In Belize, many students have to “dream big” just to finish high school.
With a $1.50 per/hour minimum wage in the Central American country, the $500 cost of finishing high school can be an insurmountable obstacle, said Lynne Paradis, international director and project lead for the Rotary Club of Red Deer.
But hope for a better future was conveyed by 30 Central Albertans who recently travelled to Belize with suitcase-fulls of books and writing equipment.
The goal was to encourage students to stay in school for the long-term by applying for scholarships and subsidies. That way they will gain better jobs prospects by becoming literate members of society, added Paradis.
For two weeks in March, the Rotary Club International held Literacy Alive held sessions in schools and libraries in Belize. About 350 students (age 10 to 14) and 100 Belize adults participated in literacy awareness, including a parade and public performance called Dream It and Do It.
Local drummers were hired and kids chanted “stay in school, that’s cool,” recalled Paradis, who was pleased the program was so well embraced by students and teachers.
Belize is becoming a tourist draw, but has a big income gap between the haves and have-nots. Among the small country’s many challenges is language. Paradis said English is the official tongue, but 36 other languages are spoken, including various aboriginal dialects, Arabic, and Creole (an amalgam of English, French, Spanish and Indigenous words).
To get kids excited about reading, the Canadian volunteers did initial research on what subjects would be of interest. Paradis said “Thousands of literacy rich” leaflets and workbooks were then distributed to schools and libraries.
A vocational training team, including Central Alberta teachers and community developers, also worked with Belize’s educators government officials and community librarians and volunteers to strengthen literacy teaching.
Paradis, a former principal, said the program, funded by $100,000 (raised by the Rotary Club and a federal grant), was designed to be sustainable, so educators in Belize were given tools to continue literacy work in the years ahead.
An impact study, with additional training, will be provided in August. For more information please visit, literacyalive.ca