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Jul 28, 1999

City’s poor encouraged to take advantage of assistance programs

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Politicians will tell you Belizeans are most vocal about the need for more jobs and affordable housing. But while the low to middle income families clamor for more government programs and swarm the ministries to take advantage of those already in place, there are thousands of others who have given up trying to get help. These people are so poor they don’t know where the next meal is coming from, or how they will survive another rainy season in their leaky home connected to the rest of the world by a maze of “London bridges”. Are they to blame for their circumstances or have they somehow fallen through the cracks of the larger society? Tonight News Five looks at the factors contributing to poverty in Belize and how the poor can help themselves get a better life.

The Social Development Department says it is estimated that around 33 percent of Belize’s population lives below the poverty level. That’s one third, or about seventy thousand people in need. If those figures aren’t an eye opener, a tour of some of the most depressed areas of the southside of Belize City certainly is.

Odessa Orosco

“I wouldn’t say that I no have life hard, hard, hard. I have life bad because I no have food to time and my babies want food and sometimes I no know what to do because sometimes I go crazy like when I no have no food.”

Thirty year old Odessa Orosco is the mother of three children ages five to twelve years old. For several years Orosco, who lives near the B.E.L. plant by the BelChina Bridge, has been struggling to make ends meet.

Odessa Orosco

“When I go out to look for a job, I don’t get the job that I want because I no gone through college. I gone from baby class to standard four and I have a little bit of understanding and everything. I can’t type, write or nothing but I could clean houses; I could clean offices. If I could get a job like that I no mind curtail myself and see that my children get what they want.”

Right now Orosco makes some money by doing laundry and babysitting at home. Her son, twelve year old Christopher Bowman, instead of enjoying his summer break, is out shining shoes to help the family buy food and the supplies he and his two younger sisters will need to attend school in September.

Christopher Bowman, 12 Years Old

“I have to try to make business to buy my school things right cause we were trying hard. I done get my school bag done pay for. So I try hard on my little shoe shining and so.”

Jacqueline Woods

“There are many factors that lead to poverty. And while we may be quick to judge the families who are poverty stricken, we are advised that unless you have experienced it, there is no room for criticism.”

Lillette Barkley Waite, Councilor, CITCO

“I tend to hear, oh if they want to, they could find a job. If they want to, they no have to do this. If they want to… But until we walk in those shoes, we need to stop and really think. Walk one day in the pair of those shoes and then maybe we can understand what goes on in the life of someone who is deep in poverty.”

Rosalie Peon

“It gets so bad that sometimes you just want to pack up and go; like it gets crazy cause everything just get tight, hard, hard, hard, hard.”

Terese Neal

“Really bad, you know, very bad mostly for people like me and the kids cause sometimes it now gets to the stage that I don’t have to give them. When I no have to give them it frustrates me; me the mother, how to find it to give them?”

Lisa Flowers

“It’s hard cause I no have job. Right now I have a boyfriend who isn’t working. I have a son, his father is in prison. It’s hard.”

But as hard as the situation is, there are several steps impoverished families can take to uplift themselves. Lillette Barkley Waite is a City Councilor who is presently working on a Literacy Program for the council’s employees. As someone who has worked extensively with poor families, she sees one of the main causes of poverty as the lack of education.

Lillette Barkley Waite

“People might disagree with me but I do feel that if a person is not educated, that person is not able to go out and seek employment that will allow them to earn a salary to live a halfway decent life. If you are not able to pay rent; if you are not able to buy a piece of land; if you are not able to build a house of your own, you are then left to just scrabble and scrape with whatever you have got.”

Dickie Bradley, Minister of Housing, Urban Renewal and Development says government has put in place several initiatives to alleviate the problem. But he is realistic about the size of the problem.

Dickie Bradley, Min. of Housing, Urban Renewal and Development

“For poor Belize let us be clear this is a third world country. This is a poor country. We have a long way to go. There are some basic things that must be tackled and are being tackled by the government. They go a long way to dealing with the question of poverty.”

Bradley says government has embarked on a major housing scheme that is affording Belizeans, earning less than a thousand dollars a month, with a home. However, he says the government can only do so much and poor Belizeans have to become motivated to take the responsibility of preparing themselves to the point where they can live decently.

Dickie Bradley

“Our people must fight the resistance of sitting at home and watching the television and come up with ideas how they can form cooperatives, how they can get into groups, how they can access the family’s energies and abilities to do several things.”

Lillette Barkley Waite

“Start accepting themselves for who they are then embark on a mission to start self training. Use whatever opportunities that are out there to gain whatever knowledge they can. And where there is not, try to find avenues to help themselves in gaining some kind of skill which will then empower them to get them out of the situation they are in.”

To help people in all walks of life learn to read, a literacy campaign is being carried out throughout the country. Coordinator Andy Palacio says rural people are taking advantage of the program but more people in the city need to admit they can’t read and do something about it. He says learning to read enhances self-esteem and gives people the motivation to make other improvements.

Andy Palacio, Coordinator, National Literacy Campaign

“It is certainly a step in the right direction because education helps to improve people’s ambition. And once your ambition is at a certain level you would want to rise beyond where your current position is and literacy is definitely a weapon that one can use to work one’s way through life so it is a definite asset.”

Learning to read or acquiring job skills are critical steps towards getting out of poverty. But encouragement and respect from the larger society is also important. Barkley Waite says too often people look down on those who are less fortunate. Instead of pointing fingers, we should be extending a helping hand.

The City Council has been encouraging Belizeans who want to start a business of their own to consider establishing day care centers that would offer both day and night time services. However, the families we spoke with say there should be government day care centers for the under privileged. These centers would assist poor mothers in their job search or while they take classes to gain some skills. There are also a number of programs that government departments and non-governmental organizations have established to help the poor acquire the skills that should bring in some income.

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