Restore Belize targets socioeconomic issues in gang areas
The Apprenticeship program is but one on the frontline of combating the malaise and the social ills that are affecting youths across the country and in particular in Belize City. The national effort is headed by Restore Belize which is tasked with sustaining the peace between rivaling gangs within the Old Capital. And despite the recent murders of two gang leaders and other gang affiliates, for the first quarter of the year, the agency says that the truce program is formidable and strong. And while some may say that the truce is not effective, since it has not dented the murder rate, Restore Belize says quite the contrary. Executive Director, Mary Vasquez, says that the truce program has provided access in order for government agency to target social and economic issues within those gang related communities.
Mary Vasquez, Executive Director, Restore Belize
“I have to say that we have been gratified by the level of communication and engagement that we have enjoyed with the different neighborhoods. It is unfortunate that even so there have been deaths, there have been increasing tensions since January and there is no way for us to predict when we finish mediation, when we complete our day’s work what will pass during the night. We depend on the goodwill of the people with whom we are working. And I have to say that we have up to this day, continually received signs of goodwill and we’ve received affirmations and confirmations of continued interest in the peace process. Now the other part of it is that because we now have this access into the neighborhoods, we are able to work on some of the underlying social or economic conditions that create vulnerabilities in these neighborhood and I speak specifically about some of the issues of poverty and lack of access to education. And we are working to try to ensure that we can increase access to education for the people in these neighborhoods and we encourage people to identify to us young persons in their neighborhoods who are not in school, [but] need to be in school and where we can, we get them back into school. We have also been able to get persons in these neighborhoods sign up for the food pantry and the boost programs which are run through the ministry of human development. So the idea is that through the truce—when we have that level of communication and when we have that break that peace gives us to get in there—we want the government to get in there and provide access to social services for communities that in reality have been socially neglected for decades. We as Restore Belize and the truce team which includes CYDP, we cannot afford at any point drop the ball. We cannot be the ones to say no, no more. We do depend on the goodwill of the men on the streets and they have reaffirmed to us that they do intend to keep this truce process going.”