REPORT #31 1998
SELF HELP GROUP IS SUCCESSFUL IN REMOTE IMPOVERISHED HILL VILLAGES OF WESTERN BELIZE, CENTRAL AMERICA


Produced by the Belize Development Trust
The Belize Community Service Alliance, is a non-sectarian, non-partisan, non-profit, NGO organized and operating in the country of Belize, Central America. Its mission is to provide a wide ranging variety of social services to the people residing in the more remote and poor villages of Belize. Its funding comes from private donations of money, food, materials, labor, and supplies from supporters in Belize and in the United States.

The Alliance has a Board of Trustees and a Council selected by the villagers served who will identify and prioritize the needs of the communities and design the programs to address them. The Trustees feel that this form of governance will facilitate our fundraising efforts and will demonstrate to the villagers the real benefits of community organizing and participation.

One of the more important aspects of the Alliance programs is that they have almost no administrative costs. Neither the Trustees nor the loyal volunteers receive any compensation and the programs operate with whatever vehicles and equipment can obtained from generous benefactors. Almost every cent raised, and every in-kind contribution received, goes directly to the intended recipients.

The Alliance has assumed responsibility for the continuation of the social service programs started four years ago by Radio Ritmo, a privately owned community radio station in San Ignacio. The Alliance maintains a working relationship with the station upon which it relies for the continuing broadcast of public service, educational, and other programming which supports the Alliance social programs. The station also provides volunteers and financial support to the Alliance.

Alliance programs include the now widely known "Village Tour" which is an annual event of several months duration in which Alliance staff, Radio Ritmo personnel, and other volunteers visit many of the more remote and poorest of the villages in Cayo giving educational programs on basic nutrition, sanitation and waste disposal, disease control, environmental protection and community building. Medical professionals are brought to the villages to conduct routine physical exams, dispense medications, and recommend additional treatment in appropriate cases. Program goals include teaching the villagers the importance of developing a sense of community and shared responsibility, and the importance of doing those things which will make their village a healthier and more productive environment. Program instructors believe, and teach, that the long term solution to many of the problems the villagers face today lies in the willingness and the ability of the people to take responsibility for the direction of their own lives. Techniques include many repeat visits, hands on participation with the villagers in these efforts, and the reinforcement of these messages with ongoing programming over Radio Ritmo. This program, now in its fourth year of operation, continues to demonstrate its importance by making visible positive changes in the lives of the people it serves.

Another Alliance program, and one which is closely related to the Village Tour, is the "Village Tour Educational Fund". This is a scholarship project assisting needy young people from the villages in attending high school. Much of the money raised so far has come from the United States where there is an annual scholarship fund drive. Several young people are currently attending local schools on scholarships, and next year's fund drive will enable many more to continue their education.

"Count Me In" is another annual program in which Alliance and Radio Ritmo personnel and other volunteers work with disabled persons and their families to increase family and community awareness of the special needs and the special potential of persons with physical or other disabilities. Unfortunately, one of the realities of life as a disabled person is the very real possibility that you can not leave the residence of your family, which, of course, makes communication more difficult and the continued participation of the radio even more important. This program has been successful in creating social and work opportunities for many of these talented people and one of the program goals, in this next year, is to obtain wheelchairs and other badly needed equipment from a similar organization in the United States, the Director of which has indicated a willingness to help.

The "Save Our Rivers" campaign is yet another annual event in which educational efforts and actual "hands on" work with the villagers are combined to clean up local rivers and streams by removing garbage, hazardous wastes, and other contaminants. The thrust of this effort is not just to improve the esthetics of the villages, but to demonstrate the importance of our ability to make real improvement in the quality of our lives by collective action.

Another of the Alliance goals for 1999, is the development of an emergency communication network using the station and BayGen "wind up radios" which we will placed in each village. Funds are still being sought for the purchase these radios which are essential for the receipt of potentially life saving information in situations like the recent hurricane Mitch alert.

The Trustees have authorized other important initiatives which are now in the planning stages, such as our sustainable forest agricultural project, the community center plan, and the development of local democratic institutions, but the time table for these programs will depend on the availability of funding. These programs will not be launched until sufficient multi-year funding is assured.

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