Bring it to Belize
Local Anglican parishes filling shipping container for Central American students
A 40-foot shipping container will be parked in front of Hindy’s Home Hardware on Powell Drive in Carbonear throughout the month of August with hopes that residents throughout the Trinity Conception region and beyond will help fill it with donations for school-aged children.
The container’s destination? Belize.
Twenty local volunteers and one nurse from St. John’s will be making a trip to the country Nov. 15-24 on their own dime to dispense the donated items to Mahogany Heights, a village of approximately 900 people on the east coast of Belize, says Rev. Canon William Strong, Anglican minister leading the project.
Belize is located between North and South America.
Local Anglican parishes will be accepting donations at the location until Sept. 1, when the container must be ready to go in order for it to arrive at the destination by November, he explains.
They are calling the project “22 tons for Belize.”
Learning from each other
This trip is not a typical church mission, rather it is a learning adventure for all participants.
“Our group is going to be with people rather than going to do for people,” Strong says.
The group will not be wearing matching t-shirts and they have no plans to intentionally stand out. They will attempt to integrate into the population as equals in order to work with local residents.
“The project is about creating and maintaining a companionship with the (Anglican church) in Belize,” Strong says. “We are looking to have a 10-year relationship with them.”
Many issues facing community
According to the country of Belize’s website, the village of Mahogany Heights is home to a failed satellite centre for Belize City.
Strong had the opportunity to take a trip to Belize in January to begin his own journey for the project and experienced “culture shock.”
He explains that many former residents uprooted and moved out of the town, leaving their homes deserted, and now they are overgrown and unkempt.
Many current residents of the town have made these properties their homes.
“It’s a lot of abandoned houses people have moved into and just occupy,” Strong explains.
High crime rates and poverty are major issues in the area, and industry is almost non-existent.
Strong explains a scary situation he encountered during his visit that is not an uncommon practice in Belize.
“I saw a man riding a motorcycle with his wife on the back. Their 18month-old baby was stood up on the lady’s knee,” Strong shakes his head. “They weren’t wearing helmets.”
Traffic is scarce in the town. In fact, there is only one bus stop, and that services a bus to Belmopan, the closest urban centre, some 30 kilometres away.
Living in these circumstances, Strong believes, will help enrich the lives of the Newfoundlanders travelling there, and will allow them to learn and grow from other experiences.
“It gives us the opportunity to come together as an archdeaconry,” he says. “It gives us the opportunity to look above our own personal situations.”
For the safety of the travellers, they will stay in a resort with similar amenities as the town in a low-crime area.
St. Agnes Anglican School
Mahogany Heights is home to a campus for St. Agnes Anglican School, which educates some 215 students from Grade 1-8.
According to the website for Belize’s Anglican school system, most of the children come from poor households that have been stricken with unemployment or single parent families struggling to get by.
There are many small buildings with cut out holes, not windows, that act as schoolhouses where children are taught subjects in English, but no cafeteria.
Strong explains that every child attends classes every day in their blue uniform, and they greet everybody cordially and in unison when they walk through the door.
Part of Strong’s project is to have the container being used to ship donated items converted into a cafeteria for these students.
The school has been the subject of recent criminal activity, mostly theft, Strong says, mentioning wires have been removed from the buildings during break-ins. They now have bars on their windows.
The volunteer group will assist the community to support the school and will try to set up a literacy centre.
The entire project is expected to cost some $30,000, and all volunteers will cover their own costs for travel and lodging.
It gives us the opportunity to look above our own