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May 13, 2014

Horizontal Cooperation Exchange on Social Protection focuses on BOOST program

And over at the Radisson, representatives from eight Caribbean countries including the Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Grenada and Dominica are gathered in Belize this week. The high level delegations are here as part of a Horizontal Cooperation Exchange on Social Protection. The focus is Belize’s very own BOOST program, which has drawn the attention of the region. Mike Rudon was reports on the opening of the two-day session.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The information exchange seminar is focused on social protection, specifically Belize’s own conditional cash transfer program, BOOST. With poverty a growing concern in the region, there is increased interest in initiatives which deal with poverty in a meaningful way.

 

Laura Blanco, Social Protection Project Officer, O.A.S.

Laura Blanco

“Given that poverty rates in participating countries range from eighteen percent to thirty-seven percent, it is of the utmost importance for the O.A.S. in collaboration with key partners such as the OECS, UNICEF and UN Women to provide opportunities for the exchange of knowledge and experiences on social protection and in strengthening the institutional capacities in poverty reaction of the ministries of social development. By lending our support to this cooperation exchange, the O.A.S. hopes to contribute to the enhancement of the knowledge-base of participating countries in the development and management of social protection programming.”

 

Ivan Yerovi, Representative, UNICEF Belize

“Social protection plays a vital role in the strengthening the resilience of children and families. Effective social protection helps us achieve greater equity and supports national human and economic development. Well-designed social protection systems give children the opportunity to get to school, learn and develop. Social protection is an effect tool to fight any stigma, discrimination and social exclusion. It empowers the helpless and gives boost to the most marginalized.”

 

Ivan Yerovi

The BOOST program is being highlighted as an example to follow in the region.

 

Judith Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Human Development

“We really started rolling out this program in early 2011. We have I think a solid framework on the ground and we have quite a bit to share in terms of what we’ve learnt and our experiences and many of these countries are just starting that process or are a little younger than we are. And so over the next two and half days, we are really opening up the space to all look at BOOST and use it as an example to talk about how we can put effective programs on the ground.”

 

The program benefits thirteen thousand Belizeans across the nation, and costs government five million dollars annually. It is exactly what the name implies – a conditional transfer. Belizeans who meet certain criteria and conditions receive a monthly payment from government. Children of impoverished families going to, and staying in, school is one of the conditions.

 

Judith Alpuche

Judith Alpuche

“We check, we actually check on this…the education conditionality determine payments. Right now the health conditionality is what we call soft. So we encourage and we check but it is not tied to payment. But the education conditionality is. So if we check along with the Ministry of Education every month; if your child misses school unexcused absence and the child is not going to school eighty-five percent of the time, we cut your benefit by half and the second month, it gets cut completely. But it also triggers a social work response because the point is not to penalize people, but to really have a carrot. So we operate from the model that if the child is not going to school two months, there is something going on and that family may need support. So it triggers a social response.”

 

Alpuche says that the program is designed to be objective and meaningful, which translated means that as much as possible, politics has been taken out of the equation.

 

Judith Alpuche

“What we have done with BOOST is really trying to put on the ground a program that is objective in its target—that is technically sound and objective in its targeting so that we can really focus on ensuring that those who really need it are the ones that get it. We know that it is a transition; it is a paradigm shift in thinking for Belize beucase we believe oh if minister say…what we are trying to do or what we have done really is looking at area reps as a legitimate source of referral along with school principals, along with everybody. And you send someone and they go through the process of screening, and if they meet the criteria, then they are put on the program. If not, we look to see if there is some other program that more meets their needs.”

 

So is the Haman Development Department seeing the hoped for social transformation?

 

Judith Alpuche

“Schools are reporting that the parents are interfacing more, we are seeing better attendance; we are also seeing some registration from certain children because families now know that up to six children—if they are in school—they can get a benefit if the family qualifies. So we are seeing kids going back to school. We are getting wonderful stories from teenage boys who feel proud and empowered that they are actually going to school…has a direct impact on their family’s income because it is tied to attendance. So those are kind of things that are coming out. We hear from the Credit Unions that families are using that steady flow to leverage little loans to buy books, to buy little things to try to get into some little micro-business and stuff. So that’s exactly what we are trying to accomplish here—not only deal with what Minister Hulse said—but also to take people to the other level.”

 

According to Alpuche, the program provides support only, and is not designed to foster dependency. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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