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Oct 6, 2016

Orange Walk B.N.T.U. Draws Major Crowd for March and Rally

“We shall not moved” – that’s what teachers were chanting in the streets of Orange Walk Town today. Hundreds donning their signature green Tees congregated in the Queen Elizabeth Central Park for speeches before they took to the streets. The parade through Orange Walk Town saw the participation of politicians and other public figures. News Five went up north to cover the march, which marks four days since the teachers haven’t been in the classroom.  Here’s News Five’s Andrea Polanco’s story on all the action that took place:

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Over three hundred teachers and more than a thousand supporters with flags and posters marched through the streets of Orange Walk Town for the B.N.T.U. parade, which was preceded by a spirited rally. And after hours of rallying, the teachers and those in solidarity braved the boiling sun to parade for over a mile.  And President of the local B.N.T.U. branch says that what we see today is a community galvanized by the strike.

 

Otilio Munoz

Otilio Munoz, President, B.N.T.U. Orange Walk

“You can see here so many of our parents came. I am so happy to see them because some of the parents whose children I have taught many years ago, they are around me right here.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Roughly how many people are out here and in that how many are teachers?”

 

Otilio Munoz

“Well, I can say that roughly, I would say about two thousand. Yeah like two thousand people are here. Our membership has grown up tremendously from since we have started the strike. I can say that from four hundred and fifty, I think we are up to six hundred by now. So, we have a lot of new teachers on board. For example, we have Muffles College that hasn’t never been in full force with us. There is Presbyterian School- they were not with us at all- now the whole staff is with us. So, a lot of people are coming on board with us.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Talk to us about the support from the community. I understand A&R is closed. And that is a store owned by a U.D.P. member?”

 

Otilio Munoz

“I think that this pass party politics. I need to say that. I think it is very important that I reiterate what I said this morning. I personally called on the business people, the business community of Orange Walk because I believe that this is town that has always given back to the people. You can see the records when we have fundraising drives and all the media people come out together with the support of the business community. Today, the business community did not fail me; did not fail the teachers that give them business. I want to applaud them because it is good that they come on board with us. Closing their business is what we want to see, that you don’t come and tell us that we are with you, we are in solidarity; you need to show us.  And having A&R as a big enterprise where you know that teachers go and buy every day. Weekends you can see the bags of supplies that they take out from that store. And I think that the least we were expecting from them is their participation, by closing their business to show solidarity with us.”

 

But while businesses close their doors for a day, the teachers haven’t been to the classrooms for almost a week.  But the Orange Walk teachers say that four days without pay is a small price to pay when it comes to the issues they are on strike for.

 

Yadira Cobb, Trial Farm Government School

“I have been hearing different problems in the country for the past two or three years or from before nuh. We were trying to see what the Government has been doing about it and they didn’t do anything. So, now the Union has decided to take it into their own hands and try to strike for our money and the other problems that we have in the country.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now, Ms. Cobb, for how have you been teaching?”

 

Yadira Cobb

Yadira Cobb

“I have been teaching for thirty years.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, you’ve been teaching for thirty years; now is this, perhaps, the worst you’ve seen the issues in the country?”

 

Yadira Cobb

“Well, I think more or less, a little worse than the one before. Not much worse. Because when we striked about ten years ago it was for almost the same reasons- the money and a lot of other social problems. But if we don’t do something now, the country is going to get worse, right? So, I think we need the strike now.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now, it has been four days since you’ve been strike and that means four days without pay. How does this settle with your family? Aren’t they saying, “well, mom, you need to go to work because you are not getting paid?”

 

Yadira Cobb

“Well, my family luckily, we have about six teachers in the family.  My daughter and I have some in-laws and like I said we have to make a stand for it. We have to make a sacrifice. We need to stand firm. The last time they made a strike it was for two weeks. Two weeks we were out of school and then finally we got what we wanted.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Do you think this time around you guys will get what you want?”

 

Yadira Cobb

“Well, hopefully, I would say that at least if we get a little more than half or a written paper with a signature. Then maybe we can decide to go back to school and wait for two or three months for it to go into effect, right? But at least if we get maybe about four or five that we are asking for maybe we go back to school as a union, nuh? We have to make the decision then.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Now earlier this week, the Government sent out two releases saying that they are asking the BNTU to come back to the table and that they are willing to sign the UN Anti-Corruption Convention. Do you think this is progress?”

 

Yadira Cobb

“Well, it is progress. But when I heard that the Prime Minister said that he is going to sign until December, then I said maybe he just wants us to go back to school.”

 

Percival Gideon, San Francisco RC

“I am here as a teacher and as a Belizean; I have seen through the course of the years that our politicians in the Government are doing what they feel like doing. I think the union is not a party politics group. I believe strongly that it is about time unions send strong messages. In 2005, we sent one to the P.U.P. and we are here again to send a message to the U.D.P. in 2016.”

 

Percival Gideon

Andrea Polanco

“Sir, this is day four of the strike and that means four days without pay for you. How does this resonate with your family- you are making a sacrifice?”

 

Percival Gideon

“Indeed, I have my personal commitments to the bank but I am making a sacrifice. I am not making a sacrifice only for my family, I am making a big sacrifice even for Belize. So, I will find ways how to cope because I am certain, I have a daughter who is a teacher, and her salary will be cut. But we have our little savings that will put us on stand because we believe somebody needs to stand and here I am to stand for Belize.”

 

The teachers, students, citizens of Orange Walk were joined by Orange Walk Town Council, cane farmers of the B.S.C.F.A. including Chairman of the Cane Farmers Orange Walk Branch Alfredo Ortega, Leader of the Opposition John Briceño and the head of COLA Geovannie Brackett. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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