History of the Peace Corps in Belize
Since the first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Belize in 1962, more than 1,600 have served in the country. They have worked in education, alternative agriculture, health, conservation, and small business development. In the early years of Peace Corps/Belize, most Volunteers worked with the Ministry of Education to expand and diversify the secondary school system in rural areas. Since the early 1990s, Volunteers have focused their educational efforts on teacher training, curriculum development, HIV/AIDS awareness, and at-risk youth. They have also worked in rural community development, focusing on ecotourism, alternative agriculture, and environmental education.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Belize
Peace Corps/Belize works in several key areas, including education, youth development, rural community development and environmental conservation. The objective of our programming is not to teach the people of Belize American values or an American sense of efficiency, but to enable them to help themselves within their own cultural framework.
The education project engages Volunteers in providing training and support to teachers in the primary school system. Literacy rates in many Belizean communities are low.
Volunteers provide innovative leadership and training for teachers to strengthen reading instruction and to increase the reading skills of targeted students in the first four years of primary school. Volunteers also assist schools in setting up school and community libraries. This is complemented by a national adult literacy program in which Peace Corps Volunteers are collaborating with the Adult and Continuing Education Department of the Ministry of Education. Special education Volunteers are providing training for teachers in methodologies used to teach learning-impaired children. These teachers learn about materials development and classroom-management as well as methods for teaching students who are hearing-impaired or have vision and reading problems.
Youth for the Future was established by the Government of Belize in 2002 to increase efforts to systematically address the challenges facing young people. Youth development Volunteers are helping the government improve and expand the programs and services to the youth in Belize. The five main program theme areas are: leadership and governance; productivity and volunteerism; job creation and enterprise development; conflict resolution and violence reduction; and HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
Youth Volunteers focus on a holistic approach to youth development, paying particular attention to life-skills education; youth employment and entrepreneurship; and youth health, including the prevention of sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
Recently, Peace Corps Volunteers have worked with the National 4-H and Youth Development Center on a new program that will establish 4-H youth groups in rural communities throughout Belize. In the coming years, Volunteers will play an important role in creating new 4-H groups, developing programming for these youth, and training key community members in managing the clubs for the future.
HIV/AIDS education and prevention are very important Volunteer activities because Belize has the highest rate of HIV/AIDs infection in Central America. The HIV/AIDS awareness component of the youth development project was developed in coordination with the National AIDS Commission and contributes significantly to the solution of this growing problem. Volunteers assigned to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Ministry of Health target women and youth through peer education and behavior-change strategies, mass media campaigns, training workshops, and one-on-one education. Volunteers have also begun working with people living with HIV/AIDS.
Community education by Volunteers includes literacy (both for adults and school-aged children), substitute teaching, tutoring, teacher training, after-school programs, school gardens, community projects, and small business development. Volunteers need to be versatile, able to switch back and forth between formal and informal settings.
The rural community development project works in three main areas: 1) organizational strengthening and capacity building; 2) environmental education and protected areas management; and 3) ecotourism, sustainable livelihoods, and small business development. The goal of the project is to enable rural Belizeans to improve their quality of life in a community-led, sustainable manner. Some Volunteers focus on strengthening local organizations and their capacity to organize, analyze, plan and to act to improve their communities. Others advocate and organize programs that manage natural resources and protect biodiversity in ways that accrue benefits to community members. Still others aid communities by diversifying and generating new sources of family and village-level income through a holistic approach to environmentally sound development at the village level.
Volunteers use participatory techniques that allow community members to assess their needs and strengths. These techniques strengthen the capacity of community groups and develop their planning skills. Volunteers work with a wide range of groups—adult, women’s groups, village councils, youth groups—to help strengthen and sustain their abilities to effectively manage natural resources while improving village incomes.
Volunteers help communities to improve their understanding of the importance of maintaining their environment in a sustainable manner to improve their quality of life. Environmental outreach activities let Volunteers work both in a formal school environment educating teachers and children, and informally throughout the community.
Volunteers help communities learn and adopt skills that will help them diversify and increase income for their families. They facilitate family-level needs assessments and provide support for prioritizing family needs, identifying solutions, planning, and acting upon them. They also provide training in small business planning, bookkeeping, basic accounting, and marketing.
The rural community development approach works at the grassroots level, supporting initiatives that empower rural populations to manage their own development. As such, many Volunteers respond to unique community-identified needs in their villages, including water and sanitation projects, health education, nutrition, agricultural diversification, and small business marketing.