Belize: The concert of hope, dream and love
Josh, 12, looks at me and proudly asserts as if the entire world can hear him for this one moment, “I am the best trumpeter in our band!” With the glee in his eyes, I believed every word he said because his Band-master and all his band colleagues, 35 of them thought so too. Today, he was attending the joyous occasion of the Christmas party. He was also proudly picking up a stipend of $10.00 as he had played at the Chateau Caribbean, a restaurant that pays the band to entertain on certain days of the week. He was looking forward to the money as he had plans for Christmas and he had presents to buy especially for his mom.
“I can become anything I want to be when I grow up,” he mused. “I do not do that great at school but I love Language Arts and cooking and I often cook for myself and wash my own clothes.”
Josh, a young boy from a single parent family in poverty stricken south side Belize City, joined the Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence musical band two years ago. Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence , a UNICEF supported initiative, is Belize’s first and only adolescent friendly space and provides a variety of after school programmes in a safe space for vulnerable children and adolescents from the south side of Belize City. A recent poverty assessment puts the poverty rate on the south side of Belize City at 54 per cent while a further 26 per cent are considered indigent. Another study, Male Social Participation and Violence in Urban Belize, conducted in 2010 by Gayle, Herbert, et al., concluded that “The entire human ecology in which the Belizean youth participate and attempt to survive must be addressed. Core among the human ecological; or environmental problems are vulnerable resource poor families, social isolation, social neglect, lack of educational opportunities, stigma and prejudice against communities and a nightmare of social boundaries helped to create a social organization of violence as they become people’s frame of social identity and become passed on within family frames.”
It is in the midst of such an environment that Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence provides an opportunity for vulnerable children such as Josh to fulfil their hopes and dreams. Josh feels that he has been given more than just an opportunity to participate in music. He is given hope, dreams and love. He and many young boys like him, now have a special place to do great things. The band, largely because of its dedicated instructor who serves as a great role model to the adolescents, has an amazing ability to attract vulnerable adolescent boys. This is such an important alternative for young boys like Josh who on a daily basis are surrounded by crime and violence. The increase in crime violence has alarmed the population and has Belizeans concerned especially since it is reported in that Belize has crossed the “civil war benchmark at 32 per 100, 000 and given the status of being the second most violent country in the Caribbean.”
Urban Belizean children and adolescents, especially, are particularly vulnerable and are involuntarily caught in the midst of the violence. Statistics show that on a national level, boys are dropping out of school at an alarming rate. However, through their participation in the band, the presence of good role models and a safe environment, 100 per cent of the boys are in school and remarkably in the first year of its existence all the boys who participate in the programme transition to secondary school.
In Belize, where children and adolescents have limited opportunities and safe spaces for recreation, culture, music and arts, the impact of the band on Josh and the other vulnerable boys and girls benefiting from such experiences demonstrate the value of exposing young people to positive alternatives.
“I wish all kids have a band to be part of, as it is so exciting to be part of it and it keeps you away from trouble too,” says Josh. With the support that the Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence has obtained from UNICEF, it has created spaces of excellence as it builds character and life skills. It focuses on the boys, girls and mothers and their unique attributes that make them so special. It assists children and adolescents in finding out who they are and identifying their best characteristics so that they shine whether it is in music, sports, computers, gardening or academics. Instead of rivalry, aggression, loneliness and hopelessness, there is a special place that they can come to be loved but especially to be listened to. Mrs. Barbara Elrington, the Director of Samuel Haynes states, “Soon, they too start reciprocating and that is what we are all about. After all we want to truly make a difference and do whatever it takes to do that. Sometimes, they just need to be hugged, loved or given individual attention.”
This is what makes Samuel Haynes truly a place of love, hope, laughter and music that reaches not only the ears but also touches the heart! Samuel Haynes is music, vegetables, flowers, and beautiful sewn clothes for those fortunate to be part of it. Thanks to this UNICEF supported initiative, the people who are touched, can help in reducing crime and violence in Belize through investments in the potential of young boys and girls. Investments that contribute to the creation of a city and a nation that is fit for all to live in, but especially, for our vulnerable children, youth and women.
Josh wishes that more people can be helped and someday he hopes to be able to help others as well. He wishes his school compound is repaired and beautified. He wishes his home could be better and the river be cleaned as it is so filthy now. But today, he is helping his mom, brothers and sisters and that is what counts.
Today, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education and other NGO’s such as Pickstock Development Association and the National Committee for Families and Children to ensure that more adolescents like Josh are able to acquire the life skills to improve the school, community and ultimately the home thus transforming Belize into a country where dreams and hopes like those of Josh’s are realized.