Nine year-old Tyrek habitually stares blankly into space in class. Even when the teacher calls his name, he takes a few minutes to respond. Tyrek had witnessed the killing of his older brother three months ago, in front of his house. Two weeks ago, his cousin was shot on his bike riding to the store. Now he is withdrawn from his classmates, refuses to go outside to play during breaks, and is irritable when he is asked to do something.”

This article briefly highlight how educators in Belize are begging to understand the effect trauma has on children and learning. Through trainings educators have already started to change methods of interacting and responding to children impacted by trauma.

Childhood trauma turns a learning brain into a survival brain.”

When children are exposed to violence such as armed or gang violence, school bullying, family violence, abuse (physical, psychological, emotional, sexual), or neglect, in their neighborhoods, and communities, they can experience trauma. In the context of the high incidences of armed violence in Belize, children can come to see a dead body on the street or in their yard. Traumatic experiences can impact learning, behavior, school performance and the overall development of children. Survival trumps learning for children affected by trauma in their lives and when survival trumps learning, learning is going to be compromised.

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What is trauma-informed practices in schools?

A trauma inform practice is the organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. By understanding and responding to trauma, school administrators, teachers, and staff can help reduce its negative impact, support critical learning, and create a more positive school environment.

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Whole School Initiative

RESTORE Belize has created TIPS Using a whole-school approach building school personnel capacity to transform school practices and culture in the way children affected by trauma and violence are treated.

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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.

"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.

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace” – Confucius

RESTORE Belize is proud to announce that our three 4th form I AM BELIZE Scholarship students have completed their high school degrees and are moving forward into futures filled with the promise of success.

Louise Wagner, age 17, Dion Cacho, age 16, and Shemar Rowland, age 18, sat down with us for an interview over lunch and a celebration of their accomplishments.

Louise Wagner, a fresh graduate of Wesley College, aspires to be a nurse and will pursue her degree at the University of Belize after she completes her internship which was arranged through the scholarship program.  

“I learned a lot. [The scholarship programme] opened me up to new surroundings and teaches me to never give up.” She recounted a time when her program officer, Roger Bradley, and school liaison officer, Judith Enriquez, stepped in to help her stay on track. “One spell I felt like giving up, and they showed me I shouldn’t – despite the circumstances.”

When asked about the scholarship club, a bi-weekly meet-up for life skills sessions and bonding among the scholarship students, she admitted that she was originally looking forward to it as an after-school class to help with her academic workload, but upon realizing that the focus was on personal development, she acknowledged that “it is a good activity to get close to people, a good thing for youths.”

And another of those beneficiary youths, Dion Cacho, recently graduated from St. John’s College where he was an active member of the football team. Dion aspires to be an accountant as, in his observation, “the lack of accountants in the city creates an opportunity.” Plus, he is good in Math.

Dion, like the other two graduates, is in our internship programme for the summer, and he says he will continue working over the break to build up finances for 6th Form. The future accountant described his experiences with the scholarship programme as beneficial both “mentally and financially because if [my program officer] didn’t talk to me about things, I’d keep it in and not say anything.” When asked to elaborate he added that “in third form I was failing literature and Mr. Roger, being the mentor, spoke to me about it and encouraged me to stay in school.”

During lunch Dion kept sneaking glances at the World Cup match showing on a nearby TV and elaborated on his time on the football team. He spoke on the camaraderie that being in a team like that builds and drew comparisons to the bonds forged in the scholarship club after school. “Scholarship club was very helpful in building friends. Without the scholarship club, I wouldn’t have known any of [the other recipients].”

Shemar Rowland, graduate of Anglican Cathedral College, like Dion, wants to enter into the field of accounting. He reasoned that “I want to be an accountant because I am good in Math, so I’d like to hone my skills more to deal with business.”

Shemar has been with RESTORE Belize from he was a Standard 6 student in our first cohort of Metamorphosis children. The Metamorphosis project, funded by UNICEF Belize, is intended to build resiliency in young socially vulnerable boys. When reflecting on his time through our programme, Shemar shared his appreciation of his social worker who helped see him to high school.

“When I graduated from primary school, I didn’t go to high school. I had to do a preparatory school first. Miss Stephanie helped me.” He continued “It helped because when I was in primary school my mom died, and we couldn’t afford it… then I got a scholarship, graduated from primary school and then high school, and I made my grandmother proud.”

Shemar, Dion, and Louise made us all at RESTORE Belize proud, too. We extend our warmest, most heartfelt congratulations to these budding professionals and are looking forward to welcoming our next group of students for this incoming year!