Volunteers and staff see progress in grant-funded business
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
PLACENCIA, Belize — A little more than six years ago, the families living in remote villages in the Toledo region of Belize were facing some serious problems. Children were undernourished, barely attending school, and there was little income to be made.
That changed when the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) awarded a grant to a group of women in the village who wanted to forge their own path. The result was the Marigold Women’s Cooperative. A group of indigenous Mayan women used the seed money to open a roadside restaurant, creating employment opportunities and provide a new source of income to improve the village.
“This is where you see the power of cooperation between government and communities. The country’s Department of Cooperatives had done a great deal of capacity building before we came along. The ladies learned about sales, promotions, customer services, cooking, presenting and overall business basics,” said Lisa Leverette, chair of SDOP’s International Committee. “It’s one thing to have an idea to start a business, but it’s another thing to make it happen. When we came back, it looked so different, they had built their own building from the ground up, proving they were serious.”
SDOP committee members and staff have been visiting communities in southeast Belize all week, meeting with the business owners and seeing for themselves how groups are progressing. During the visit, the committee got some hands-on training in the kitchen, making tortillas and helping prepare a meal.
“With the support of our partners, like SDOP, we have been able to invest in solar panels to provide the power needed to run our freezers and store the food we grow,” said Sarah Ack, the secretary for the cooperative. “We’ve also been able to start a catering business and take the food by bike to work sites in the area.”
Ack says having the freezer has also allowed them to expand product offerings by selling cold drinks and ice, which is a valuable commodity in the heat and humidity.
“We are now able to send our children to school as well branch out into crafts in addition to the food,” she said. “Marigold has helped raise the status of women in our community.”
Leverette was with SDOP during its initial visit to the community six years ago, and she says the difference is significant.
“I’m seeing people moving towards sustainability, a firm economic base beneath them with capacity and partners and a whole network to support them,” she said. “I have no doubt that this is going to generate income, sustainability, opportunity, education, job training and healthy food for this community for generations to come.”
This is the first visit to Belize for SDOP Coordinator, the Rev. Alonzo Johnson.
“I see joy and love in this community, a sense of provision and communal power,” he said. “To see the development, ingenuity and creativity happening here is truly amazing.”
Susan Dobkins will assume the role of International Committee chair in the coming months. This was also her first visit to Belize.
“Having traveled across other parts of Central America, I was really impressed with the structure the Marigold Women’s Cooperative has and I believe solar power is key to their success,” she said. “It’s so important in these rural areas. Those are the things that jump to mind and it seems they are on a path where the future is really bright and it’s gratifying to see that.”
SDOP volunteers and staff will be wrapping up their visit to Belize on Friday.
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