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Jun 21, 2005

Times hard in Santa Martha

Story PictureThe tiny village on the Old Northern Highway hit the headlines last week when media reports highlighted the death of a child due to malnutrition. This week News Five’s Jacqueline Woods took a trip up the road to Santa Martha to see the situation for herself… and what she found is a type of poverty that may open the eyes of most urban Belizeans.

Raquel Moreno, Principal, Santa Martha Govt. School
?Everybody believes that everything is good you know, everything is good, but I am making it known, no nothing is good here at school you know. We have to try, we have to push these children. These children are the ones that are suffering. They are already suffering at home with the conditions that they have.?

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
This is Santa Martha Village, a largely forgotten community, situated along the Old Northern Highway in the Orange Walk District. The population of around five hundred is made up mostly of Central American immigrants. The residents make their living by farming fruits and vegetable.

Luis Rodriquez, Chairman, Santa Martha Village
?If you no plant, you no eat. You have to plant to survive because it is bush. We do not live in town we live in the bush.?

It?s a challenge that has contributed to the village?s poverty and has affected its most vulnerable residents…the children. A week ago four-year-old Kimara Rodriquez was buried after she died from what doctors believe to be sepsis due to malnutrition. However, the girl?s grandmother does not believe Kimara was malnourished; instead she cites a history of medical problems that may have contributed to her death.

Gertrude Pasqual, Grandmother
?She born with the jaundice and they say that she went into fits and fever too, and [from] they changed the blood she can?t walk, can?t talk, nothing, only creep around. And after that she suffered with a fever and it look to throw her into a fit and that was before this one here, so that dah the only thing I could say.?

Rueben Sutherland, Pres., Confrontation Youth Group
?The fact show that, the doctors stated on the paper that the child died from malnutrition. We cannot run from that, that?s what the doctor state, so that is a fact. Honestly I have been in the village a couple of times, I have seen some poor children, honestly I see some child that I practically don?t think they have eaten three meals like other children in the country would have done.?

In April school community liaison officers from the Ministry of Education conducted a survey among thirty-six schools in the Orange Walk District. The study revealed that thirty-four percent of the students at Santa Martha Government School are in need of assistance.

Raquel Moreno
?We would tend to send to the shop to buy a juice, buy a biscuit and give it to them. But apart from that, we cannot extract a lot of things from the children, you know, because they don?t come and tell us what is happening at home. We just have to be very observant and see what is taking place.?

?They don?t have any hopes of going to high school even though some of them have the potential, because parents would say the commuting, going out costs. Then they have to provide food or get a place for them to stay, they are in no condition to do that so the children know that they will finish at standard six.?

But even those years in primary school will be tough. Last October, one classroom had to be abandoned after its roof became infested with rat droppings that affected the students? health.

Raquel Moreno
?The urine was so saturated in the wall that no wonder when we go in there, one hour or half session you know, one session for the day, by midday we are all sneezing, coughing, itching, you know.?

A makeshift shed was erected outside to hold classes. Although it was intended to be only a temporary move, eight months later the boys and girls are still without a classroom.

Raquel Moreno
?We have gone through all types of weather conditions. Sun, rain, the pollination of the trees gave us allergies you know, the cold, all those conditions.?

In April a supervisory team from the Ministry of Education visited the school. And while the group was inspecting the building a piece of zinc covering the shed almost collapsed on top of the children.

Raquel Moreno
Then they realize what situation we were going through, and I told them, you are here, please submit a report, I have been telling you, but its nothing like when you see it you know and see the need.?

Recent rainy weather has forced the children to move from under the shed to the veranda where classes have been taking place. According to the school?s principal, Raquel Moreno, while it is mostly the standard four and five classes that are being affected, the entire school building which is a designated hurricane shelter needs to be repaired.

Raquel Moreno
I want them to fix the building, but do us a good work. If they cannot afford to remodel, fill in those blocks, you know, put a chain, put a good roof, put a good ceiling, give us electricity, see that the windows, so that we can have a good classroom environment for the children.?

Moreno says they have been promised that by the time school reopens in September the repairs will be completed. In February, a group of young men and women got together to help make a difference.

Rueben Sutherland
?The youth group is trying to help the community, help the young people. The main objective is to target the young people of Orange Walk, making them better and stronger citizens of Belize, of tomorrow, trying to help them learn a trade so that they can do better for themselves and not depend on the government or people to help, so they can be self employed.?

The recent drought affected many of the village crops making it even more difficult for families to earn a living. Jesus and Leopold Pintado were hampered by the dry as well as disabilities. The couple says that sometimes they are forced to go without meals for as long as three days.

Jesus Pintado, Resident, Santa Martha Village
?I want things for make I eat because I no have nobody to help me, nobody I got. I got my son, but he cannot help me because he got his woman.?

Leopold Pintado, Resident, Santa Martha Village
?Sometimes I noh have no food fi eat, sometime I have to go cut some plantains and bring it and cook it with coconut milk and that?s all we could eat and some lee fish when I ketch in the pond, but the pond done dry in this weather. In this weather it done get dry, sometime I find a lee bit a things fi bring, I can?t do no better, see.?

Luis Rodriquez
?You cannot get crop because we noh have well for the farming because most of the people live in farming back here. That is the problem in Santa Martha right now.?

A campaign has been launched to bring assistance to the families in need through the youth group and the Orange Walk Education Office. The business community is being asked to donate clothing, shoes, school supplies, and food. Jacqueline Woods for News Five.

On a more positive note, all of the Santa Martha Standard Six students will be graduating. The question, however, is just how many of the thirteen young men and women will be able to attend high school.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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