December was a very productive month for the Resource Center International project team. We completed 4 new resource centers in the Spanish Lookout area of the Cayo District of Belize. We also contracted to set up 4 new centers in the Toledo District of Belize in March 2011. New Rotary contacts have been established with the Rotary Club of Punta Gorda: their participation being very important to the implementation of the March mission.
Two District 6600 Rotary Clubs have now ‘adopted’ communities in Belize, and a third has given us financial support. Next month several District 6600 Rotary Clubs will be given presentations about our work in Belize. If you would like your club to have a presentation please contact Mel Honig at firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 419 843 4459.
THE DECEMBER MISSION
The December mission team was composed of:
Jeff Gast, Lima Rotarian, who was our team engineer. Not only did he do the necessary wiring to support the computers, but also helped build ten tables that were used in the four centers, and several bookcases at three of the centers. Jeff will be remembered by the team as a hard working and dedicated Rotarian and by all the children of the communities as the ‘candy man’.
Judy Riggle, Oberlin Rotarian completed her second trip as a trainer for the women who would be running the centers. Not only did Judy help train the women, but she also brought with her valuable educational materials that were an instant success. Judy worked tirelessly telling stories and sharing ideas with the community children.
David Gonzalez, Belmopan Rotarian set up the computers, printers and speakers. He also trained the high school students, who in turn would be training the members of their communities in computer usage.
Elana Honig, a non-Rotarian was participating in her second mission. She helped train the women in running the centers, and wrote the manuals that the communities are using in the running and maintenance of the centers. Being bilingual Elana was a great help in ‘connecting’ with the Latino communities we were working in. She also acted as translator at several meetings, working late into the night. Bringing along her two bilingual children, ages 5 and 2 also helped to make the mission more child friendly.
Jasmine Martinez, a non-Rotarian was on her first mission, and was an ice-breaker at each of the centers by engaging the children in games and play. This was very important because it showed how the centers can be used to have fun while improving social, physical and mental skills.
Gail Odneal, a non-Rotarian and also on her first mission is a Nurse Educator. She gave classes not only to the four new sites on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and diabetes, but also to one of the sites we established last March. We asked the communities for their input on what classes they wanted. All the communities were especially adamant about Gail presenting a class on STDs.
Justin Kendall, a non Rotarian was scheduled to go on the mission, but lost his funding at the last minute. This would have been Justin’s second mission trip as our computer expert. Justin lent valuable assistance in preparing the computers that were sent to Belize.
Mel Honig, Sylvania Rotarian and project coordinator conducted several meetings with each of the Resource Center Boards, the high school students and the communities as a whole. He also helped Jeff with the construction of the tables and bookcases. Mel was also the designated driver getting everyone where they needed to be on time… or at least on Belizean time.
The four communities in the Spanish Lookout area
Mel met Benjamin Cano at a meeting of the Village Council Presidents in March 2010. The purpose of that meeting was to promote our project to the communities of Belize. Mr. Cano invited Mel to Billy White, and from there we found our 3 other communities: Duck Run I, Duck Run III and Bullet Tree Falls. Each of these communities is primarily Latino and bilingual, speaking English as their second language. Although they have only recently received the modern conveniences of electricity and running water, the villagers enjoy a rich community and family life and are eager to advance economically and socially through education. Please click on the link to view the pictures of the communities and our work in establishing the centers:
Classes and Meetings
Using the Centers
At three of the communities, we set up complete programs which the communities embraced whole heartedly. We were especially moved when we were guests of honor at ceremonies at Billy White and Duck Run 3 at the end of the mission. At Bullet Tree Falls we set up a Resource Center limited to computers and library books. This was not our decision, but theirs.
Meetings, training sessions and health presentations lasted from early morning until late at night at the first three communities. Training was limited to computer usage at Bullet Tree Falls. All sessions were well attended by community members eager to learn and participate. Each community selected a board to oversee and be responsible for the center. The boards elected a president, the youngest being Jasmine, only 19, and the oldest, Jose in his late 60s. The communities also identified contact people who would be responsible for dissemination of information between their community and Rotary District 6600.
THE MARCH 2011 MISSION…. Planning ahead
Selecting the four communities in the Toledo District of Belize
The communities chosen to be sites for the next mission were selected as follows:
Jeff Gast and Mel Honig met with the Peace Corps project directors Valentino Shal and Austin Arzu to get a list of communities that we would be potential resource center sites. We have been working with the Peace Corps since the beginning and they have been helpful in identifying not only possible communities, but also the demographics of those communities.
After obtaining the list Mel met with Rick Mallory and Nana Mensah of the Punta Gorda Rotary Club. We went over the list and narrowed it down again; prioritizing the communities in the order I should visit them. Part of the consideration was having a Peace Corps volunteer in the community. Our criteria for selecting a community is one that has electricity, a community center, but still does not have computers, has no or a limited library, and does not have the resources to acquire computers or books.
Initial meetings were held with the village chairman and alcalde (mayor) of the following communities: San Felipe, Santa Ana, Silver Creek and San Miguel. Meetings were then set up with each of these villages in which the entire community was invited……. or at least the men, as women in general still do not participate in the decision making process in Mayan culture. It must be noted though that some women did attend one of the meetings and took an active part. This was democracy in its truest form as each member of the community had a voice. How do you call a meeting? The end of a conch is cut off and one men of the community blows into the cut off end. Yes, it is a loud bellowing noise. One of the communities has gone modern and actually invested in a horn.
Before Resource Centers International would place a center in a community we had four questions that needed to be answered at the community meeting:
- Is there an adequate location?
- Will someone in the community stand up and take responsibility for the center?
- Is the community willing to support the center?
- Do we have of a contact person that has an email address?
In each of the chosen communities we found a location, a president of the Resource Center Board, a contact person, and although they did not take an actual vote, the community response to having a center was very positive.
Although each of the villages is unique they have some commonalities:
The villagers are all Q’eqchi speaking Maya.
They have populations of around 300 to 500 in each village.
There are limited resources in the community.
Farming and animal husbandry is the primary occupation.
The villagers are bilingual, with most of them speaking fluent English.
They are off the main road, thus isolating the villagers to some extent.
The March mission team will be comprised of:
Approximately 6 to 8 members of the Rotaract Club of the University of Findlay and their advisor Bob Rustic (Findlay Rotarian) and his spouse.
Susan Shafer, Sylvania Rotarian, librarian
Mel Honig, Sylvania Rotarian, project coordinator
Susan Honig, non-Rotarian and Occupational Therapist
Justin Kendall, non-Rotarian and computer expert and mission engineer. Justin was also a team member on the first mission.
Dan McCormick, non-Rotarian and computer expert. Dan was also a team member on the first mission.
Additionally, numerous individuals have expressed an interest in going on the March mission, but have not fully committed. If you would like to be part of the mission please contact Mel Honig; email@example.com, phone 419 843 4459.
Most of the equipment and supplies have already been collected. What are still needed are computers, educational games and toys. Also needed are funds to pay for shipping and purchasing rubberized interlocking flooring tiles for all the centers. To make a donation please refer to our website: http://resourcecentersinternational.org/
A note on shipping: Until recently we have had shipping subsidized by the Belize Natural Energy Trust. This subsidy is not available at this time and we have to pay for our shipping. I checked with the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan and their next cargo flight to Belize is full. They do not have another flight scheduled until after the March mission is completed. We will continue to work with Tim Tam and the Word at Work on shipping as they have given us excellent support in the past. Rick Mallory and Nana Mensah of the Punta Gorda Rotary Club offered to find temporary storage from the time the product arrives until it can be distributed to the villages.
REVISITING OLD RESOURCE CENTERS
Gail Odneal and Mel Honig visited two of the first three Resource Centers we established in March 2010. The third at Salvapan was closed for winter break as it is run by the University of Belize. All three are still viable, almost a year after their establishment.
In meetings with the Resource Centers Board Chairpersons at Armenia and St Margarets, Job and Lilly brought us up to date on issues and needs of the centers. Their greatest challenge is to maintain enthusiasm among the young mothers to come and participate on a regular basis. Each of the two communities is resolving the problem in their own way.
Gail gave a presentation at St Margarets on the issue that all the communities are most interested in: sexual transmitted diseases (STDs). Brochures on Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) were left with the University of Belize, the Prison at Hattieville and the Resource Center at Armenia as well as the centers where presentations on this important issue were given. Literally hundreds of brochures on health and nutrition were also distributed to each of the Resource Centers. The brochures, in Spanish and English, were donated by the Ohio Department of Health.
-Mel Honig, Newsletter Editor