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Apr 25, 2018

RESTORE Belize Discusses ‘Metamorphosis’ of City Youth

In the past five years, with funding from UNICEF and other U.N. agencies, the Taiwanese and U.S. Embassies and others, the RESTORE Belize program has undertaken a long-term project called “Metamorphosis.” As the name suggests, the idea is to transform lives, building resiliency in ninety-two male children at high risk through targeted interventions at the school and home level. The good news is that most of those young men, between the ages of ten and fourteen at the time the program started, are now largely successful and staying out of the reaches of the gangs and other bad influences. The bad news is that with an ever increasing murder rate, much more needs to be done, and the next generation is already suffering intense complex trauma that will take at least a generation if not many years to undo. News Five’s Aaron Humes takes an in-depth look at the findings by the RESTORE Belize team in this report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

After five years in the trenches during the single bloodiest time in Belizean history, the masterminds behind the Metamorphosis Programme are now in a position to count their blessings one by one – ninety-two of them in all.

 

Mary Vasquez

Mary Vasquez, Director, RESTORE Belize

“I suppose on an individual level, success is improved behavior; improved academic performance; improved relationships in the home – having the home be a more supportive environment, and social connections – creating social connections for the children and the families to extracurricular activities. We’ve had a lot of children join Police Cadets – they love Police Cadets. We’ve had them work with community policing officers and sports programs they join, that sort of thing. So those have been successes that then, as one of the social workers pointed out, we’ve had children now who have been on this program, they joined this program when they were twelve or ten, and are now on the point of graduating from high school. That’s a huge success in this context.”

 

A few didn’t make it, but it was certainly not for lack of trying by the dedicated team led by Mary Vasquez, mental health therapist Jenny Lovell and counselor Tina Cuellar. What they had not expected, says Lovell, was to have to take a hands-on approach with counseling and therapy for both youths and their parents beaten down by the daily struggle and taking it out on each other.

 

Jenny Lovell

Jenny Lovell, Mental Health Therapist (Retired)

“At one of the workshops, group, I remember one mother – she used to call the child “dummy” and this little boy was at the bottom of his class. She sat there and started crying, and when she started crying, the other mothers started crying but they also started talking. As they talked they were unloading a lot of stuff; and as we went through the weeks of group counseling those mothers changed fundamentally. That little boy she was calling dummy went to the top of his class; the top. He won the prize for Standard Six and went into high school, and was number one, first in his class for Form One, Form Two, Form Three and now he’s getting ready to graduate. So, working with the parents – it’s got to be the triage. We have to work with the parents, we have to work with the teachers, we have to work with the child.”

 

Though by no means a professional diagnosis, Lovell issued a warning about the level of trauma, mental health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder witnessed in crime-afflicted areas. This is a result of the tug-and-war between the gang element and those seeking positive influence. According to Vasquez, they are seeking the government’s help in advancing a special curriculum, hopefully to be rolled out later this year, on tackling the unique issues in areas overrun by violence.

 

Mary Vasquez

“We are documenting this and we are at the final stages of having that documentation of this as an intervention model. But I’m not going to say this is the final and ultimate solution; this is not the magic bullet. This is one approach to making schools a safer place for children, and to working with families to make the home a safer place for children. But there is no way any one part of this can work in isolation of the overall national response. So contextually, yes, it’s very important, it’s a model, and we are documenting everything so that it can be scaled up.”

 

And as Lovell reminds, the stakes remain high.

 

Jenny Lovell

“Our children are prisoners of their environment; they’re prisoners. Dehn pikni can’t cross over streets, can’t cross over this so they are stuck in their yards most of the time, on a cul-de-sac or in a little alley, that’s all they can do. They can’t cross over. They’re prisoners and their parents now are prisoners too.   I saw a picture, I was working with some guys – if you remember I worked at prison, many, many years ago. And I knew these guys. You know they’re all dead? Every one of them is dead. And that was my motivation for wanting to work with the program, because to see sixty-some boys dead, all of them? We have to work with boys. I know people say what about the girls? You know, we need to work with girls but right now the boys are the ones dying. So we have to work with our boys.”

 

Reporter

“And the ones killing?”

 

Jenny Lovell

“…and the ones killing.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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