The Words of the Santelli Family

Experiencing a Different World in Belize

D. Santelli
July 10, 2007
Belize City, Belize

In June 2007, I had the opportunity to go to Belize to teach Character Education in Belize City. During our one-month internship, we stayed at the Universal Peace Federation Peace Embassy, located in the heart of Belize City.

Our time was spent working in four different schools in the Belize City District under the guidance of Rev. Lynda Moguel, the director of UPF Character Education in Belize. We gave a total of 22 presentations at Youth Enhancement Services, Career Enhancement Training, the YWCA, and at the Salvation Army School, and we covered topics from Human Value and Self-Esteem to Love vs. Infatuation to Goals/My Future. Altogether we were able to work with about 130 students.

As we became more comfortable with giving the presentations and we started to get to know the students that we were working with, I was amazed and shocked and saddened by the kinds of things these young people had already gone through in their lives.

Many came from broken families or from a family where they have brothers or sisters from two or three different fathers. Some of them experienced the death of a sister or a brother. Some were abandoned at a young age, or were sexually molested and abused. There was a point that I really wondered how I could teach them anything. They had experienced so much, and who was I to come and teach anything to them?

Yet despite my uncertainties and fears of how students would receive these kinds of messages, I found that many of the students were so happy to talk about these things! They wanted to hear about how to forgive others; they wanted to hear that they have choices in their lives, and they wanted to hear that their dreams can come true and they can have happy families.

Especially when we presented the topic on the emotional and spiritual side effects of uncommitted sexual relationships, I doubted that anyone was going to want to hear me tell them to wait to have sex until they were married.

I assumed that their response would be similar to the way that American students from my high school would respond, treating sexual purity and self-control as a "religious and outdated" point of view. To my great surprise, many of the kids supported me and were nodding along in agreement. One girl came up to me at the end of class and said, "Thank you. I really learned a lot from this."

I remember one particular lesson. We used a video clip entitled "Free Hugs," which is about a man who goes out on the streets and offers free hugs to anyone who needs one. After viewing the clip, we went around the room and did an exercise to hug one another -- and even the students who refused to participate or thought it was weird, had huge smiles on their faces. They were literally glowing from happiness -- just from a simple hug.

Growing up here in America surrounded by the everyday comforts and conveniences, we tend to forget how the rest of the world is living. Going to Belize was like a wake up call for me -- it was a reminder that most of the world doesn't have the opportunities I have.

Many of those students we worked with couldn't even read and write at their grade level, which is something I never even really thought about. We have so much here in America and have been blessed with so many things, but as the saying goes: "with great blessing comes great responsibility." After this experience, I do feel responsible for all those young people in Belize and I really hope that they too can live a life of happiness without regret.

Looking back, I really did not know what I was getting myself into when I signed up to work with UPF this summer -- but God always prepares something for us even when we ourselves don't always know. This experience I had working in Belize was something so different from the average college students' summer experience.

I really believe that every young person should have the chance to work and serve people from other parts of the world. I know it has opened my eyes to appreciate what I have, but even more -- it has opened my heart, and I know I'll never forget this experience.

For more information on the UPF Character Education Initiative, visit

There is also a pre-conference training and a breakout session during the National Educators Conference. For more information, visit

You may also contact Sally Sayre.

Stay tuned, there will be more opportunities in 2008!

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