Mediation is the intervention in a conflict by a neutral third party who assists the involved parties in managing or resolving their dispute. (Grover Duffy, 1991)
The decision-making authority rests with the parties themselves so the mediators are responsible for recognising cultural differences and assisting the disputants in defining and clarifying issues, reducing obstacles to communication, exploring possible solutions, and reaching a mutually satisfactory agreement.
The lack of conflict resolution skills, and more generally a pervasive culture of violence, have been recognized as root causes of crime and violence amongst the Belizean population. RESTORE Belize’s strategy therefore, is to promote a culture of peace by providing citizens with tools and services for non-violent conflict resolution and creative problem solving.
To this end, in the summer of 2012, RESTORE Belize and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) within the US Department of State implemented a conflict mediation programme, in direct response to a recognized need for increased technical capacity in the country of Belize. The primary goals of the conflict mediation programme are to strengthen Belize’s national capacity to manage conflict peacefully and to create a cadre of trained conflict mediators who work directly with vulnerable communities. using non violent means to provide anger management skills and resolve disputes.
The target domains are school communities, correction and detention facilities for juveniles and adults, community-based organizations and neighborhood communities including gangs and families. Peace-building tools are made available to these beneficiaries by training people who are currently providing services to these populations as well as to community activists who are willing to participate in the promotion of peace.
Conflict mediation training provides communities with essential skills—such as conflict de-escalation, respectful communication, and creative problem solving skills.
Specific activities being conducted under the conflict mediation programme are:
- Mediation training workshops for staff of institutions that work directly with youth populations, such as the National Youth Cadet Service Corps, Belize City High Schools, Community Policing Unit, Belize Central Prison (including Wagner’s Youth Facility), Conscious Youth Development Programme, the Youth Hostel, Youth For the Future, and community activists.
- Peer-to-peer mediation programs. The first beneficiaries would be southside Belize City High Schools and a youth detention centre. At a minimum, Excelsior High School, Maud Williams High School, Gwen Lizarraga High School, Sadie Vernon High School, Wesley High School, Anglican Cathedral College, and the Youth Hostel would receive training. Selected high schools in the rest of the country would also receive training, based on expressed need. Although some high schools in Belize already have peer counselling programmes, these peer mediation training sessions will enhance the efficacy of the peer counselling program by providing additional conflict resolution tools to the peer counsellors.
With a local resource base that is knowledgeable of on the ground events and happenings, a compelling voice can be used in policy making for the way forward as well as establishing validity between the parties that need the initial mediation. CPC-Belize maintains a strong focus on local capacity and ownership, which is why the project is implemented directly through existing government institutions such as RESTORE Belize and through community organizations working in the target areas. With the TOT program, CPC-Belize will ensure that a cohort of Belizean trainers is able to replicate the skills beyond the life of the initial program.
RESTORE Belize provides a hub of communication between the following participants to ensure coordination and technical support for the implementation of the conflict mediation programme:
- Belize Central Prison
- Belize Defense Force
- Community Activists
- Community Police
- Conscious Youth Development
- Department of Youth Services
- Family Court Community Rehabilitation Department
- School Counselors
- School Peer Mediation
- Youth Cadet/ Youth Hostel
The mediators being trained are selected from a diverse group of professionals who represent government agencies, police leaders, and community organizations working with youth-at-risk. Individuals have also been chosen based on previous experience as trainers, natural mediation capabilities and conflict sensitivity and a strong commitment to community-building and peace. The training is highly experiential, using cutting-edge techniques specifically designed for communities in conflict, and focuses heavily on communication, conflict resolution and facilitation skills for high tension scenarios.