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Feb 8, 2019

The Benefits of a Migrant Community: Spanish Lookout

An O.A.S. 2015 reports shows that Belize is the Central American country that has had the highest immigration since the early 1980’s. The foreign-born population in 2013 represented a little over fifteen percent of Belize’s total population – about sixty percent from Guatemala and El Salvador. Belize has long been sought after by groups of people looking for opportunities.  Today, there are entire communities built by immigrants – one such community is Spanish Lookout. They have some of the most recognizable brands which supply commodities for most of the country. But some of these big businesses today started out small – with just a handful of immigrants who were welcomed to Belize. Reporter Andrea Polanco was in Spanish Lookout today to find out more about the economic benefits of these immigrant founded businesses.

 

Frank Barkman, Founding Member, Quality Poultry Products

“I think a lot of people wouldn’t have come if they had known it was so difficult. I mean it was the hardships that followed after we came. It was a complete different setting. We had no idea what it was like to go directly into the jungle and try to make a living.”

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Frank Barkman and his family were some of the first Mennonites who came to settle in the then British Honduras way back in the late 1950’s. Thousands of Mennonites left their homes in parts of Russia and Canada to live in Mexico.  From there they went looking for good soil in a welcoming country with better opportunities. They found that here in Belize and decided to stay.

 

Frank Barkman

Frank Barkman

“Our parents were looking for freedom; religious freedom as well. We felt very welcomed by the government. They were willing to let us in.”

 

Barkman and hundreds of other Mennonite immigrants settled and formed  Spanish Lookout. It is arguably the most productive community in all of the country – built through the work and skills of these immigrants. Barkman is one of the founding members of Belize’s leading poultry producer Quality Poultry Products. It produces thirty-thousand pounds of poultry every day – and Jacob’s son, Raymond Barkman, oversees this operation which employs over four hundred people. And what started as a dream for a group of Mennonite immigrants materialized into a multi-million dollar business giving Belizeans the chicken for their rice and beans.

 

Raymond Barkman

Raymond Barkman, General Manager, Quality Poultry Products

“The chicken companies as you heard, they were still importing a lot of chicken. There was nothing local and then people started but it didn’t work. At that point nobody believed that Belize would ever become self-sufficient in chicken; it was gonna be a group effort to spread chicken. Where that is interesting is that not only did quality poultry create poultry industry, but it created the culture of chicken in Belize. I mean this all started from scratch. The mentality in my head when we were growing up is that this is something that we do. We make sure we contribute and not take. That was the foundation from the beginning.”

 

Today, Spanish Lookout supplies most of the country with poultry, dairy products, vegetables, and other goods. Other Mennonites formed cooperatives and businesses also contribute to Belize’s economy. One such business is the Western Dairies – the country’s only commercial dairy producer. Known for their ice-cream, milk, and other dairy products – this company employs more than two hundred people. But it was a small mom and pop shop founded in 1967 by fourteen farmers and business men who had relocated to Belize from Mexico.

 

Henry Wiebe

Henry Wiebe, Production Manager, Western Dairies

“If all the products that we are making here now would be imported then we would be one point five million dollars worth of products being imported a month that we are producing locally. So, all he people who are in Spanish Lookout and have a farm can sell their milk and make a living off of it which then gives the farmers that have grains to sell more grains because they feed grains to the cows. Also the surrounding villages around here, we have quite a few villages that have started a milk farm from the people around us and they are booming too. They are getting quite big already – we have about forty percent of our milk coming from non-shareholders.”

 

And while these businesses were started with the labour and innovation of immigrants, they will tell you that they are as Belizean as they come.

 

Raymond Barkman

“Look, we were made here in Belize. This is our home. This is our country and everything we do is always the best.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


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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