Since its inception in 1999, the “Our Community” column has familiarized readers with people in Ambergris Caye; people that have inspired and made changes in our island home. Now, we are taking it one step further and including members in our country who contribute and do not sit idly wishing for a better Belize, but actually put in their grain of salt in making it happen. These people will be featured in our column “Our Belize Community.”
This week, we feature one such individual, one that through her gallant efforts has worked hard to better the lives of women in Orange Walk. This week, we feature Mrs. Ophelia Novelo, founder and integral part of the group MAMAS – Mujeres Ayudando a Mujeres A Superarse (Women helping women to excel).
Ophelia Campos was born on April 2nd, 1954 to parents Maria and Faustino (deceased) Campos in “Suga City,” Orange Walk Town. She grew up enjoying the town lifestyle along with her eight siblings (three girls, four boys [one deceased]). However at the very young age of eight, Ophelia began assisting her family. She would wake up early in the mornings to help prepare breakfast, assisted in the washing and household chores. Always a fast learner, Ophelia soon ran the household perfectly by herself. It all came like second nature to her.
Not only would Ophelia assist in the home but she would also attend La Immaculada Elementary School. She enjoyed her classes very much and as soon as school was over she would run to tend to the home since both her parents worked. She proudly graduated in 1967 but because of financial restraints was unable to further her education.
In 1967, no longer attending school and after her household chores were completed Ophelia had time on her hands. This time was quickly filled when she began volunteering at the Orange Walk Hospital. Through her hard work, unwavering dedication and utter love for the job she was performing, she managed to achieve a certificate as a ward maid, what is known as a nursing aid today. As an aid, she would assist the nurses as the name implies with injections, taking pressure, monitoring patients and any help that might have been required.
Walking home everyday, Ophelia would pass by a gas station that was on her street. Daily she would attract the attention of the station’s attendant, Roberto Novelo. The couple began dating and they tied the knot on October 22nd, 1972. Ophelia then dedicated her life to the family the couple planned on having. Today they are the proud parents of Lilia (33), Roberto (30), Jose (25), and Maria (23).
“I enjoyed working at the hospital very much. I loved it. I wanted to become a nurse but God didn’t want that, he had other things for me,” Ophelia commented to The San Pedro Sun. A great housewife and mother, she dedicated her life to the family she had formed and adored. As her children grew up, Ophelia again began having free time on her hands. Since she loved helping people, in 1990 she began rendering her aid to the Zenobia Meggs Help Age. As a volunteer and coordinator for Help Age, Ophelia would visit the elderly and help them with any needs that they might have. Her nursing background allowed her to also check their health and make sure that everything was in order.
In 1993, a domiciliary program was started with the help of a Canadian group. Through this program they began Meals on Wheels, a program geared to feeding the elderly. Help Age would also plan special parties for the elderly especially during the holidays.
For the next six years, Ophelia put all her love at Help Age until, because of funding, the institution could not support all the programs. She however still remained very active and up to today coordinates food package drives to 50 homebound elders in Orange Walk.
Again with time in her hands, Ophelia opened up a small grocery store in her home and named it Mar’s Grocery in 2002. “I just wanted to keep busy, I have always wanted to keep busy,” she commented. During her free time she took up a hobby – beading and crafts. Customers visiting her store would always see Ophelia working at one thing or the other and would always comment that she should teach others the crafts that she made so effortlessly and so lovingly.
Finally in 2005, Ophelia warmed up to the idea of sharing the knowledge that she had garnered through the years with other women. “I figured yeah it would be nice however, since I have girlfriends that have other trades, I thought that they should join me as well.” And that is what Ophelia did – got people together, people who were knowledgeable in various crafts and that is how MAMAS (Mujeres Ayudando a Mujeres A Superarse (Women helping women to excel) was born.
With her husband’s full support, as well as the support of the rest of her family, Ophelia’s group has prospered and garnered much attention. Students of the program receive education in various fields such as cake decorating, beading, macramé, handicrafts, sewing and at the end of the term graduate with a full certificate. “I wanted women to be able to assist in the finances of the home. They can do it from the comfort of their homes with the skills that we teach them,” she explained. In the first term MAMAS had nine graduates, the second term they had 13 and this last term MAMAS graduated 31.
Through MAMAS, Ophelia now also offers counseling and lectures on important issues affecting women, such as various health issues.
On November 9th, of 2006, Ophelia’s dedication to the women and elderly of Orange Walk was recognized by CTV-3 News. The local newscast featured her as Orange Walk’s Person of the Week/Pillar of the Community. That never prepared Ophelia or her family for the recognition that she would receive. Through nominations made by Orange Walkeños, BELPAC (Belizeans Promoting Active Citizenship) was able to select Orange Walk’s first ever Citizen of the Year. On February 15th, 2007, among family members and friends, Ophelia walked up stage to receive her lovely award. She was selected as Citizen of the Year from an impressive field of candidates. According to BELPAC’s Spokesperson Osmani Salas, the organization had a difficult time deciding who would take home the award. At the end of the day Ophelia outshone every other candidate.
Ophelia has always taken care of her family first, from the young age of eight when she took care of her younger brothers and sister to forming her own family and devotedly dedicating herself to them. However, she has always found time to help members of her community, from the elderly to the women and the youth, she has always been, as CTV-3 put it, a pillar in her community. “I promised myself that I would dedicate my life to my children and my husband. I fulfilled that promise thanks to God. Now, I can dedicate myself to help other people, my community. Anyone that needs assistance, if I can help I do,” she ended. A tender wife, mother, and grandmother, Ophelia also enjoys gardening, but helping other women to build their self esteem and assisting them to develop a handicraft skill is a priority for her. And just as contributing to her community is fulfilling for her, she encourages the youth to do the same. Because of that Ophelia Novelo is making a positive impact in “Our Belize Community.”