Self-Development of People is focused on stemming poverty in southern Belize
by Teresa Bidart | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Nearly nine years ago, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People selected Belize as a focus country as a part of the new international funding strategy. After the first visits to the country, in 2011 it was decided to work mainly with grassroots communities in the southern part of the country because of the precarious poverty conditions in the region.
Since then, International Task Force members and staff have continued to build relationships with communities in Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. These are mainly Mayan, Hispanic (mainly from Guatemala and Honduras), and Garifuna (descendants of Caribbean Indians and African slaves) communities. In the early stages, the task force conducted workshops in cities including Belize City, San Antonio, Belmopan, Dangriga, Seine Bight, Placencia, Punta Gorda and San Ignacio, visiting with groups located in isolated areas.
In this work SDOP has been helped by several partners in the country such as Peace Corps volunteers, community organizers, church leaders, and officers from the Belize Department of Cooperatives and Agriculture. The Belize Department of Cooperatives is one of the main partners that has helped SDOP get to know the communities in need, assisted in the funding process, facilitated communication between the groups and SDOP and helped with the payment process.
To date, SDOP has established partnership with about a dozen grassroots groups in Belize and looks forward to establishing more in years to come. Following is a list of groups that have received funding:
Hopkins Farmers Cooperative Society Ltd, Hopkins Village — $19,600
A group of farmers from the Hopkins Village area of Belize has come together to form a co-op with the intent of manufacturing cereal from locally-produced grains.
Sandy Beach Women’s Cooperative Society Limited, Hopkins Village — $20,050
The cooperative started in 1984 and is the oldest women’s-owned cooperative in Belize. It was from this cooperative that the first bed and breakfast was started in Hopkins Village in 1987. That B&B placed Hopkins Village in a position to be a Belize tourist attraction. Work continues on a hotel twice destroyed by fire. The SDOP grant will help complete that facility used for meetings, catering and selling lunches.
An additional $22,500 was approved for the purchase of an additional cabaña, the extension of kitchen facilities and the development of strategies to market the cooperative business, which is owned and operated by this group of indigenous Garifuna women.
In late 2017, the SDOP National Committee approved a third grant, for $30,553, to this cooperative. The project is to continue the work to complete renovations of the property as a tourist destination. Activities include adding a cabaña, office, washhouse and the hiring of a skilled worker to create and increase linkages to online tourist sites.
Marigold Women’s Group, Toledo District — $20,000
This group of indigenous Mayan women has started a local roadside restaurant that creates employment for the members and improves the community.
Rio Grande Fisherman Cooperative, Punta Gorda — $20,000
The grant expands the group’s facility that will allow fisher folks to store sea cucumbers before exporting them to China and to have a larger area to clean fish and display them for sale to their Punta Gorda customers.
Placencia Tour Guide Cooperative, Placencia — $3,500
This group of local tour guide operators is trying to survive the influx of resort and cruise ship tour guides coming into the community. The funds will be used for technical assistance to cover capacity building, transportation, rent and office equipment.
Maya Freshwater Cooperative, near Punta Gorda — $19,500
Through its partnership with SDOP, this rural community group has been able to build a two-room cement building to house a small store and a computer lab for the community. The building will also serve as a hurricane shelter.
Seine Bight Village Council, Seine Bight Village —$19,910
The grant will assist this indigenous community to revitalize its village by painting blighted homes, installing speed humps to slow traffic and restoring a local reservoir. Group members will install signage and educate the community about health, safety and unity as first steps toward attracting and benefitting from the burgeoning tourism industry in the region.
Trio Farmers in Development Pre-Cop, Trio Village — $20,042
This grant will enable farmers of this cooperative to try new methods of growing seedlings in “tunnels” to improve crop yields.
El Paraiso Agriculture Cooperatives Society Ltd, Bella Vista Village — $20,071
Seventy-two active members realized their crops and those of other area farmers were being poorly marketed. To alleviate this problem, they are establishing a distribution center for local produce. The partnership with SDOP will help build the center.
Maskall Agriculture Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited — $15,000
The grant pays for construction of a facility that meets the Pesticides Control Board criteria for the storage, distribution, and sale of agrochemical, animal feed, hardware, etc. The new facility will replace a small wood and zinc building the board deemed unsafe and unusable for the intended purpose.
Los pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos (Small Farmers and Ranchers) of Nago Bank Cooperative Society Ltd. — $15,000
Building a central depot will allow buyers to purchase farm harvest from the group as a whole. The depot will also serve as a central meeting space for the cooperative members.
Barranco FisherFolks Cooperative, Barranco, Toledo — $15,000
The group has been working to increase capacity as fisher folks by cultivating a conservation area and receiving cooperative and leadership development training. The grant includes the purchase of fishing equipment to help cooperative members compete fairly with better-equipped fishing groups and to also have the means to process and store perishable products prior to taking them to market.
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