Heidi Curry Personal Statement

Written in the Spring of 2008 Before the School Opened:


I have lived on Caye Caulker for four and a half years. My husband and I moved here in 2003 because we had always wanted to raise children in a culturally rich country. What we have found is a beautiful island, full of people with incredible energy.

My Background

At the University of Texas at Austin, I studied Latin American Studies through the Humanities Department. This path initiated at the age of 17, when I spent my first summer study abroad, in Costa Rica, alone. It was then when I began to grasp all that this part of the world could teach me (that I could never learn in a classroom); and my hope began that I would someday be able to reciprocate.

I worked extremely hard as a student and enjoyed every second of it. After graduation, I looked for a job with organizations such as the United Nations or the Washington Office for Latin America. But, I found that I could not afford to take an internship. I found a job at ICF Consulting in the Washington, D.C. area where I consulted for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At ICF, I received invaluable training and hands on experience managing various projects simultaneously. Most importantly, I felt I was making a difference.

But the time came when I needed to get back to the world outside of the U.S. and see why that felt so important.

The Children

Seeing a child - anytime, anywhere - brings a certain smile to anyone's face. I see it on the sandy streets of Caye Caulker everyday. Even a pregnant woman exchanges the beaming smiles because of the life in her belly. I believe it is because in the children we see the future.

I have known many children on Caye Caulker since I have lived here. I have been watching them grow from young children to young adults. I would consider many of them my closest friends. With nervous anticipation, I have wondered what will happen to them at the age of thirteen when they finish Standard 6, the last of the local island education. I have tutored children with their homework and seen the effects of large class sizes (up to 43 students). Many of the children I know are not able to get homework help at home because their parents cannot read or write English, or in some cases speak English; or because a single-working mother supports several children on a shoestring budget.

What I see is children who do not see the possibility of continuing school after the age of 13 (due to finances), who are not able to receive one-on-one instruction, and who enter their teenage years, looking for a job, will very little confidence in reading, writing, and math.

I am aware that many islanders work on the water (guiding, fishing), or on the island (boat building, painting) every day; never touching a book; and are much happier than the most well educated individuals sitting in office buildings. However, I also see many adults who would prefer to be able to fill out a government form, or take a course to improve skills related to their passion, or do bookkeeping for their own small business.

When I look at the children of Caye Caulker, I would like to contribute to widening their path of options. And narrowing the gap between those who have the privelege to be educated, and those who have accepted the fact that they do not.

The evolution of the Ocean Academy

As the years have gotten nearer to Standard 6 for the children I know, I have envisioned scholarship programs to support water taxi tickets ($100 US/month), High School tuition (up to $250 US/month), and books (up to $400 US/ year). The thought for starting a High School was always there, but it remained a seed as I worked to attain Belizean Residency status, and give birth to my daughter.

In February of 2008, I decided to jump headfirst. With the mothers whom I had been interviewing for years about their High School options (without divulging my idea inside), I began to say aloud that I planned to open a High School. I met surprise and excitement. Mothers overhearing a conversation would jump in, "when?!!?" This is when the outpour of the fears came out:

"My first son made it all the way through in Belize City [then a hand would tap across the chest and up and down in the form of a cross], but I'm scared to death to send my daughter next year."

"Boarding in Belize City was rough. Really rough. I made it through five years. You don't go outside at night, you know. You have your dinner before 6pm or order in. And you never, ever go across the bridge at night."

"I will have to send my kids to live with my sister up in Corozal. I will try to get a job in the States so I can send enough money down to pay for their school. No way will I send them to Belize [City]. My best friend; she lives in Belize; we hear shots outside all the time. She runs to see who it is. Her son, 23, just got burned to death. Some guys he knew poured gasoline over his body and lit him on fire. I saw him in the hospital. I knew he wouldn't live, but I didn't say that to my friend. He died that night."

"I will send my daughter to live with a close friend in Belmopan. She's a close friend, so I know she'll take good care of her. I'll visit for three days every two weeks. It will be hard. I will miss her. But it's worth it."

I felt the desperation. The immediate need. Looked inside, and decided I could do it. I imagined starting with five kids at my house, but the need seemed bigger than that. I feared going at it alone. Then, Joni showed up on my doorstep, "I hear you're starting a High School. I've had the same idea for years." We were so excited, talking over each other, realizing that we had the same dream and our experience and skills were a perfect match. We each filled in the others' gaps. We worked on proposals, budgets, ideas, but the big question was where?

A few days later, a close friend came by and said, "you won't beleive it! Dane Dingerson has had the idea for years to donate land to build a High School. I told him about your plans and he is dying to talk to you." Then, the pressure for a large pool of money to get started. I speak to every tourist about the school now, because leads and ideas keep coming, and a few days later, a couple was very interested in the school, asking lots of questions, and then explained,"I know of a few foundations. They don't have set criteria. They just believe that God will bring them what they should fund. I will hand deliver a proposal if you write it."

The primary school principal, Ms. Neldy Rosado, is adding tremendous momentum with her support. "I am in support of this High School 100%. It has my complete approval." And the Village Council Chairman, Mr. Ralph Humes, shared his own feelings and described the exhaustion his child (and he) feels at having to wake up so early and return so late due to the water taxi commute. He presented the High School plans to his Council and reprted they were in unanimous support.

We're working hard every day so that CCOA will open in September 2008.