Local volunteers help build houses in honor of loved ones in Belize

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By Jennifer Corbett

Speaking about her parents recalls a certain type of emotion in Barbara Cecil.


It’s of their love, generosity, continuous support and their goal to always provide what’s best for their children.

For Cecil, realizing how much her parents, JT and Tootsie Cecil, sacrificed for her didn’t set in until she was older.

After they both passed away from Alzheimer’s disease, she kept searching for a way to honor their legacy.

The perfect opportunity arose after she saw Sister Luke Boiarski of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth reviewing a video of a house she helped build in Belize.

In an instant, the idea seemed clear as day to Cecil: She needed to build a house in honor of her parents.

“I asked, ‘Is there a way I could get a house built?’” Cecil said. “They said ‘sure.’ … I wanted one in memory of my mom and dad.”

From the beginning, Cecil had doubts about her decision. She wondered if she was doing the right thing to honor her family.

“I went to bed and at about 4:30 in the morning, my living room was all lit up,” she said. “I thought, ‘Who in the world walked into my apartment?’”

But as she sat there and thought about it, Cecil realized her mother was giving her a sign from above.

“I think my mom came back to tell me I was doing the right thing,” she said.

According to Boiarski, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth’s Mission Development Committee has been helping to build homes in Belize. Boiarski has been visiting Belize off and on for the past five years. The Sisters work closely with Hand in Hand Ministry, Louisville. To date, 15 homes have been built in Belize City. 

The group that was going to build a home in honor of Cecil’s parents left for Las Flores, a village in the western part of Belize, in early January 2012. While Cecil couldn’t go on the trip, she knew the house was the perfect opportunity to honor her parents’ legacy. A picture of them is hanging in the main room of the concrete house.

“I thought it was a great way to commemorate (my parents) … to keep their spirit alive,” she added.

The house benefited the Ogaldez family — a couple struggling to support their eight children. The family’s new house was larger and had bathrooms and running water.

Cecil couldn’t wait to tell her friend, Dixie Hibbs, about the project in honor of her parents. Turns out, Hibbs was on a similar mission — she was helping to fund a house to be built in honor of her late husband, Franklin.

Hibbs also learned about the opportunity from working with Boiarski, and like Cecil, she thought building a house in honor of her husband was the perfect way to honor him.

The home would benefit Mark White, his wife and their six children, who lived in Belize City.

“It hit me that this would be a great, wonderful thing to do in honor of my husband,” Hibbs said, noting that Franklin was a civil engineer and enjoyed working on old houses.

Hibbs and her grandsons — Frankie and his fiancée, Alexandria Mills, and Jonathan and his wife, Anna — along with a group traveled to Belize City in late January 2012 to help build a home for a family. Franklin’s picture will also hang in the main room of the house.

According to Hibbs, they could only use basic equipment in the construction process: hammers, drills, nails, shovels and paint.

Hibbs joked that Mills had never held a hammer before the trip.

They were able to use an electric saw by borrowing it from a neighbor.

However, if the neighbor turned something on in their house, then it would turn off their electric saw.

“It was life simplified,” Hibbs said. “So there were lots of challenges. One of the other things that was positive from the experience was working with people of other cultures and other interests. … You look past your surroundings into the spirit in their eyes and that’s what we brought home with us: the relationship and the experience of this common goal of working together.”

Overall, the Belize City home was completed in less than a week. The group started carrying lumber 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and the project was completed by 2:30 p.m. Friday.

Hibbs also experienced a few eye-openers during her trip. 

“Here in America, we’re thinking that we’ve got to have a bedroom for every child and two bathrooms in a house,” she said. “You really got to change your attitude of what’s needed. We have what’s wanted and we’re giving (the family in Belize) what’s needed.”

Hibbs then noted the landfill that’s located in Belize. She saw how residents have learned to become resourceful with Styrofoam, cardboard, paper and cans.

“They utilize all the packaging they can,” Hibbs said. “They fill these vacant areas to build on them. … Everything is limited and they may never have electricity.”

Hibbs touched upon how it might seem easier to just write a check and send it off. However, signing on the dotted line takes away from the experience and working with the locals one-to-one.

Each night in Belize City, Hibbs said the group had reflections about what they accomplished that day.

“My first reaction was that these are beautiful people who love their children,” Hibbs said.