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Nine-year-old Student A habitually stares blankly into space in class. When the teacher calls his name, hisdreamy eyes are often seen drifting slowly back to the classroom reality as his brain slowly registers his namebeing called. Student A witnessed the murder of his older brother only days before the start of the new school year and two weeks later, his cousin of his same age was shot while riding his bicycle to the store. Student A is now noticeably irritable, anxious, withdrawn from his classmates and disinterested in the lessons and playing outside with his friends.

Student B is eight years old. She loves school and is enthusiastic about her favorite subjects - reading and math. She enjoys being around her classmates and is always willing to help her teacher. She is a natural leader. Recently Student B’s teacher noticed that she has been very withdrawn. Teacher asks Student B to stay after class and inquires what’s going on. Student B confesses that her uncle has tried to touch her inappropriately. She says she is very scared as he threatened that if she tells anyone, he will kill her parents and siblings.

Student C is 11 years old and usually bright-eyed, warm and happy. Today he came to class and was hostile to his classmates. He fought with his classmates twice for no apparent reason. When asked what was going on, student C told the principal that his father habitually beats his mother. Over the weekend, they had a major fight and his father punched his mother and she had to be hospitalized. The police were called, and his father is locked up. Student C resents his father and blames himself for the quarrel that led to the hospitalization of his mother and subsequent incarceration of his father.

These scenarios highlight the reality of many students in our Belizean communities. Trauma is the underlying cause of most behavioral, emotional and social issues at school. It is experienced when children are exposed to stressful events such as death, family violence, gun violence, abuse, neglect, injury and bullying. Trauma has long-lasting adverse effects on the mental, physical, emotional and social well-being of those affected. Children living in gang-afflicted areas in Belize may also experience complex trauma because of the high levels of armed violence and crime in their communities. Childhood trauma turns a learning brain into a survival brain and survival trumps learning. Ultimately, trauma impacts the overall development and well-being of children.

This article briefly explores the broad themes of trauma-informed practice in schools as presented at the capacity building training workshops sponsored by RESTORE Belize. RESTORE Belize recognizes that children are impacted by the high incidences of crime and violence in their communities and that school personnel can play a key role in mitigating the effects of violence and trauma in children. They are the group of duty bearers and professionals that encounter children more than any other group of professionals in Belize. RESTORE Belize also recognizes that trauma affects learning and school performance and if the effects of violence on children are ignored, then poor academic outcomes will continue. RESTORE Belize advocates for an educational response to the pervasive issue of exposure to violence and its resulting psychological trauma on children. School leaders, educators and staff can learn to read the signs and symptoms of a child’s exposure to violence and trauma and respond in ways that are caring and compassionate. If a child is being abused, a teacher/school administrator can notice the “telltale” signs and intervene early and stop it. For this reason, the workshop equipped participating educators and school leaders with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to develop practical and action-oriented strategies to implement trauma-informed practices in their schools.

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"Belize is a country of peace and tranquility, where citizens live in harmony with the natural environment and enjoy a high quality of life.” That is the country’s goal as outlined in the Horizon 2030 National Development Framework, and a critical aspect of peacebuilding is conflict mediation. Belize recognizes this, doubling down on its efforts to increase its capacity to cope with conflict through a series of mediation trainings. These trainings are held in partnership with RESTORE Belize, the Youth and Community Transformation, and The Ministry of Human Development.

Picture of participants in a large group discussion

175 Belizeans have been trained through this programme since it began in 2012 with 41 of those participants trained in the first half of 2018. The trainings were broken up into theoretical and practical portions with participants taught the tools necessary to conduct effective mediation. Lessons followed the Belize Mediation Training Student Handbook, and the curriculum was delivered using a mix of lectures, presentations, group discussions, interactive exercises, demonstrations, and coached role playing.

Facilitator prepping participants for role-play

Training facilitator Sandra Diaz-Cadle elaborated on one of the main skills in mediation - effective communication which involves “active listening, inquiry skills, how can they get information and learn to understand, move disputants from position to interest without mediators imposing their values, without mediators getting frustrated with the process and lastly the mediator as a facilitator."

Picture of participants engaged in small group discussions

The first round of trainings for 2018 was held in June with 19 participants including social workers, police and youth officers. The second round was in August with 21 participants from Maud Williams High School and 1 social worker from RESTROE Belize. To become certified RESTORE Belize mediators, participants must complete 3 supervised mediations. To find out more, check out the conflict mediation programme page, and read about the court-appointed family mediators sworn in at the start of this year.

September signals celebration in Belize, but for parents and their children September also means back to school, and with every new uniform, bag, and school supply come the associated fees. Many actors in the private and public sector do their part to help ease the burden of cost on parents through scholarships, but few have as comprehensive a program as RESTORE Belize’s I AM BELIZE Scholarship.

Picture of the 2018 RESTORE Belize Scholarship Award Ceremony

This year Restore Belize sent off its 2017 graduates with a dinner and sit-down interview and welcomed its 27 new students into the program with an award ceremony. They join the 29 existing recipients who have retained their scholarship for this academic year.

Picture of 2018 I AM BELIZE Scholars

The 2018 Scholarship Award Ceremony was hosted by RESTORE Belize at the Gateway Youth Center where parents, their children, and members of the media were warmly received by staff. The students were welcomed by School Liaison Officer Judith Enriquez who touched on the critical role of need-based scholarships like these with a quote from Edward James Olmos: “Education is the vaccine for violence.”

Picture of Keynote Speaker

This theme was reinforced by keynote speaker Sheryl Terry, Deputy Director of Public Relations of RESTORE Belize’s donor-partner BWSL. She commended the program for its wrap-around services and presented a check of $10,000 to RESTORE Belize in support of the scholarship.

Picture showing check presented to RESTORE Belize by BWSL

The highlight of the event was Aleah Meighan’s remarks on her experience in the program. Aleah, a 4th form student at Gwen Lizarraga High School, has been an I AM BELIZE scholar since the start of her high school career in 2015. In the three years with RESTORE Belize she has topped her class twice and continues to strive for excellence in her studies. In her remarks Aleah thanked the program officers who helped her throughout her journey. She also pointed out the unique services associated with the scholarship and encouraged the incoming students to take advantage of this opportunity.

Picture showing Aleah Meighan giving her remarks

The I AM BELIZE Scholarship program is holistic in its approach, meeting the students’ financial, emotional, and social needs. The program not only covers tuition, but it also covers the costs of uniforms and books, and the students are provided with life skills training and group bonding at the biweekly I AM BELIZE Scholarship Club meetings. Students who require additional support are offered counseling and tutoring and may be eligible to join the Mentorship Program, a sub-program of the scholarship.

Picture showing RESTORE Belize staff with the scholarship recipients

RESTORE Belize and its donor-partners Belize Natural Energy Charitable Trust (BNECT), BEL, BWSL, Atlantic Bank, Atlantic Insurance, and the Development Finance Cooperation congratulate all 56 students in the scholarship program and the staff looks forward to providing support and monitoring their successes over this academic year. To find out more about the scholarship program, take a look at the I AM BELIZE Scholarship Program page.

“Birth to 8 – Children Must Play” was this year’s theme for Child Stimulation Month, but among the child-centered activities and events, Belize was rocked by a spike in violence affecting women and children, signaling an appalling change in crime affecting urban Belize City. There was a call on all sectors to respond, and RESTORE Belize, among its other long-term peace-building initiatives, mobilized resources to act immediately in Belize’s communities through its Peace in the Parks Programme.

 

In May of 2018 RESTORE Belize with support from the Embassy of The Republic of China (Taiwan) supported Youth Advocacy Through Arts (YATA)’s Walls Down Fun Day for the children of the Faber’s Road area. A portion of the street was blocked off from 9 am to about 3pm and turned into a safe space for children to play.

Resized walls down bouncy house

Activities included motivational speakers, music, bouncy houses and a trampoline, a basketball tournament, and documentation of children’s experiences of violence in their neighborhoods. While the activities helped to encourage healing and bonding in the community, the video (available here) aimed to empower children to advocate for their own safety and sensitize the public to the citizen insecurity faced by vulnerable populations living amidst violence. A full video covering the event can be accessed here.

 

Then, in July of 2018, YATA, The Office of the Special Envoy for Women and Children, Ignite Ltd., and the Belize Family Life Association partnered with RESTORE Belize to host a “Belize That is Safe for Children” Family Day at the Yarborough Green in Belize City with funding from the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Belize.

The field was divided into areas of play, sports, services, performances, and video consultations with children. Children played on bouncy houses and trampolines in an open play area while their parents accessed services nearby.

 

They were also given free books by the National Library Service, and participated in performances by Ozzy the Clown, Airbender Yoga, local artists and drummers, and the K9 unit of the police department.

Adults were provided with free cancer and other health screenings, discounted cosmetology and massage services, telecommunication services and promotions, raffles, and low-cost food options provided by vendors from the area – all while their children played freely in the park.

 

Children and youth were also able to participate in and watch an all-day basketball tournament which had attractive cash prizes.

 

 The next event under this program is a back-to-school fun day planned for September 2nd, 2018 to kick-off the 2018/2019 academic year.