A few weeks ago, I was asked to visit partner organizations in Belize for one week. I reluctantly left dreary and wet Oregon for a week in the tropical paradise of Belize. Of course I was thrilled!! The visions of Mayan ruins and picturesque beaches were calling my name. More exciting for me was the opportunity I had to meet the members of our partner organizations, with whom I had been working over the past months via email, and who are doing fabulous work in Belize! Electronic tools and web-based work makes collaborating across continents easy, but the face-to-face meetings cannot be replaced. And now I was headed to Belize for a whirlwind tour of three organizations in three towns in nine days!
Stop 1: I was met at the Belize International Airport by the Administrator at the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), Amelita Knowles. Mel was warm and welcoming, and I settled in easily for the 45-minute commute from Belize City to Belmopan, Belize’s capital and home to the BELPO office. We shared stories about our families and our background, particularly how we got into environmental work.
Belize is a tiny country, with a unique history and strong ties to both the Caribbean and Central American regions. Although small in size and population, Belize is growing quickly. The diverse population makes for some interesting dynamics among its people. Not unlike the US, these dynamics are highlighted by environmental and social issues affecting local communities.
We arrived at the BELPO office, painted with bright colors, like the other houses in the neighborhood. Amelita showed me the avocado tree in the backyard with dozens of small, very green fruit. I expressed my envy and we bonded over our mutual love for avocados in the summertime. I met Candy Gonzalez, the President of BELPO with whom I have been in the closest communication with over the past year, and it is like we’ve met before. I assisted Candy when she published the Guide to Public Participation in Belize and have collaborated with her on other leaflets and newsletters meant to raise awareness of environmental issues among the local communities.
BELPO focuses on four main issues: the Macal River, Indigenous Rights, the Belize Barrier Reef, and Coastal Development. Being in the country’s capital gives them access to the Belize Parliament and other law-making and enforcement bodies, with whom they are in regular communication. Amelita is the only full-time and paid staff person at BELPO. While together, we worked mostly on ways to increase the impact of BELPO, with only her time and energy. Two main strategies emerged: volunteers and web-based communication tools, both of which are very exciting ideas for Belmopan and fun for me, as I got to draw from my background in community organizing.
Mel envisions a strong, committed group of student volunteers who will be trained to give presentations in local schools and at community events regarding environmental concerns and how public participation can help ensure that local input is taken into consideration. Mel also recognizes that the BELPO website and Facebook page could be improved to offer more dynamic information and ways to engage interested community members.
Check out the current BELPO website at www.belpo.org. I hope to post the updated website and Facebook page soon, so check back often! I’ll also be posting more about my second and third stops in Placencia, working with the Placencia Citizens for Sustainable Development, and in San Pedro with the Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development. I promise photos of the gorgeous Belize coastline that these three groups are working to protect.
ELAW Office Manager