Giving Back on Caye Caulker
If you find yourself inspired to leave something other than footprints behind in Caye Caulker, here are a few island projects that accept donations (materials and cash) and sometimes volunteers.
Saga Humane Society
Belize’s government-sanctioned animal control measures used to consist of tossing strychnine-laced meat onto the streets. The Saga Humane Society (tel. 501/226-3266, www.sagahumanesociety.org) was founded in March 1999, partly in response to this practice and to improve the poor conditions of Belize’s stray animals. Saga Humane Society’s mission is “promoting kindness and preventing cruelty to all animals, achieved through humane education, subsidized spay and neuter programs, and low-cost veterinary services.”
Saga started out in a little building with a fenced-in yard that served as the only animal shelter in all of Belize. After much work and dedication, a proper shelter was built on land purchased by the Humane Society, and it was called “Fort Dog.” Fort Dog houses lost, unwanted, and homeless animals who receive treatment and care until they are found adoptive families. The Humane Society headquarters on Sea Star Street houses the Saga cattery, where there are always plenty of kittens and cats looking for homes. Fort Dog received a facelift in 2007 — including puppy and isolation areas and new storage and sanitation facilities.
Saga can always use a helping hand and appreciates the generosity of visitors. It is a nonprofit organization funded solely by donations from the public and visitors to the island. Saga maintains an ongoing wish list of needed items for the clinic, so please check in before your trip and see what you can bring down.
The island’s only private practice veterinarian is found in the same neighborhood at the San Pedro Animal Hospital (tel. 501/610-3647, sanpedroanimalhospital.com), created in 2009 to offer “modern veterinary care similar to that found in the United States, Canada and Europe” on Ambergris Caye. They offer regular office hours, emergency visits, and house calls for your pets.
Forest and Marine Reserves Association of Caye Caulker (FAMRACC, www.famracc.org) is a nongovernmental organization composed of representatives from different island organizations and service groups, including tour guides, schools, and the police. FAMRACC co-manages the Caye Caulker Marine Reserves with the Fisheries and Forests Departments and works on projects like mangrove restoration, reef rapid assessments, community reef-technician training, and environmental education field trips for local children.
FAMRACC sometimes accepts volunteers to work with the mangrove and littoral forest restoration projects (Forest Reserve), as well as maintenance of reef mooring lines and buoys (Marine Reserve). Guest researchers and scientists are also welcome.
The Caye Caulker branch of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (CCBTIA) manages a 1.5-acre private Forest Reserve (www.gocayecaulker.com/forest.html), which is just before the airstrip. This tiny but lush littoral forest nature reserve has a nice walking trail that winds to the mangroves on the beach, and flora and fauna along the way are identified with hand-painted signs. CCBTIA has published a trail guide to the reserve, as well as two books about the plants and birds of Caye Caulker; these are for sale at Cayeboard Connection or from CCBTIA. There is no charge to walk the trails. Guided tours are also available and there is a small interpretation center.
FAMRACC can help you plan a tour in the Forest Reserve. Birding tours leave very early (US$32, three hours), and natural history tours can be booked of the project sites, followed by snorkeling in the North Channel (US$50–70 depending on duration). Contact Ellen McRae to arrange details (tel. 501/226-0178).
Caye Caulker’s first nonprofit community high school, Ocean Academy (located near airstrip, tel. 501/226-0321, www.cayecaulkerschool.com), opened in 2008. Prior, only a few privileged families could finance the daily water-taxi commute to mainland schools, in addition to fees, uniforms, and books, and many island children quit their schooling at age 12. In Belize only 40 percent of high-school aged youth currently attend high school, so Ocean Academy is committed to youth engagement and equitable access to education.
In addition to core academics, students can study marine biology, tour guiding, graphic design, scuba certifications, windsurfing, kayaking, entrepreneurship, and more. Environmental education projects include composting, mangrove restoration, and eco-art. Current apprenticeship placements are with wedding photographers, scuba and kayak shops, construction, and office reception. Rotary’s Interact Club of Ocean Academy promotes community involvement and student volunteerism. The Youth Environmental Club is multi-aged and meets at the community library.
Travelers can get involved in a variety of ways. Ocean Academy can help host service-learning groups, volunteer teachers, and mentors for students in the after-school tutoring program. The school website is updated regularly and has a wish list of volunteer skills and school supplies. Cash donations and student sponsorships are tremendously appreciated, and can be easily made through the school website.
Ocean Academy welcomes visitors on campus for guided school tours (US$5 contribution per person requested for the Student Tuition Scholarship Fund), which include a short video, classroom visits, project viewing, and an opportunity to meet students and staff.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition