Youth Advocacy Through Arts (YATA)

Community development

Brent Toombs
17 September 2019

When Joseph Stamp Romero returned to Belize after studying theatre abroad he was looking for a way to combine his passion for performing with a desire to contribute to his community. Having been raised in a tough south-side neighbourhood, Joseph was well aware of the perils presented by crime and violence for young people growing up in certain areas of Belize City. He also believed in the power of creative expression to shield children from negative influences and transform their lives. In 2013 Youth Advocacy Through Arts (YATA) was born.

With support from UNICEF Belize, Restore Belize, and The Department of Youth Services, YATA recently undertook a special project to engage young people in marginalized communities. The program featured two complimentary components.  The first was the Turn Around Program (TAP), a performing arts camp for young people. The other was Walls Down, a series of fun days in neighbourhoods were crime and violence have fractured the community and left children without safe spaces to play together.

Children at the Turn Around Program (TAP) performing arts camp
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

Children at the Turn Around Program (TAP) performing arts camp

“There is a lot of hurt and pain. There is a history of violence that has happened to these communities. There is a lot of talk about death, not hope.”

Joseph Stamp Romero
YATA performing arts camp in the Mayflower area of Belize City.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

YATA performing arts camp in the Mayflower area of Belize City.

One of the numbers performed by the children at TAP was “Freetown Gyal”, a popular Belizean folk song.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

One of the numbers performed by the children at TAP was “Freetown Gyal”, a popular Belizean folk song.

“It’s huge to be able to do things like Walls Down for a day and show communities that they themselves can host events where children fell free to express themselves.”

Joseph Stamp Romero
Chrisvoy Domingo acting in a skit at the YATA performing arts camp in Mayflower.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

Chrisvoy Domingo acting in a skit at the YATA performing arts camp in Mayflower.

“If we have something to occupy our minds we won’t pay attention when something bad happens in our neighbourhood and that will keep us from getting involved.”

Chrisvoy Domingo, 14-years
Young people from St. Martin de Porres neighbourhood in Belize City having fun at Walls Down.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

Young people from St. Martin de Porres neighbourhood in Belize City having fun at Walls Down.

“Walls down is challenging this idea that as a community we can’t come together to begin the healing process.”

Joseph Stamp Romero
Joseph with John Domingo (left) following a Walls Down performance of the skit “Gangs and Boyz”, a cautionary tale about the reality of joining a gang.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

Joseph with John Domingo (left) following a Walls Down performance of the skit “Gangs and Boyz”, a cautionary tale about the reality of joining a gang.

Children enjoying some time on the trampoline at Walls Down.
UNICEF/2018/Brent Toombs

Children enjoying some time on the trampoline at Walls Down.