Most people traveling to a Caribbean country during spring break fill their suitcases with sunscreen, shorts and a bathing suit or two. Sally Beisser, professor of education, fills her suitcases with children's books and leaves them all there — even the suitcases.
Beisser will travel to poverty-ridden San Pedro Island, Belize on her fourth trip to the country during Drake's spring break. This will be her third time transporting books and leading educational workshops for teachers at Holy Cross Anglican Primary School. She also made trips during her sabbatical in Spring 2009 and on a family vacation.
"Upon an initial visit to the country, I learned that a local school, Holy Cross Anglican Primary School, was in need of supplies and books," Beisser said. "Because there was no functioning public library on the island, we decided bringing books to this school would be the best way to connect children with the importance and joy of literature."
School of Education faculty members Dede Small and Jill Johnson, along with various education students and women's groups, have continuously donated new and used children's books to be sent or delivered to Belize.
When Beisser is unable to travel to the country, books are shipped through a designated site in Texas that assures their arrival. Kappa Delta Pi, the School of Education honors society, helps to defray shipping costs.
This past June, she sent seven boxes of books that were eventually delivered in December. The director of the school, Francis Wilson, wrote Beisser a note of gratitude for the books, and an update on how things were going at the school.
"Contributions have dramatically declined while our urgent needs have increased," Wilson said. "It is impossible to teach a child who is hungry or sick, and it is difficult to conduct classes without pencils, paper or books."
Beisser will also spend her spring break conducting workshops with the teachers of Holy Cross on character education and assessment. Shelley Fairbairn, Drake assistant professor of teaching and learning, provided materials for the assessment workshop, while the local organization, Character Counts Iowa©, donated supplies and information for a workshop on building character.
"This is a truly shared effort," Beisser said. "I could never do any of this on my own, and especially without the help and drive of the Drake University community."
Other departments at Drake also have a hand in helping the country of Belize. Law Professor Jim Albert has a foundation that raises money to help send Belize children to high school. It usually costs $200 and is more than the average family makes in a year. To view a complete list of ways in which the James Arthur Albert Foundation provides educational opportunities in Belize, you can visit its website: helpingbelizekids.org
Drake’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is also active in southern Belize, with students completing rotations organized by Denise Soltis, assistant dean/pharmacy experiential programs.
"The collaborative efforts in Belize demonstrate the University's commitment to 'global citizenship' and 'meaningful personal lives,'" Beisser said. “Drake's mission statement applies not just to students, but faculty and staff as well, and I am proud that we strive to 'walk the talk' to advance volunteerism and academics as part of a service-learning campus and wider community development."
— Kelsey B. Jones
For more information on ways to join in the effort of bringing literacy awareness and resources to Belize, contact Beisser at email@example.com.
Related event: Belize Dance Marathon
Students from Drake Law School and Drake University undergraduate programs, including athletes, fraternity and sorority members, as well as students from all the Des Moines-area high schools are participating to raise money to send Belize children to high school and help develop other educational programs in the country. The event will feature live DJ’s, bands, dancing lessons, food and other activities.
When: April 16, 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Where: Drake University Olmsted Center, 2875 University Ave.
Cost: $10 registration fee for dancers, $200 minimum fundraising goal for each team to participate in the marathon.