By Dorian Nunez
It’s probably one of the coolest and best summer camp experiences in the country and the setting could not be more perfect – Chaa Creek’s pristine 365-acre private nature reserve that is home to an extraordinary range of wildlife, birds and flora. The Eco Kids Summer Camp is a once in a lifetime experience that has lucky Belizean children enjoying summer activities and in the process going home with a deeper understanding and respect for the natural world and their place in it.
Ambergris Today was invited to cover a couple days of Eco Camp and I arrived mid-week through the eco camp activities; the kids had already been to the Maya Ruins and visited the Belize Zoo. That day the campers were learning about land conservation which had the group visiting the 33-acre Maya Organic Farm within the Chaa Creek compound.
Mick Fleming teaching kids about farming techniques
There I got to meet Mick and Lucy Fleming, proprietors of the Lodge at Chaa Creek. I learned that both Mick and Lucy are very dedicated to the summer camp and are very much involved with every aspect of the activities. Mick was getting down and dirty digging through compost and gave a tour of the operation, identifying the many local plants, trees and produce. The campers were also treated to some live action as they met the resident sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, heifers, and even a large bull.
Chaa Creek is all about being eco friendly and the farm plays an integral part on the reserve that not only helps to conserve the land, but also provides jobs for local workers and supplies food for the Lodge. One the main goals of the farm is to implement as many traditional Maya farming techniques as possible, the most notable of these being the absence of chemicals in their agricultural practices.
Eco Camp Kids learn about organic gardening at Chaa Creek’s farm
After the tour, The kids had some down time that afternoon which they spent swimming and canoeing in the Macal River just below the Lodge, after which Lucy Fleming took the opportunity to interact with the campers as they conducted sing-a-longs at the main camp site. The children get to stay within the natural wilderness of Chaa Creek’s Macal River Camp that has comfortable cabins and where they participate in carefully designed activities and events, arts and craft projects and get to interact and build bonds with their fellow campers.
Twenty four lucky children aged between eight and thirteen from all over the country and from different social and cultural backgrounds got the opportunity to immerse themselves in this special camp. They are lucky because the week-long camp is free and all-inclusive adventure which means that everything is provided to them, from delicious, healthy meals, to all the materials they will need to totally enjoy all the camping experiences. This all comes courtesy of Chaa Creek.
You see, to become an Eco Kid the youngsters were required to submit a 300-word written essay to Chaa Creek’s scholarship committee, which then shortlists the entries ensuring that children with an eco-passion from each of Belize’s six district attends.
The 24 winners chosen from this year’s 86 entries then participated in archaeological excavations at ancient Maya sites, took part in hikes and horseback excursions to study local flora and fauna and Maya medicinal plants, and participated in song writing and talent show sessions, hands-on sustainable organic farming techniques, and supervised water activities.
It was great to see that Lucy Fleming would take time off her busy schedule in running the resort to spend so much time with the campers; she was there from early in the morning making sure everything and everybody was okay.
“We want the kids to take this opportunity to really appreciate their natural heritage and think about how important it is to protect and preserve it,” commented Lucy. “We like to think that, over the years, the Eco-Kids program will inspire our youth and perhaps plant the seeds for further study and maybe even add to the next generation of environmentalists. After all, today’s environmentally aware kids represent the best chance for the future survival of Belize’s spectacular, yet fragile, environment.”
Lucy mentioned how happy she was to host these wonderful and smart kids who were loving every single minute of the camp experience. And you could also see how much Lucy was enjoying herself as her eyes would brighten every time she was around the kids
“I love to see how all these diverse group of children come together from all around the country and getting to know them is such a wonderful experience,” commented Lucy.
On my second day following the campers, I arrived early in the morning to see them learn about bio waste management. The day’s theme revolved around using the three “R’s”: reduce, reuse and recycle. During arts and craft time, the eco campers were visited by members of the youth ambassadors of the Friends for Conservation and Development who taught them how to make garbage bins out of plastic bottles. The conservation group also brought jewelry and accessories made out of old bottle caps and engaged the campers in making the garbage bins. They encouraged the kids to start up environmental groups in their own schools.
Up next was a presentation given by Chaa Creek’s Senior Naturalist Guide and Waste Management expert Brion Young. His talk focused on the importance of the 3 R’s, and demonstrated how Chaa Creek tries to implement these in as many of its daily practices as possible.
After lunch and some personal time back at the camp grounds, it was time for a Splash Party, the day’s most anticipated activity. Just add water and highly energized campers and you have one good ole time; a tarpaulin was lubed up with baby oil and soap and everybody had a blast slipping and sliding down the hill. At times it seemed like the counselors were having a better time than the campers. Everybody threw sponges and water balloons, and did everything they could to get as wet and wild as possible.
Eco tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Belize and Chaa Creek is surely doing a great deal in promoting safe environmental practices and creating awareness of the importance of protecting the environment in which we live in. The Eco Summer Camp is just one more aspect of the Lodge at Chaa Creek’s love and dedication of the environment in Belize. Ecotourism revolves around many important aspects and Chaa Creek ensures that strict guidelines are met in their award winning tourism model.
The Flemings and their Chaa Creek staff have been conducting the Eco-Kids Summer Camp since 2010 and plan to continue it as an annual event. This year the camp took place from July 21 to the 29.
Officially known as the Children’s Summer Camp Scholarship Program, the camp program uses a mix of adventure, social interaction, fun and hands-on education to engage young people with their natural surroundings while teaching the importance of conservation and natural resource stewardship.
At the July 29 ceremony, the 24 graduates received certificates of learning in Biodiversity, The Ancient Maya, Traditional Healing, Land Conservation, Solid Waste Management, Responsible Tourism and Belize Wildlife, and they all signed a pledge to, among other things, “be a role model in my community, and to be an eco-steward of the earth”.
List of Graduates 2012
Girls 8- 10 years old
1. Reign Ackerley – San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Girls 11- 13 years old
1. Brianni Danieli Requena –Santa Elena , Cayo District
2. Kieva Mangar – Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District
3. Raeesa Ahmad – Belize City, Belize District
4. Xanahia Borallos – Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District
5. Jalyssa Arthurs – San Ignacio, Cayo District
6. Diani Roches – Belize City, Belize District
7. Gabriela Escobar – Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District
8. Chelsea Young – Belize City, Belize District
9. Camryn Nicholson – Belmopan, Cayo District
10. Erica Wade – Stann Creek, Stann Creek District
11. Emily Sanchez – San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Boys 8 – 10 years old
1. Shaahid Abdul Jaleel – Hattieville ,Belize District
2. Roben Harrison – Belmopan, Cayo District
Boys 11 – 13 years old
1. Luis Zavala –Yo Creek Village, Orange Walk District
2. Elias Gonzalez – Belize City, Belize District
3. Glen Tillet – Orange Walk Town, Orange Walk District
4. Jaheim Mejia – Belize City, Belize District
5. Javier Gongora – Yo Creek Village, Orange Walk District
6. Eulogio Teul- Toledo District
7. Kimauni Alwin Lewis – Belmopan, Cayo District
8. Glevaughn Smith – Belize City, Belize District
9. Erick Lopez- Corozal Town, Corozal District
10. Tyler Casimiro- Toledo District