Teens Bridge Cultures: Transformative Service Trips in Belize with Turning Winds

Ready to give your struggling teen a life changing experience? Turning Winds organizes international teen service trips abroad for our teen clients twice a year.  These International service trip foster leadership, empathy and a global perspective. 

After a transformative experience in Morocco last spring, Turning Winds set out on an impactful journey to Belize for our second cultural immersion trip for 2023.

Our teen service trips are intended to foster leadership, resilience, and a profound sense of global citizenship. In turn, our teenage patients develop empathy and a hands-on understanding of diverse cultures by engaging in community service and contributing to their personal and academic growth.

As always, the trip combined International volunteerism, learning and growth opportunities as well as fun activities for the Turning Winds clients. “We had evening activities planned for every day,” says Carl Baisden, Chief Operations Officer, “but most of the time we were volunteering at a school in an underprivileged neighborhood. This trip was exceptional. We witnessed incredible things and made a real difference. It was just amazing!”


Teen Treatment Service Trip to BelizeHaving successfully broken down the initial language barrier.  Connecting with people in other cultures is a prime objective of the teen service trips, but an unexpected language barrier surprised the American visitors. 

Although English is the official language of Belize—until 1981 known as British Honduras.  Many people, especially in rural areas speak only Belizean Creole. 

“Not everyone in the rural village we visited spoke English,” recalls Baisden. “But we didn’t let that language barrier slow us down. Sometimes, you just cannot communicate with words and you just have to make a connection with smiles and body language. The kids all connected beautifully. It took only ten minutes and our kids were spread out in the classroom and engaging.”

At first, there were high fives but by the end of the visit, it was hugs and shoulder rides.  As on other trips, people were sad because they didn’t want to see the Turning Winds visitors leave. “Several of our kids struggled, too, emotionally because they realized they had to let go and leave. It always amazes me what powerful bonds we can make with other people—even without words. People can feel loved even without words.”


Teens go beyond their comfort zones on these trips, discovering new strengths and building meaningful connections. They provide opportunities for growth, allowing our teens to explore cross-cultural experiences that broaden their horizons.

Traveling to foreign countries to be immersed in other cultures and helping people less fortunate than ourselves is an exciting opportunity to gain new perspectives and boost self-confidence—especially in young people.

“They all felt the poverty they encountered in Belize,” says Baisden. “The vast majority of people in the area where we were of service lived in very small houses. Some were shelters that didn’t look much like houses to us at all. Outside of the cities, many people in Belize live in pretty extreme poverty.”

How Service Trips Transform Lives

At the school where the Turning Winds visitors volunteered, the teacher asked all of the parents to donate just one Belize dollar (50 US cents) for a Christmas celebration. Sadly, only a third of the parents could afford to give that amount. 

“They couldn’t even scrounge a dollar for such a purpose because they need that money to survive,” says Baisden. “A huge gap in economic, financial, and social status exists between the rural areas and the cities in Belize. It’s important to note that the kids realized that there isn’t necessarily a direct link between a lack of money and happiness.” 

The people we served in Belize were not sad and depressed, they were happy children with parents who love them. Their low economic status was not keeping them from being happy. You can have a fulfilling life without having a lot of money.” 

Cultural Immersion: Our teen clients develop leaderships skills and learn new skills as part of therapy as they work to strengthen their mental health through new experiences - Exploring Belize.TEEN CULTURAL IMMERSION PLUS INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEERISM

Service activities at the school usually lasted all morning. After lunch, it was time to learn more about Belize and the country’s complex history. The kids got to visit Mayan ruins to get a better idea of the pre-Columbian history of the area. 

“We climbed a pyramid that was 150 feet high but only 30 percent of the structure was exposed above ground,” Baisden marvels. “Being able to be there and ask questions and contemplate what happened to this advanced civilization of people who built the pyramid was amazing. The kids had lots of fun exploring how people lived thousands of years ago.”


Another highlight was making chocolate from scratch. “We did a traditional Belizean chocolate tour where we took cacao fruits and turned them into chocolate.” The cacao tree was first domesticated over 5,000 years ago. Cacao was consumed by pre-Hispanic cultures in spiritual ceremonies and its beans were a common currency in Mesoamerica. 

Chocolate or cocoa is made from roasted and ground cacao seed kernels that is available as a liquid, solid, or paste. “We started with the plant, took the seeds, crushed them, and turned them into liquid, then added flavors and spices—it was an incredible experience,” remembers Baisden. “When we do these kinds of activities, we try to immerse the kids in the culture in which we are serving. That in turn prepares the kids to better engage with that culture when they do service work and they feel a deeper connection with the people they are serving.”

As always, the Belize trip was a good balance between cultural immersion and and International volunteerism or as we refer to it “service work.” As it turned out, the latter required a last minute adjustment. “We were going to build a playground for the children at school but we suddenly got a lot of rain and we had standing water on the ground which meant we couldn’t actually do that project,” says Baisden.

“So we had to pivot at the last minute and we built a second classroom for the school instead. We took the junk out of an unused room, painted the walls, fixed the floor, and installed new windows. The kids also made a personalized mural, featuring a tree, Mayan-inspired artwork, and the date of our visit according to the Mayan calendar. It turned out great and they left a piece of themselves there.” 

Creating a new school room during our International Teen Service Trip to Belize as a way to change self-perceptions with struggling teenagers.INTERANTIONAL TEEN SERVICE TRIPS AS THERAPY AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

Exposing Turning Winds clients to the experiences of people in foreign cultures is a powerful aspect of service work. While the visitors may come as helpers, it is often the people being helped who become the teachers of valuable life lessons.

The therapeutic value of the service trip experience cannot be overstated. “We have repeatedly witnessed how the lives of our students change as a result of our service trips,” says Baisden. 


At Turning Winds, it’s not only adventures abroad but the people who make the difference. For the past two decades, we’ve built a team of some of the world’s finest academic and therapeutic professionals, who all share the same goal: to help teens re-engage meaningfully with their lives, families, and futures.

Our mission is to rescue teens from crisis, renew their belief in their potential, reunite them with their families, and put them on a sustainable path to success. 

Ready to empower your teen? Explore our life-changing service trip programs today! 

Contact us online for more information, or call us at 800-845-1380 to start your teen’s journey to a brighter tomorrow. If we miss your call, rest assured we will reconnect with you promptly to start planning your transformative experience.


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Picture of John Baisden, Jr

John Baisden, Jr

John Baisden Jr is the father of seven inspiring children, and he is married to Kara, the love of his life. Together they have created a family-centered legacy by leading the way with early childhood educational advancement. John loves to write and is an author of a children’s book, An Unlikely Journey and plans to publish additional books. Show More

John is a visionary in his work and applies “outside-the-box” approaches to business practice and people development. He is the Founder of Turning Winds, along with several other organizations. He has extensive experience launching and developing organizations. His skills include strategic planning, promoting meaningful leader-member movement, organizational change, effective communication, project management, financial oversight and analysis, digital marketing and content creation, and implementing innovative ideas through influential leadership. As a leader, John seeks to empower others and brand success through collaborative work. His vision is to lead with courage, grit, truth, justice, humility, and integrity while emphasizing relational influence rather than focusing on the sheens of titles, positions, or things.

Finally, John is passionate about life and promoting equity among those who are often overlooked because of differences that frequently clash with the “norm.” He lives in Southern Idaho and loves the outdoors and the life lessons that can be learned in such an informal environment.

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