Recent Grad Making a Difference in Belize

Published on November 30, 2015

By Erika Khair

Student Writer, EKU Communications & Marketing

Recent Eastern Kentucky University graduate Chase Barnes has made a long-term commitment to improving the lives of others.

The Mt. Sterling native, who graduated in May with a degree in public health, is currently spending two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize, where he works as a rural health educator.

Barnes’ interest in helping others overseas began with a trip to the Prince of Peace all-girls orphanage in San Cristobal, Guatemala. After his fourth trip, he said, he realized that he wanted to use his degree to make a difference in a developing country, and his research led him to the Peace Corps.

He credited his EKU adviser, Dr. Laurie Larkin, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health, for her encouragement and help during the lengthy application process.

In turn, Larkin described Barnes as perfect for a position with the Peace Corps.

“Chase naturally has a servant attitude and giving heart,” she said. “He is bright and amazing with people. He has been willing to sacrifice comfort to serve overseas to help orphans, widows and those who struggle economically.

“He has participated in many hours of volunteer and mission work.  He served in several mission trips to Guatemala where he helped renovate an orphanage and provided food and clothing to a group of students who lived in the orphanage. He volunteered for Relay for Life cancer fundraising activities for the past eight years and was a teen volunteer at the St. Joseph Hospital in Mt. Sterling for three years.”

In his current role, Barnes splits his time between working with two community health workers in the area to provide health education seminars for the villagers and working in the village health clinic. He also works at the government primary school in the village educating students on overall health with an emphasis on physical education.

Professionally, his goal while in Belize is to educate as many people in his village as possible about the importance of maternal and child health and the prevention of non-communicable diseases, resulting in long-term behavior change. But on a personal level, he’s excited to develop friendships with the villagers.

 “The most rewarding thing about my work in Belize is how grateful the people here are for the work that we do,” Barnes said. “They do not have access to the medical services, health education and support we have in the United States, so they are very appreciative of us for coming and providing them with our knowledge and skills.”

Living in Belize has required some adjustment as Barnes integrates into a new culture. He has had to learn Spanish and adapt to living and working in a far less structured environment. He has also had to adjust to a lack of the amenities Americans take for granted, such as electricity, running water and sewage systems.

But he believes his education at EKU prepared him well for his work in Belize, both in helping him develop leadership skills and in the informational content of classes like Global Health, Family Life Education and Health Promotion Program Planning and Evaluation.

“I’ve used what I learned at EKU every day whether in planning village health programs, managing visiting medical teams or teaching health in a primary school,” he said. “EKU more than prepared me in the years leading up to this new journey in my life.”

After completing his two-year term in the program in 2017, Barnes plans to return to the United States and begin graduate school to become a physician’s assistant.