situation and everyone ate. Staff meeting and then bed. All of that sounds so simple, so why am I so tired? I think I hear something in my stuff, so I’m going to have to go through it or I won’t sleep. Or will I? Can I be bothered? If I hear it again, I’ll look.

Fri 10
Camp was up incredibly early today. Jungle guys arrived and we set off on the walk in to jungle camp (J.C). It took an age! We set up our bashas. What a mess. Everyone too hot. I made really hard work of building mine. Team not working that well.Completely forgot about lunch so didn’t eat until twenty to two. Camp by now has serious attack of heat exhaustion. Not surprisingly as we’d worked through the heat of the day without food or enough water.

Big rest and swim. Resumed activities at 4 - 4.30, preparing a fire for cooking, seats, etc. Cooked tea, ate and chatted with the group about how whole thing could have gone smoother. Began to think about group leader by day, giving out jobs etc. Had staff meeting this evening for a bit of a moan.Chatting around the fire at the moment – looking forward to bed.

Sat 11
Relaxed wake-up – heard the howler monkeys in the night and this afternoon too. First session was with Winston talking about medicine/food and water in the wild. Absolutely fascinating, then we had one on fire which I ducked out of half way as I needed a lie down. Lunch went fine logistically if tastewise it was crap. Session on navigation (in the open so too hot) and shelter. (I didn’t go, OK?)

I went for a wander with my camera which was good. Once with Ben around the sites and again on my own in search of monkeys. Didn’t find them but did find a huge moth. Tea was great and now my lot have gone to bed, a few are chatting in small groups. Caroline’s group seems to be getting on really well. In fact they are making loads of noise next door right now. My lot seem a bit quiet but I think they’ll work OK.

Sun. 12 July
Boy, has today gone quickly or what? Walked out from J.C. and saw some howler monkeys on the way. Could have stayed following them for hours. Has definitely inspired me to investigate Baboon Sanctuary to work at when I’m done here. The rest of the day was fairly chilled. Mark joined in on the deployment chat and scared them all a bit, I think. He’s so depressing sometimes. Doesn’t mean he isn’t right. I’ve just been listening to the UAE group beating the water containers like there’s no tomorrow – singing their chants. Made quite a good atmosphere actually.

There are so many stars tonight, it’s beautiful. Just found out Tom’s group will be deploying with us which will help in manpower, but I must speak to them tomorrow to stress it is our project and my group’s logistical task to sort it all out, not theirs. Today has been really relaxed but has gone far too quickly. Had a swim and a sleep.Not eaten nearly enough. I hope we get more rations on project site. Just had a good chat with Rob, bit of reality which was good. It’s always good to hear how scared everyone else is.

Anna's Diary week 4

It was part of Anna’s job as project manager, in addition to heading the building of a three-classroom school, that she was expected to provide feedback. Some of it was informal for the sole benefit of the Venturer, and there was also a more formal End-of-Expedition Venturer Report, suitable for use as a reference. She was given guidelines on how best to tackle this task and urged to be sensitive but honest. I’ve found among her things notes which she wrote to herself on the need for reassurance, factual information, openness and caring. She noted that she must talk to each Venturer individually, to find out about them and what they wanted, and that this must be on-going.

Venturers are also asked to assess themselves in order to consider their own strengths and failings, fears and worries, so that this can be used as a basis for discussion.These are kept by the Venturers themselves, and are entirely private. The final feedback report, used by the Venturer for reference purposes, must take into account such things as motivation and commitment, consideration of others and ability to work in a team. Confidence and ability to communicate. Flexibility and initiative. Sense of responsibility and leadership/management skills. Judgement and decision making skills.

Anna was also expected to write a similar report upon herself, and would in turn be appraised by the Expedition Leader. Project Managers are urged to take time out for themselves. They can’t help anyone if they are over-tired. The group too needed to be allowed time to relax and recuperate, and it was Anna’s responsibility to provide this, to keep an eye on things, and make sure people weren’t getting too stressed. It is clear that she took this part of her duties very seriously, and her diary illustrates much of her agonising over this task.

Mon 13 July
D-Day. The plans changed about four times today. The buses were late. Tom’s group took forever to get their gear on the bus. We stopped in Belize City and shopped.Tom and his group finally decided to stop at Cockscomb Basin Reserve and so we took them in. Wow, what a place. I must go back. Tom says there are trails from one hour to all day and there is a camp ground there. Excellent!

Headed on south – stopping to pick some fresh mangoes on the way. Arrived in Red Bank at 4pm. Paid a guy to take our stuff as far as the creek and the villagers came to help us carry everything to and across the river and up to the school. All the Venturers love the place, not surprisingly. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was and the villagers are as excitable as ever! The river is beautiful, not as fast and clearer than before.Most swam. I was mending the radio but still failed to send Sitrep situation report. We ate cold and are just sleeping on the floor here tonight. Will sort out the camp tomorrow. Eaten tuna twice today.

Tues 14

 Quite a relaxed day, although the Venturers seem to think it was hard work. Well, Tuppy did. The radio is not transmitting at all even though I can hear others talking, I can’t get a reply. Tuppy and Mark walked into Red Bank and phoned Jo to report in and say we will Sitrep every three days by phone.

Got camp set up in the school. I have a groovy bed up in the rafters with a smart ladder and desk. I’m dead chuffed. Tools are stored. We have no gas bottles so will be cooking on open fires for the moment.

The community building needs some work yet but they have put that in for tomorrow. Had a problem with filtering water today but Mark and Dan sorted it in the end. Mark can be a bit depressing – always looking on the down-side of everything but he cheered up a bit tonight and it was good to hear him laugh. Juan (Chairman) called in this afternoon asking for medicine which was hard as we can’t give them any. Talked with the group tonight about project development and group contract.Think it went OK. Remains to be seen really if they can put into practice what they say. I will start the one-on-one’s tomorrow. Don’t know who with yet. Sleep time.

Wed 15 July
God, what a day! Mark has seen two snakes and I had to get rid of a scorpion from Julia’s bed. And Mark found a tarantula in his pants tonight. Ughh! We are all a bit spooked now as a result and strapping ourselves into bed – double checking everything. I’ve done most of the one-on-one’s today, just Yoki and Jamie to go. Dan is not well at all. He has severe depression. Apparently there are problems at home. I haven’t probed. Left it to Julia as she is best qualified. She has put him on Prozac! We’re all at it. So we’ll see. I hope he can stick it out, but then again if he’s really bad it may be better for him if he goes.

Early start tomorrow. Seven of us are leaving here at 6.30 to go to Farm 14 to organise loading and shipping stuff out to San Pablo. Tomorrow could be chaos as I’m not sure they have organised it fully, but we’ll see. I was nervous about the one-on-one’s and I didn’t do terrifically on them all. Too many closed questions in some, too leading in others. I talked too much in a couple but on the whole I think it wasn’t too bad.

This is the old school where we sleep. The tarantula has scared everyone. Crazy really because the scorpion sting would hurt more. It’s starting to rain again – huge thunderstorm last night. Mark had to take down the radio aerial the lightening was so bad. All kinds of strategies are now being formed to get rid of scorpions and spiders. I hope they work.

Thurs 16 July
Started walking into Farm 14 at 6.45 this morning. We arrived at 8.15, not bad. Then had to sit around until 12.30 before the first load arrived and of course everything arrived at once. In the end the tractor and trailer did four runs and the truck got all the way in. I paid him 20 Belizean dollars on the quiet. When I got back here, feeling a bit crap. Headache!

Julia told me Dan wanted to go home so she went out to phone Tim for a Casevac 2, (someone who needs to be removed from site) which is now happening tomorrow. I had a chance to speak to Dan and tell him a little bit about my trauma and we made contact for almost the first time. I hope he sorts himself.

Mark and I then cycled to the village to arrange and sort the materials that didn’t arrive today. No one was in so Mark rang Tim and asked him to do it. Don’t think he was best pleased but isn’t that what they’re there for, to back us up and support us?

Ali’s found a coral snake on his way over to tea which is a worry as half the Venturers are still wandering around in sandals at night. Lots more scorpions in the school tonight. One under my bed and a huge cockroach on the roof! Everyone’s pretty spooked. I’m actually being very laid back about it, not sure why! We start digging the foundations tomorrow. At last, a purpose. I hope that will liven everyone up a bit.

Fri 17 July
Julia was up with Dan all last night. He is getting worse by the hour. I spent a few hours this morning with him down by the river, talking. It’s frightening actually how talking to him takes me back. It’s still an effort to be sociable with people. I am not myself yet and am not the same as I was in a group situation. The draw to crawl back into bed and stay there is still there but not so strong. The fact that it is there at all concerns me though.

Tim and Claire had an accident driving the Land Rover down here today. Rolled it! Both OK. Claire is here now. Ade (Adrian - Logistics Manager) came down in another vehicle as we really needed to get Dan out. They went at 4pm eventually. Got quite a lot of work done today digging-wise. To be continued tomorrow. I am on camp duty though – Ugh! So up early to make porridge, whoopee do. Knackered right now and a bit low, so I shall sleep and hope for better tomorrow.

Sat 18 Afternoon.
God, I feel shit. Hugely homesick. Damn Dan for reminding me about depression. Now I want to be at home, in bed, and not come out. I’m on camp duty today which is shit, and hard work. Half the stuff still hasn’t arrived and I’m knackered. Just had a cry and now I will have a sleep – hopefully I will feel better when I wake.

OK, I had an hour’s kip and things feel better already! How shallow am I? Feeling a lot better now. Tea went OK and was well received. Had a nice evening dip to end the day and so feeling much better. Even found my watch. Julia has had to go all the way back to England with Dan and admit him to hospital as she wasn’t happy about him travelling alone. Neither was I. So Nick and Tiff turned up today. Tiff has stayed to take over until Julia gets back Wednesday-ish.

Done lots of digging. Well, the group have. Not much left to do, although there is quite a bit of earth shifting that needs to go on. The cement mixer has arrived but no blocks yet. The sand/gravel is dumped at various points along the track. Tom says he’ll deal with it. Excellent chap.

Cruz and Mark had a bit of a do today apparently, but he was still fine with me, so I hope things calm down there. Cruz is a bit unrealistic sometimes. I tried to tell him the first bit always looks slow but it’s important we get it right. One of the villagers backed me up, thankfully. He is taking us to the Mayan ruins tomorrow. (Day off) And then for a swim. Looking forward to that and the lie in. Breakfast isn’t until 8am instead of 6am. Whoopee!

Sun 19 July
Got up late, breakfasted in a leisurely manner, collected water from the river which is a shit job, then had a swim with Ali B at top rapid. Cruz took us up to Mayan Ruins, which aren’t anything to see so we went down to the river. Claire, Sophie and Tuppy stayed there while the rest of us headed upstream. I really enjoyed slashing my way through the jungle and so did Mark. Not so sure about the others. Got as far as people would agree to go then stopped to eat. Half of us crossed the river. I struggled with my sack in the first bit, and then played Frisbee. Six guys then headed back, five stayed put and Mark and I headed further upstream. We didn’t get far before we had to go inland and up, which proved hard work. Got back to the river and decided we needed to cross. Trouble was I had my camera in my sack and the current was strong.Mark tried one bit and ended up swimming and sinking. We finally got it across further up. Never did find the waterfall, will have to try again another day.

Headed back wet from head to foot and laughing. Met with the others and transferred my camera and book to Keith’s canoe bag and we all proceeded to float down-stream, all except Mark who kept sinking! It was gorgeous. We gently floated and bumped over rapids down the Swasey River, surrounded by sunshine and jungle with black vultures corralling overhead. All very idyllic, until we hit the last rapid. Mark went over and stayed under for an age so I tried to stop and successfully held Tiffany up long enough for her to grab Andrea.

I then lost my footing and headed down the rapid complete with rucksack. Finally came up and grabbed on to Mark and the next I knew Tiff is coming down as well. God knows how that happened. Everyone struggling to hold on for laughing so much. Carried on over small bumpy bit which Andrea manages to cut her hand on. And all with Mark holding a machete. We complete the trip by leaping off big rock rapid into white foam. Me with staff, rucksack and machete. Would have made a good photo.

Fell asleep before tea. Second night without scorpions but the thunder and lightening is back. Good night. Back to work tomorrow.

Anna's Diary week 5

When she was twenty-three Anna was diagnosed with the same kind of arthritis problem I have. It is cervical spondilitis, a form of osteo-arthritis in the upper spine. Hers was mild, fortunately, and she simply ignored the problem for much of the time. But the effects are that too much work, or conversely prolonged inactivity, an excess of cold, lifting something heavy or a bad jolt can result in severe pain in the neck and back, and quite debilitating headaches. A regime of exercise is essential, and also an ability to ‘read’ your body. Anna was too young to have acquired this sort of patience, consequently she suffered when sometimes she overdid things. But then she was asking a lot herself.

Mon 20 July
Motivation very low first thing, especially when we heard we had to dig another two trenches across the middle. I laid it on a bit at break. What are they here for? Do they want to do it? Are they bothered if it’s crap. Don’t know if it was that but they worked like Trojans this afternoon and we got loads done. Site now levelled and trenches dug. Just the trench for veranda foundations left and that shouldn’t take too long as its only half depth. Earned our swim this evening. Knackered now.

Had a good chat, ghost stories, best/worst moments etc. Good atmosphere. Ali S has been a bit of a problem today – not doing much work. I had to talk to him in the end. Sophie had a bad day too – not sure why. She didn’t want to talk. Tim arrives tomorrow we think with Julia returned from England. Tiff will leave us Wed with Tim. He’s staying overnight. God knows where we’ll put everyone. Abel comes on Wed too. He’s a Raleigh trustee – we’re to give him lunch! Well, that’s it. Need to sleep now. We really need the blocks to arrive tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Tues 21 July
Got a houseful tonight: Tim, Kathy, Tiff, Julia, Claire. But disaster, Tim is taking Mark away from us tomorrow. Nightmare! I’m going to have to pay attention now. Finished digging the foundations today. Have cut all pegs ready to level out concrete base. Had a ‘do’ with Kelly today – bit pathetic really. Not sure if there is anything else but I was dead sympathetic and hopefully she will pick up a bit now.

Abel, a Raleigh trustee, is visiting tomorrow for lunch. I walked into Red Bank today with Yoki – had a nice chat actually. It’s her birthday tomorrow but she won’t let me tell anyone.Too tired now, and I want to read my mail again.

Wed 22 July
Felt pretty shit for most of today – close to tears. Wanted to talk to Julia really but didn’t get opportunity on our own. The blocks arrived, well some of them. I felt a bit better then, mainly I think because I was doing something. Julia and I played backgammon tonight which was nice. Big day tomorrow. We want to get all the foundation concrete laid in the main trenches. Mark has left us, it was quite bad actually. Tim was really sweet too. Also sorry to see Claire go. She’s been a joy to have visiting.

Been feeling inadequate today. Not doing my job as well as I could be.But letting things run their course isn’t a bad thing. This group have got on and taken the initiative on finding out about each other and so I haven’t really needed to force the issue. We have mixed and matched rotas. Although folk were slow to volunteer it’s generally been OK, so there really is no need to give myself such a hard time. The building is going well. The group is working better and better each day so what is the problem??? Just bloody cheer up and enjoy it, Anna. Stop looking at the negative. It gets you nowhere.

Thurs 23 July
The guys were keen to get the concrete started today but it never happened. It was a bit ambitious as it turned out. But spirits were still high. They had a terrible meeting tonight. Three conversations going on at once. No one really listening to each other. Julia stepped in, in the end, but unfortunately they just stopped talking completely then. They are too laid back really. Not fired up at all. Which I find hard.

Personally I’ve felt better today, more myself. Hopefully that will continue. Played backgammon again tonight. If we can get most of the concrete done tomorrow, finish on Sat, maybe we could have a game of football at the weekend, Sat or Sun. That would be good. Going to try and get communications tomorrow. Keith is anyway. Not sure I want them now. Pete a bit off today – I don’t feel he’s quite with us all the time. Kelly was a bit better today and especially tonight at the meeting.

Fri 24 July
God, I wanted to put a bomb up their ass today! They were mopey – pathetic – wet – uninterested – listless – aimless – gripey with each other. Dino and Ali B had a ‘do’ and everyone just ignored them. Julia and I went to Red Bank to phone and shop. They didn’t have any discussion after tea, and as soon as anything to do with a meeting was mentioned, silence followed. And yet tonight they are chatting happily together.

Julia and I are on camp duty tomorrow. I’m going to do some team games with the group tomorrow morning and a bit of a discussion on the role of the leader and group etc. It really needs doing as I don’t feel they are being honest with each other.Well, we’ll see what response I get in the morning. I’m a lot nervous actually but I think it’s time I stepped in.

Sat 25 July
Well, I did the deed. Trust games followed by a chat about the role of a leader. They talked a little bit but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a discussion. Anyway, for whatever reason, I think things went better today. They got the foundation concrete done and I don’t think it was because Julia and I weren’t on site. We were on camp duty. So, I’m absolutely knackered tonight and my back is killing me.

We cooked a mean banana thing with an oat base. It was great. Filled everyone up. My hair is getting long and the back is going all tufty so I’m going to get someone to cut it, I think. Ali B has some clippers!

A tarantula joined us for lunch today. Andrea killed it with great gusto. I guess we’re doing the foundation concrete for the veranda tomorrow, but I’m not 100% sure. Day off on Monday this week. We are going to Riversdale. Hope that goes OK, otherwise I may be lynched.

We all wrote Anna loads of letters, but were aware that they only got through, and were replied to, at time of changeover of a phase or if someone visited the site. This was quite hard for us all, not only Anna. She naturally wrote fewer to us because she was so busy and letters within the family were passed from hand to hand, read and re-read. And this was before the days of readily accessible mobile phones and texting.Here is one to me, full of chatty information, as always.

Saturday 25 July
Hi Mum,
On camp duty today so seem to have spent all day cooking. The group are finishing the foundation concrete and seem to be working well. They were a nightmare yesterday so I did some trust games and talking with them this morning. I, of course, have no idea if it’s that but they are much better today. San Pablo is beautiful, a traditional Mayan village and the people are really friendly.

We have set up camp in their existing school. My bed is up in the rafters to give me more space. Very impressive! My Guide square lashing skills coming in very handy.

The only down side of San Pablo is the wildlife. The school has loads of scorpions, although we haven’t seen as many these last couple of days, they come in all sizes but the sting is as bad in all of them apparently. No one harmed yet though. We’ve had a swarm of killer bees on site, a very poisonous coral snake and several tarantulas. One of them in Mark’s trousers. On the first day we just moved them but now its ‘Kill it now!’ We’ve had one day off when we explored upriver. An excellent day trekking through the jungle then drifting back down the rapids. Our next day off is Monday when we go to the coast to meet up with the dive site groups and play volleyball.

So how is sunny England? Last I heard it wasn’t. We had a big storm last night and lots of rain on our newly laid concrete but generally it’s been hot and humid… I am trying to set up an exchange with one of the schools in Ashton and San Pablo as there are few books here and they are fascinated by where we’re all from. Hopefully that will come off. It will also mean I can keep in touch with what happens here once I’ve left.

I’ve spoken to the woman at Belize Zoo and she said to go by when I’m done with Raleigh and speak to the education people and get involved there. I’m also interested in the Baboon Sanctuary though as we saw some Howler monkeys in the wild which was amazing and I’d love to work with them. We went on a visit to the zoo before the venturers arrived and the big cats were great. I also had a boa constrictor around my neck!!! Black vultures are as common here as buzzards in Wales, and swallowtail butterflies as common as red admirals.

Give my love to everyone. Sal has written and says Holly is fine, very lively and bouncy as usual. Not missing me as much as I’m missing her then.
Write soon.
All my love, Anna.

And as part of my reply I wrote her this . . .
Okay, I know, it’s a silly little ditty, but it’s the sort of thing we do in our family.

I could be an explorer,
I too could be brave like you.
I could pitch a tent, build an oven of bricks,
Dive in the rapids and do all of those tricks,
But I’d lose me glasses,
In all those grasses,
So I think I’d better stop here,
And leave it to you, my dear.

I could be an explorer,
I too could work in a zoo.
I could play with the monkeys, watch big cats in their cages,
I could clean up their muck for ages and ages,
But put a boa constrictor around my neck,
And me old arthritis would play up like heck,
So I think I’d better stop here,
And leave it to you, my dear.

I could be an explorer,
I could be adventurous too.
I could trek through the jungle, take an early call,
Mix concrete, chop wood, or help build a school hall.
But tarantulas in me trouses?
And scorpions in me blouses?
Now that would give me a stroke, I think,
So I’ll stop on here where I’m in the pink.
And leave it all to you, my dear.

Sun 26 July
Seriously bad back first thing so I stayed in bed for a couple of hours. Julia isn’t well today either and is scared she has malaria. She is going to rest today and see how she is. The helicopter is calling on Tues so she can always speak to them, and we did have a seriously hard day yesterday. Tuppy has gone into Red Bank to phone Raleigh re tomorrow’s day off. We may end up going to Placencia, if the dive site folk can’t get off the island. You see the weather is shit just now. Windy and raining. So rainy we can’t concrete at the mo. Work was abandoned in the end somewhere in the middle of the afternoon so I got myself a haircut. Andrea started with Ali B’s clippers but was a dead loss, so Keith finished.

They are going on a trip to Placencia tomorrow. Julia isn’t well enough to go so I am staying with her. Apparently the bus and boat fare is 400 Belizean dollars!! Which is more than I’d bargained for. But I’ve said it now – that Raleigh will pay, so I can’t back out now. Hope I don’t get in trouble for it. Too late now. Well, I will get them to put some money into a kitty for end of section change-over instead of using Raleigh money. Wrote to Ashton Parochial Primary today and a few others.

San Pablo played Red Bank at football and won 3-1.

No other real news. I will have to speak to the group tomorrow and try to impress upon them to barter the bus man, or organise the boat themselves from Independence because I’m dead worried about it now. Maybe I could speak to Jo about it on Tues?

Anna's Diary week 6

Mon 27 July
Had very relaxing day writing letters, playing backgammon or cards, listening to music and chatting to Julia.It has absolutely poured down all day. Went for a walk late afternoon. Returned, then got a panic message from one of the village lads saying someone had fallen in the river. The group had basically capsized coming over in the canoe.

The first three got very wet. They seemed to cope OK but Dino jumped in apparently – not helping at all. Could I have done anything? Not really sure. Still can’t decide about whether to speak to Jo about money. I’ll decide tomorrow. I’m inclined not to tonight and see what happens. At the end of the day it’s my call, and if I say they need it… They say Placencia is a nice place and would be good in better weather. They also have lots of offers for next week which sound good, so we’ll see what they decide. Back to work tomorrow.

Tues 28
Sunshine has returned and so thankfully have spirits. The concreting was finished by 9.45 and we spent the rest of the day clearing, preparing and getting a block laying demo from Wendy. Jo and Twenty-Five flight arrived around midday and stayed for about three-quarters of an hour.

Besides lots of official post I got a letter from Abi, which was good, and a note internally from Emma. We have now gone two working days without a lunchtime review meeting. If nothing happens tomorrow, I shall say something. Enjoyed today but knackered.

Wed 29 July
Started block laying today. Painfully slow at the moment and a bit frustrating. Wendy gave us good help though and the day went quickly. They tried to have a review meeting at lunch but not very successful. I think maybe I need to go over what a review involves. Maybe tomorrow? I’ll look it up first.

Excellent sweet bread for pudding today. Jamie is a top cook. Wendy is really coming out of herself and it’s really good to see. I will have to start writing para’s at the end of this week – probably meetings on Fri then Sat writing – consult Monday.

Not sure if we’ll get as far as pouring the floor this phase.The block laying will have to speed up if that is to happen. Late to bed tonight at 9.30pm! They have decided to have a trip to Blue Creek Caves on Sun. 25 dollars each. Suits me. I shall offer Kelly and Fay money from R.I. to help them out a bit. I think the rest are fine.

Thurs 30 July
God, this block laying is going to take forever. A bit of conflict at lunch over the review meeting. Keith stating that whatever they decide they should stick to it. Carlo complaining a bit. Sophie calmed things down, not sure what will happen now. Wendy and Sophie went to phone and blocks should be here tomorrow.

Had a good evening of games. Pick up paper/coins and a mug, finishing with Slam. Great. Late to bed as a result tonight, and I’m on camp duty again tomorrow! With Sarah this time. Don’t think we will get as far as pouring the floor this phase. Not sure what that means for rest.

Fri 31 July
I’ve been on camp duty today so I’m knackered again. The others are still talking but I’ve had to come to bed. Had a good massage off Andrew though. The second layer is still not done so they have decided to change the system, which makes sense. Good for them. Some of the villagers were pissed this afternoon and took the boat on to the wrong side of the river. Julia and Andrea were in Red Bank so Julia had a row with them and rightly so. Cruz Carl says he’ll sort it.

One-on-one’s tomorrow – day off on Sunday, writing up para’s with Julia on Mon. Tuesday break camp then Wednesday back. The group’s aim now is to complete foundation blocks then backfill. Not a chance of completing the floor – that will have to be next phase. Written to Abi today but no-one else. Would like to receive a bit more really. Hopefully changeover will reap some reward for all my letters.

Sat 1
So they changed the working system today and it worked much better I hear. I have been talking all day and got sunburnt as a result. I spoke to Cruz about people asking for money, and gave everyone their one-on-ones.

We played the locals at football tonight at 6pm. Three 10 min halves. 1 – 1 in the first half but 4 – 1 by the end of the second. 5 – 2 by final result. Both our goals were penalties that Wendy scored. I did a dead good header, but have a headache as a result! More blocks should be arriving tomorrow, the trouble is we are on a day off and heading out to Blue Hole, and the villagers have a football tournament in Bella Vista so there isn’t anyone to unload the blocks and not sure what will happen yet. I’ve left it with Cruz.

Sun 2 August
Day off today and yet we were out of bed even earlier! Breakfast at 5.25, walking to Red Bank Junction by 6.20am. Some more blocks are arriving today so I had to arrange with Cruz for some guys to help load and unload. He was a bit reluctant as almost all were going to Bella Vista for a football tournament. Gilbert was on time to pick us up in his air-conditioned van and off we went to Blue Creek, down south. It took a couple of hours to get there.

Walked into the jungle lodge at the reserve and met up with a guide. He took us to this huge cave but the water was too high for us to get in. Beautiful place though. Headed back to the lodge and some folk swam. All the place could offer us to eat was veg soup and roll left over from some American school group, so we declined and moved on.

Headed back and stopped at a café which could serve us chicken, rice and beans. Top! Then we went to some Mayan ruins with loads of stone plinth carvings which were amazing. Should have cost us 85 Belizean dollars but Gilbert and I did some sweet talking and boy can Gilbert sweet talk! He took a shine to Sophie, mainly cos she had her swimmers on?

After that we headed home, Gilbert dropping us past Farm 14. I still have yesterday’s headache so go to bed for the evening, eating tea in bed too. Got up for an hour or so 8 – 9pm as feeling a bit better but sleepy again now. Last full working day tomorrow. Lots to do. Julia and I will write the paragraphs for the Venturers tomorrow and I may write something for the changeover mag, we’ll see how time goes.