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Mar 22, 2018

The B.N.T.U. Marches Again in Belmopan

As the budget debate took place inside the National Assembly, across Independence Hill at the civic centre, teachers were also having their say. Their call was for an end to the violence against women and children. Among the thick crowd of educators, were victims and families of persons living with the pain of abuse. Powerful testimonials were delivered to break the chain of violence after which the teachers took their message in front of the National Assembly. The force of the union was felt both in their message and their numbers. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

As early as eight a.m. today, hundreds of teachers from across the country converged on Belmopan for a march that took them from Comprehensive High School around the Ring Road and culminating at the Civic Center. Their message was loud and clear—stop the violence against women and in particular children, who are increasingly victims sexual abuse and violence. Senator and National President of the Belize National Teachers Union, Elena Smith says it’s not political, but personal to teachers whose children are victims.

 

Elena Smith

Elena Smith, National President, B.N.T.U.

“As we continue to say, crime and violence is everybody’s business. And so this is not about B.N.T.U., but this is about B.N.T.U. taking a stand on what has happened and showing our solidarity and support. And telling the entire country that we are willing to join forces to ensure that we have this crime under control. We must be the ones to show them the way. If we are going to be teaching them, then we don’t just teach them in the classrooms, but we teach them by our actions as well. And so this is one way of teaching them that as citizens of this country, you must not tolerate nonsense and we must stand up against things that are not right.”

 

Powerful testimonials were shared from the podium as several teachers broke their silence as domestic abuse survivors; some having been victims of rape. One Maskal teacher, Sherima Graham of Our Lady of the Way R.C. School in Ladyville spoke of her life-threatening abuse back in 2015, prefaced by the recent rape on a pair of students by their cousin. She says she had to show up and speak out as a voice for her children so that others in similar situations are encouraged to say something.

 

Sherima Graham

Sherima Graham, Teacher

“My heart ached for them and it ached for all the others that I taught over the years and I know that they have been suffering abuse—sexual and physical abuse. I know that they needed someone to stand up for them. I wanted to make sure that when I taught my babies and I tell them that if someone touches you inappropriately come to teacher. I didn’t want it to be a lie and if I sat in my classroom today while this rally was happening, I would have been lying to those students when I looked them in their faces and tell them come to me, I am going to stand up for you, I am going to make sure that you are safe. And I cannot lie to those five year olds that I teach every day. If management wants to take my eighty-five dollars, let them take it.”

 

These traumatic experiences have adverse effects on the psyche—not only of surviving victims, but also their loved ones. Seven-year-old Tyler Savery was murdered back in 2016 in a double homicide in the Old Capital. His mother, Shakira Young, says her faith has been tested since then, having made several attempts to take her life. Although she has found comfort that her baby boy is now her guardian angel, she still questions the mental state of perpetrators.

 

Shakira Young

Shakira Young, Mother of Tyler Savery

“I sat many days and I asked who was to blame? Was it me? Was it the gunman? Was it the police? Was it the people who were around who refused to say that they saw? I could have blamed everybody and for a while I blamed myself because I felt as a parent it is my duty to protect my child.  I had days I couldn’t eat; I had nights I could not sleep; I attempted to kill myself twice and that is a painful truth and if it was not for God, I wouldn’t have been here to speak to you guys today. I try to fathom what it was like to walk up and see a child and I open fire. I try to think what was in that person’s head to have him pull that trigger and end a child’s life. Could he be sane? Could he be on drugs? I stand here today and I grieve because if our children continue to die, our nation continues to die. If our children die, Belize dies.”

 

Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis Barrow also addressed the gathering, saying that her office will champion for the safety of women and children. That includes the installation of trained counselors at the schools and further work on legislation to prosecute perpetrators of these heinous crimes.

 

Kim Simplis Barrow

Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children

“As Special Envoy for Women and Children, as a mother, as citizen of Belize and of the world, it is so very important that we join forces; that all organizations come together to address these issues in a unified manner. We know today that government cannot do it alone.  A couple years ago we brought out this good touch bad touch book and we did a skit along with NICH to show children, to educate children; to empower our teachers, to empower our parents. And those are some of the things that we have to continue doing. We have to work with our judicial system to ensure that proper case management happens so that these perpetrators can be prosecuted.”

 

Just after one p.m., the teachers then moved over to the steps of the National Assembly Building where day-one of the budget debate was ongoing inside. Chanting for justice and an end to corruption, their cries did not fall on deaf ears. They were heard by P.U.P. leader John Briceño and his area reps. Briceño says he supports the teachers’ protest because he too has lost a relative to gun violence. He says the solution to crime is not political.

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, P.U.P. Leader

“The initiative that the teachers have taken today is something that we should all support. Coming out to bring attention to the issues that especially our children are facing and to ensure that it is more than just words, but taking action and they are demanding action not only from the government, but from everybody, even ourselves in the Opposition and also community leaders, the churches everybody. We need to stand up and to stand up for our children; they are the future of our country.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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