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Sep 30, 2005

Guatemalan soldiers study English in Belize

Story PictureA few years ago, a report of Guatemalan soldiers anywhere on Belizean soil would have been cause for commotion, even fear. But these days, when a Guatemalan contingent arrives, it’s more likely to be a part of confidence building measures… or, as in one case this week, to learn English. News Five was at the closing ceremonies for the latest workshop, funded by the British government, to try and remove cultural and linguistic barriers.

Karla Heusner, Reporting
It is the first time these twenty men and women from the Guatemalan military ever gave a public presentation in English, and the first time they have ever been to Belize. It’s all part of the Language Exchange Project, funded by the U.K.’s Global Conflict Prevention Pool.

Alan Jones, British High Commissioner
“We decided some years ago that we would look at putting money into confidence building measures between the two countries. And clearly one of the most important things to do is build confidence between the two peoples, the Guatemalans and the Belizeans. There have always been suspicious views of each country, but I think the more that you can bring people together, the more you can break down those barriers. So this project has been particularly important in doing that with government officials, the military, and just ordinary people meeting up and realising that they have more in common than they have as differences.”

LX Project Manager Dr. Neville Styles says over eight thousand people in Belize and Guatemala have benefited from the project, which began in 2003. He says collaboration between countries and agencies has been key.

Dr. Neville Stiles, Language Exchange Project Manager
“We have a board of directors comprising of different government representatives from the different ministries, particularly the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Education, Health, and also representation from the OAS Adjacency Zone Office. This is particularly important because a lot of the success of our project has been precisely because all these people are working together to take decisions as to what we do on the project.”

As the Guatemalans graduated today at Price Barracks, members of the B.D.F. are in Guatemala City taking Spanish classes as part of the exchange. For the B.D.F., hopes are high that the language classes will breed better relations between the two countries.

Col. Stephen Heusner, Deputy Commander B.D.F.
“For all the programmes that we have had, with all the groups in Guatemala and Belize, we are hoping that when the people go away the friendships that have been developed would continue, that the communications that we have with each other will be easier across the border.”

And how much can students really learn about a language, or a country, in two weeks? Enough to make a good start, says one workshop facilitator.

Gabriela Guerra, Workshop Facilitator
“From day one they are speaking sentences in both languages, and that way at the end of the two weeks they get a flavour, a taste of the other language. But at the end of the two weeks they are able to give a personal presentation. The cultural presentations, as you can see, are in English for the Guatemalans and Spanish for Belizeans and that way I can say at the beginning it was supposed just to be… but now at the end of the two weeks you see wonders, unbelievable. You have to be there to really see it.”

Dr. Neville Stiles
“I would certainly go out today through Belize and government workers and other people working in the sphere of agencies and so forth would express their interest to us at the adjacency zone if they wish to study Spanish because we do have that possibility to teach Spanish to them.”

Colonel Stephen Heusner
“A lot of misunderstandings that people have on the border are because people are not talking to each other. And so through programmes like this we hope that we could set those foundations for peace and prosperity later on.”

Karla Heusner reporting for News Five.

Eighty-five Guatemalan government workers also graduated today in the adjacency zone from an English class. The British Government is scheduled to continue funding the Belize-Guatemala Language Exchange Programme until March of 2006, but the British High Commissioner told News Five he hopes to make a good case for its continued support.

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