Co-President Dasha’s Practicum in Belize

By: Dasha Klebaner, SORT co-President
Summer 2014

I’ve been lucky enough to spend this summer working with CDC’s International Emergency Preparedness Team in Belize for my practicum. During the spring semester, I participated in weekly training workshops on emergency preparedness, plan development, and Emergency Operations Center development with IEPT in order to prepare for the summer. CDC IEPT does amazing work focused on increasing preparedness and emergency response capacity throughout the world and this is the first time they’ve had someone on the ground for an extended period of time in Belize. It’s been an amazing experience building connections with the Ministry of Health here, and learning about public health preparedness.
 I was given the task of researching and writing the first draft of the Belizean Ministry of Health’s All-Hazards Emergency Action Plan under the guidance of my supervisor, Belize’s Disaster Focal Point. The point of writing a plan from an “all-hazards” approach is to standardize the way a governing health body responds to public health emergencies. The same basic steps are often taken in nearly all public health emergencies, whether it be an influenza epidemic or a hurricane, and ensuring that these steps are not only followed consistently, but executed in an efficient manner, is essential to a cohesive response.

Through a series of interviews with Ministry of Health officials, consultations with CDC, and extensive conversations with my supervisor (who probably got tired of answering my questions), I gathered basic information about what is usually done to respond to emergencies, and what could be done better in the future. I gradually honed this information into a series of steps, broken down into strategic areas and followed by standard operating procedures. I also worked with MOH staff to develop Belize’s Incident Command System structure to ensure that the plan could be executed in the most standardized, efficient manner possible. Throughout all this, CDC supported my work with supplementary materials and templates to ensure consistency in Belize’s approach to emergency response.

Earlier in the summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a conference in Belize City with emergency coordinators from all the other Central American countries; it was a valuable experience to be able to see how culture and government structure influence emergency response, and to improve my non-existent Spanish! When you literally only know 10 words of a language, there’s nowhere to go but up.

In addition to working, I have also had the opportunity to do fun things (see pictures below)! Belize is an amazing country with so much to offer, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the highlights, ranging from massive Mayan ruins to incredible scuba diving sights! I also went ziplining in Guatemala, which was equally awesome. I’ve tried my best to learn some Creole, the language most Belizeans speak, but have only been successful in learning “Mek a tek wah picha,” which either means “Can I take your picture?” or “Can you take my picture?” That, and “Dis da fiwi chikn,” which is on a bunch of billboards advertising a poultry distributor and means “This is our chicken.” Clearly the Creole learning is going well. FYI, I probably butchered the spelling of both of those.

While I will miss this incredible country and its amazingly friendly people, I’m very excited to be back in Atlanta (with 20 bottles of Marie Sharp’s Habanero hot sauce in tow, obviously). I can’t wait to get back to classes (weird, I know), SORT activities, and of course, to a new class of SORT members in the fall!

Pictures:

NEMO

The National Emergency Management Organization, or NEMO. I found it. Get it?

Path

The path I took to work everyday. Although Belmopan is the capital, it’s rather small and has under 10,000 inhabitants. Belize itself has a little over 300,000 people! That’s half the size of most US cities.

Tikal

One of the many temples in Tikal Park, which is the largest Mayan site. It held close to 90,000 inhabitants at its peak, and spans an area of 23 square miles. It is GORGEOUS!

Scuba

Me looking much more intense than I actually am.

Iguana

My best friend in Belize

SP

Belize is clearly a very ugly country

 
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