Ms Florence

florence (1 of 1)Remember this picture?

Mr Elroy, Ms Florence, and Ms Ruby were the students who first signed up for the pilot program: Primary School for Adults.

Mr Elroy had attendance problems from the beginning and soon stopped coming. Ms Ruby struggles with reading and about half way through spring semester we had a conversation with her about not being ready to take the Primary School Exam this spring. Ms Florence, however, made steady progress during the year and we hoped that she was ready for the exam.

I taught the class in the fall semester and Mr Frank taught the spring semester. I concentrated on basic math and reading. He concentrated on test prep.  Ms Florence did take both portions of the test, math and science in April and English and social studies in May.. We had been told that she would be separated and would set the test with other adults.  That however did not happen. When the day came she sat in the same classroom with the rest of our students.  Oh well…

We sat on pins and needles waiting for PSE results, and when the results came for the rest of the students her result sheet was not included. Ms Candi made a call. No, the adult results would be coming later.  Then two weeks ago today we got the call that we could come to the district Education Office and pick up the results.  I went.

They handed me a closed manila envelope and I left the office. I knew I should wait until I got back to school but I just couldn’t stand it. I opened the envelope and checked the scores. She passed! As soon as I got to school I showed Ms Candi and Mr Tench.  To be truthful, we were almost giddy.

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We called Ms Florence and told her the results were in.  This is the smile we got when she saw that she had passed.

She is now registered for night school to work on her high school diploma at Gwen Lizzaraga High School.  It is a three year program. I told her that I wanted an invitation to her high school graduation.

She reminded me of that this morning when she came in to get her primary school certificate.

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Dale Graves, Florence Masseus, Frank Tench

 

 

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Graduation Day

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The church at noon, prior to decorating.

I had expected to go to Friends worship at 8:30 am and remain at the Presbyterian church for Presbyterian worship, then decorating for graduation, then the ceremony and finally the cleanup. It all started as planned.

However, it had rained hard overnight and in the early morning and was still raining at 8:30 am. We had Quaker Worship at 8:30 but the Presbyterians called off worship because of the flooding of many streets so all 9 of us Quakers went to Spoonaz to eat breakfast. That was a relaxing and fun respite before we began decorating at about 12:30.

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Just so you know I did my part.

grauation 2016 (3 of 33) grauation 2016 (6 of 33)We completed the decorating at about 1:30 and the two teachers hustled out to change clothes. Students began arriving at around 2:15. I began to panic a little at 2:30 because several students had come but the teacher’s were not back yet.  But very shortly both teachers had returned.  It was then that one of the students mentioned his speech and we discovered that Ms Darcel had left that stuff at home in a flolder.  So she quickly borrowed the car and went after it.

Meanwhile, at 2:55 we were still missing 3 students. Ms Darcel returned just after three and we talked about what to do if those three didn’t make it.  However, 5 minutes later when we were ready to process, those three arrived in the nick of time.  Really, we were already marching in when Aloveen arrived.

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We began with the singing of the Belize national anthem, followed by the national prayer, and then our own invocation.

The students recited the 23rd Psalm and sang a song.

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Jervis lead the national prayer

 

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Jaheim lead us in the invocation

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We had the traditional addresses by the salutatorian, Aliyah, on the left, and the valedictorian, Primilee.

grauation 2016 (21 of 33)Joyce Ellis, Director of Mental Health Institute and former teacher, was our commencement speaker with the catchy theme: “If you have a brain in your head and shoes on your feet, you can go anywhere.” She spoke well.

Ms Candi gave a very short principals report and we handed out diplomas.grauation 2016 (19 of 33)

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Alliyah and Abigail sang for us.

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Scholarship winners, standing, left to right, Omarian, Jervis, and Aliyah

We presented high school scholarships to thee students. We have divided the money so that we can help more than one student.  Miss Aliyah earned the large scholarship; Jervis and Omarian earned the smaller scholarships.

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The graduating class of 2016

We had two students from the youth hostel who also graduated but had gotten in trouble and were unable to attend the ceremony. We graduated 13.  Two of them will be attending ITVET, 3 (possibly 4) will attend Global Outreach, a trade school, 3 will be attending San Pedro High School, 1 to Gwen Liz HS, 1 to ACC. Our valedictorian is on a waiting list at St Catherines and is mulling over her other choices.

I’ve gotten to know these students and wish them the very best.  We make a big deal out of our offer for any of them to return after school hours to get extra tutoring from us. I hope they will take up the offer. Not only can we be helpful to them but it will be nice to see them again.

God bless ’em all.

Last Day of School

On every day of the last week of school we do some very serious practice for Sunday’s commencement, until Friday.

Our plan for Friday is to have our normal Friday worship at the Presbyterian Church, come back to school, do some cleaning up of the property in preparation for summer, and then have a pizza party before sending the students home about 1:00.  And that was the plan for this year until Ms Candi and Ms Darcel received a request from the Dean of the Education department at Galen University for all education students to participate in a seminar in San Ignacio on Friday from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm, pertaining to the border dispute with Guatemala.  That request came late Wednesday afternoon; planning ahead is not big in Belize.

In an attempt to satisfy everyone, we made some changes. We would have our worship as soon as the students could arrive at school and get on the bus.. We also called our favorite pizza place to see if they would like to open just a tad early and serve 9 pizzas to a bunch of kids at 9:30 am. That would allow us be to back at school by eleven and get Ms Darcel and Ms Candi on their way to participate in the afternoon portion of the seminar. The pizza place, bless their hearts, said yes.

At 8:40 this morning, away we went.  Worship was about endings and beginnings. When it was my turn to speak I asked the students if I could take their picture before I began speaking because I’ve not been able to take a photo from the front. They were nice and said yes.

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I talked a little about endings and beginnings and about how I knew all their names and had gotten to know each of them. I also talked about how I now felt that, somehow, they were “mine.” And I told them that each of them now had a place in my heart and that I would take that back with me when I fly out on Tuesday.

After worship, the handshakes turned into hugs. Ms Candi laughed about how these students who don’t want to come to school were giving hugs and talking about how they wished it wasn’t ending.

We piled back on the bus and drove directly to the Balloon Pizzeria.

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I’m not sure why everyone looks so serious in the photo

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Oh wait, maybe that wasn’t “serious,” maybe that was “hungry.”

Fairly quickly pizza was being served.  We had ordered 9 pizzas but the crust on the first three pizzas had not risen properly so they remade those. Rather than throw them away, they offered them to us.  Thin and crispy, not bad at all.  Anyway, 19 kids and 5 adults completely destroyed 12 medium pizzas. (We had 7 absent today-two from the youth hostel who had gotten in trouble and were not allowed to come and 5 others who decided they had better things to do on the last day of school.)

We drove home the long way, letting kids out near their own neighborhoods. At every stop, as each student got off the bus, Ms Candi would give them a pat and say either “See you Sunday,” if they are graduating, or “See you August 22.”

And thus ends another school year.

There was one part of the original Friday plan that we had to leave out. Anybody want to come and clean up this building?

 

Our Staff in Belize

Maybe some introductions are in order.

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Following the school board meeting on Friday, we went to eat at the Balloon pizza restaurant.

 

Left to Right: Dale Graves, Maggie Tench, Frank Tench, Darcel Murray, Gershom Rodriguez, Candi Young.

Let me tell you a little about each one:

Dale Graves: (me) An old guy who volunteered to be the interim director for one year and then for a second year.  My term as a field staff member is over following some visits with yearly meetings this summer.  At the time of this writing a replacement has not been found. I have volunteered to come down in October if needed.

Maggie Tench: Ms Maggie is our secretary/bookkeeper. She is smart and dedicated. Her contract hours are from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm but I can’t remember the last time she left at 1:00. She and Ms Candi did all the major planning for the successful alumni gala. She has made good use of her contacts in the community.

Frank Tench: School board president.  Mr Tench is a retired meteorologist here in Belize, and local TV weatherman. When we decided to do an adult school pilot program and advertised for a speaker we received no applications.  Mr Tench expressed interest and taught the adult classes this spring. We have hired him to teach again in the fall.

Darcel Murray: Ms Darcel has completed her second year of teaching. We enrolled 33 students this year, the largest enrollment in recent years, completing the year with an active enrollment of 26 (last year we finished the year with 20).  Ms.Darcel was with them all day long, teaching students who range from completely ready for high school to students who cannot read.  She was wonderful.  She was also in an impossible situation with this many students.

Gersom Rodriguez: We just hired Gershom to be on staff beginning August 1. He has taught elementary school for two years. He and Darcel have had a couple of good conversations about teaching methods and discipline concepts. Gershom has a full Primary School teaching license. He has a couple of obvious attributes as you can see from the photo: he is big and he is a man. I don’t mean that to be sexist, it’s just really helpful for our students to see a good Belizean male role model day after day. In addition he is excited to be a part of our program.  He grew up about a block and a half from the school and knows exactly what he is getting himself into.

Candi Young: This is the second year that Ms Candi has served as the principal of the school. She and Ms Darcel are both students at Galen University working on their Bachelors in Primary Education. They will complete their degrees in December 2018. Ms Candi continues to learn all the things that go into being a principal. I have involved her in all of the work of expansion of the program so she knows how to do some of the work if we do not find a director very soon. Many of you know Ms Canid personally.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this staff work together.

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Ms Keisha, at the far end of the table on the right, is a board member who went to dinner with us. She is not on the staff.

Quaker Statement

We have a small Quaker worship group here in Belize City. On most Sundays it consists of Mike and Kay Cain, Miriam DeShield, Christopher DeShield and his wife Miriam Loh and their two children Omar and Noemi, Judy Lumb, and me. Fairly frequently we have visitors drop in during our worship hour at 8:30 am on Sunday mornings at St Andrews Presbyterian church. We have been meeting regularly since last fall.

Now that you have that introduction, let me tell you about a recent development. There is a small island in the mouth of the river that divides Belize and Guatemala on the south. The ownership of that island is in dispute with each country using it to make political points with their constituents. In Belize, in particular, the party that is out of power is making a lot of noise about Belize’s right to the island.

In addition, there is a dispute along the western border.  Historically, some in Gutemala believe that Belize should be a part of Guatemala and never should have been established as a British colony. Those people do not recognize the western border as legitimate. Add to that the existence of very poor people living in the eastern regions of Guatemala and the existence of a nature preserve along the west edge of Belize and we have a situation where Guatemalans “squat” on some land in the preserve. The Belize Defense forces try to patrol the area.

A few short weeks ago the BDF forces were patrolling and were fired on. They returned fire and in the aftermath killed a 13 year old boy.  This incident has ignited all sorts of rhetoric and some in the international community have been quick to take sides.

In discussing this before meeting one Sunday, Miriam DeShield asked if Quakers ever “wrote things” in situations like this. I said that certainly it was a time honored practice among Friends to write position statements as a public witness to the application of our testimonies.  We began to write.

After some discussion we have arrived at a statement and we sent it to the Belize Council of Churches for their consideration. At the same time we asked the Council what steps it might take for us to become active members of the council. (Last week the council published its own statement on the border dispute, but we decided to go ahead and send ours anyway)  We also asked the council if there was any reason that we should not publish our statement.

We expect to publish within the next two weeks and to continue to work toward membership on the Council.

(In related news, Judy Lumb has written to a couple of Guatemalan Friends to see if there is some way we can work with them on this issue. We await their reply.)

I know that without any more information than I have written, the following statement may not make complete sense, but I thought you might be interested in what we wrote:

Statement on the Guatemala Issue by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Belize

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Belize is very appreciative of the initiative of the Council of Churches as expressed in the press conference of May 20, 2016. We thank the Council of Churches for their plea for unity in the Belizean response, for calling for a day of prayer, and for seeking the help of their counterparts in Guatemalan churches.

We encourage Christians in both Guatemala and Belize to remember that Jesus instructed his friends to love both our neighbours and our enemies. We encourage the government and citizens of Belize and Guatemala to remember the value of all life on both sides of our shared border. We encourage both Guatemalans and Belizeans to respect the right to survival that all species have under God, and to remember that neither side has the right to destroy areas protected within a Nature Reserve which are vital to the survival of life on our planet.

We encourage both the Governments of Belize and Guatemala to focus attention on addressing the serious inequities within our socio-economic structures for the poor and marginalized, instead of focusing attention on a border dispute. We remind Belizeans of the long-standing, respectful relationship that has been maintained between both our militaries for many, many years. We know that military action will not be a solution and will simply set the stage for more military action.

We encourage our leaders to remember the needs of our whole community, building confidence to expand cooperation between parties and States, at the diplomatic level and on the ground.

Respectfully, Judy Lumb, Recording Clerk

 

 

Flowers Bank

On Monday, Ms Candi got a call asking if a few of our students would like to participate in a memorial at Flowers Bank.  I asked what that meant and she said it meant that she and I and a few students would need to be on the bus at 5:30 am.  Of course I said, “Sure, why not?”

I don’t know if our 5 students learned anything, but I did. We picked up a few other people (adults) on the way out of town and drove out the northern highway. We turned toward Burrell Boom and before we got to the baboon sanctuary we turned off the paved road onto a gravel road. A few miles later we picked up the chairman of the village and proceeded to a small memorial park.

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At the park we heard the story.  In the early days, England colonized Belize for its logwood and then its mahogany. Purple and black dyes were made from the logwood. When chemical dyes were created then the mahogany was imported from Belize for fine furniture. Flowers Bank is a village where the logs were gathered before being floated down the river.

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We gathered around the marker and heard the story of the vote. On June 1, 1797 (hence the memorial trip on June 1) there was vote in Belize town (the current Belize City). The Spanish had gathered in the Yucatan and threatened to invade Belize. The vote was to decide whether to evacuate or to stay and defend.  The vote was 51 to evacuate and 65 to defend, the defenders won by 14 votes.  By coincidence 14 people from Flowers Bank and other villages along the river, who had the property holdings and wealth required to be able to cast a vote, had paddled their dories down to the city to take part in the historic vote.  Those 14 are commemorated here.  The plaque mentions that Raybon and Robertson were white. All the rest were black.

The rest of the story is that the Spanish were defeated in the battle of St Georges Caye and Belize remained under English rule.

The marker is on the edge of the Belize river. The photo below is much different from the seaside photos you usually see from me but quite as beautiful.

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Following the commemoration, we gathered in the community center to share a little food.

 

 

After the formal gathering the village chairman shared with me, “When we were young we would paddle across the river there and then walk and ride horses over that way for a long ways, most of a day.” He paused and smiled, “All to go see girlfriends.”

I smiled too and said, “And worth every minute.”

Then we headed back to the city just in time to take the first group to computer lab at 9:00.

 

 

 

Here we are

Ms. Candi asked for a new photo of our students to put on a postcard so we could thank those businesses who helped sponsor the homecoming gala. I thought you might enjoy seeing the photo.

Eddie, Harrison, and Lizzemie were absent yesterday.

From top to bottom, left to right: Jimmy, Egbert, Tyler; Jaheim, David; Jervis, Jaheim, Keith; Jeremy, Omarian; Nixon, D’Jon, Jerell; Primelie, Brithany; Abagail, Aaliyah, Aloveen; Paul, Julian; Cion, Antione, Nevin

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It’s been a long time since we finished the school year with 26 students. Half of them will graduate and continue their studies elsewhere next year.  More about that later.