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How a University of Kentucky study abroad in Belize is redefining community learning

How a University of Kentucky study abroad in Belize is redefining community learning

How a University of Kentucky study abroad in Belize is redefining community learning

A UK Extension group shares their expertise on pesticide safety, sustainable agriculture, food preservation and nutrition with local communities in Belize — resulting in mutually valuable learning experiences.

Lexington, Ky.—

During a recent excursion to Belize, a group of University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension professionals discovered that studying abroad goes beyond exploring new landscapes – they also learned about resiliency, innovation and community. The study abroad program experience was led by the UK Family and Consumer Sciences extension (FCS) at the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

The program encouraged Kentucky extension agents and specialists to explore the Belizean culture and environment. Participants had a unique window into Belize's social dynamics, technological progress and conservation efforts aimed at understanding the nation's unique challenges and innovations. 

"Exploring new countries offers more than just a change of scenery; it's an immersion into cultures vastly different from our own, providing invaluable learning experiences," said School of Human Environmental Sciences senior extension specialist Joann Lianekhammy

The trip's success was highlighted by a reciprocal exchange.  

In addition to learning about community practices in Belize, the visitors shared their expertise on pesticide safety, sustainable agriculture training, food preservation and nutrition. This interaction highlighted the Belizeans' enthusiasm for learning and implementing new enhancement strategies. It also deepened the participants' grasp of the educational significance of these exchanges. 

Belize extension
UK Extension professionals both learned from, and taught, those from Belize various farming techniques. Photo provided by Cathy Fellows.

Belize, a nation where the main economic support for many is tourism, presented extension professionals with a unique learning opportunity. Beyond its picturesque landscapes, Belize offered additional insights into community practices, particularly through its women's cooperatives. 

“These co-ops, pivotal in supporting local families, showcased the adaptive strategies of Belizean women as they navigate a male-dominated cultural landscape,” said Pendleton County FCS agent Kenna Knight. “By engaging in pottery, embroidery and other crafts, these women preserve their heritage and capitalize on the tourism sector to bolster their families' income.” 

The stark economic challenges faced by Belizeans became apparent when participating extensionists learned the minimum wage stands at approximately $2.50 an hour. Coupled with the relatively high cost of living, this wage disparity stresses the vital importance of tourism for many families. Through direct engagement with women's cooperatives, the group witnessed first-hand how these communities strive to surmount economic barriers, blending cultural preservation with entrepreneurial zeal. 

Belize extension
Women's cooperatives are both economically pivotal to families and showcase the adaptive strategies of Belizean women. Photo provided by Cathy Fellows.

A visit to a regional coffee farm was a highlight of the trip for many. It accentuated the importance of community collaboration.  

"Understanding the labor-intensive process of growing and processing coffee in Belize changed how we view our morning cup,” Lianekhammy said. “Coffee isn't native to Belize but has become a successful crop through local innovation." 

Knight says she plans to use the information she learned to help her local community. 

"The experience in Belize taught me the importance of adapting to changing economic landscapes by innovating and leveraging what's unique to our community,” she said. “I plan to share these insights through workshops, such as presentations on international foods and coffee and initiatives that encourage our community members to learn more about other countries’ and societies’ agricultural practices." 

UK agents reflected their intent to implement initiatives within their communities that mirror Belize's sustainable and culturally informed practices. 

"Belize's approach to using its land, addressing population growth and promoting environmental sustainability provided us with unique insights into managing resources wisely,” Lianekhammy said. “It's clear that real-world experiences like these are invaluable for fostering a global perspective and inspiring action in our own communities." 

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The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.   

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