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May 3, 2019

The Long Road to P.S.E. in Southern Belize

Even before dawn this morning, students started their trek to sit part-two of the P.S.E. in southern Belize. There was not even a horse to ride, much less a vehicle to travel in. It was by foot that the primary school students from Machakilha set out to the P.S.E. centre in Corazon, another remote area of the Toledo District.  Despite the challenges that they meet along the dark pathways, often times without a proper breakfast, they are determined to get an education to better themselves and help their families. This morning, the weather held so their journey lasted about two hours before they could get to the exam centre. It will take them just as long to get back home. In the following story, News Five’s Isani Cayetano and cameraman Kenroy Michael took the long journey with the young children. Here’s an inspiring story about endurance in the face of insurmountable odds.

 

For many of us in urban centers across the country, cost and access to quality education are often taken for granted.  With transportation at our disposal and monies set aside to cover tuition and other related expenses, the everyday routine of making it to the roll call is an afterthought.  For five primary school students from the village of Machakilha, the most isolated community in southern Belize, the prospect of higher learning includes the rigors of daily travel to and from this far-flung corner of the Jewel.

 

Today is examination day for Standard Six students across the country.  Their performance in the annual papers which have seen at least three iterations since they were first administered, may determine the high schools that they are eligible to attend in the upcoming academic year.  While his peers in Punta Gorda are still sound asleep, twelve-year-old Alfonso Putul has been roused from his slumber.  It is three a.m. and the household is already alive with activity.  Waking up extremely early is not so much on account of Alfonso’s anxiety, for him and his fellow classmates this is what they must do to get a head start if they are to arrive on time to sit the P.S.E.

 

Alfonso Putul, Resident, Machakilha

“We have to get up early in the morning and then go bathe, then start trekking that road and sometimes when it’s muddy we have to go early and when we reach we are tired.”

 

The geographic distance between Machakilha and Dolores, its nearest neighbor, is roughly six miles.  To get there, residents must traverse a demanding terrain accessible only by foot or horseback.  On Thursday evening, I ventured to the remote village ahead of the predawn commute to Corazon Creek Technical High School where the exams will be sat.  The journey to Machakilha is difficult.  Even by pony-trekking, negotiating this environment is grueling.

 

Arnaldo Putul, 2nd Alcalde, Machakilha

“The condition of the road during the rainy season is the worst part in our life.  From Machakilha to Dolores when it’s really muddy it took us more than two hours walking from that place to the next village and dry season would only take us an hour and a half.  And for us to walk in and out of this community is really challenging for us, especially the kids that are attending high school and for those who would go and sit P.S.E. in Corazon as well.”

 

Traveling with me to get a firsthand experience of the taxing passage is Cristina Coc.  She is the spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance.

 

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, MLA

“We’re here primarily for the purpose of understanding better and getting an in-depth appreciation of the struggle that rural people from the most remote parts of Toledo have to endure to access basic amenities, whether that be healthcare, education or even just being able to go to the urban center, being able to go to Punta Gorda.”

 

For the purpose of this piece, we are focusing on access to education and the plight of young students who are forced to make the four-year sacrifice in pursuit of academic achievement.  The road to entering and completing secondary school, for the children of Machakilha, remains unpaved.

 

Dilia Putul, Resident, Machakilha

“This is my second year in high school, struggling and suffering while going to school because worse when it’s rainy season, it’s very difficult for us, worse when it’s really muddy.  We have to come out here early in the morning and so we kindly ask the government to build us a rock road.  Sometimes I feel sorry for young females too [at] my age, they couldn’t afford to go to school.  But me, I need my education so I need to sacrifice myself for doing this.”

 

Back at Alfonso’s home, an early breakfast is being prepared.  Freshly baked tortillas, chicken sausage and hot coffee ground locally, make up his sustenance for the day.  The journey ahead will draw everything from him; including the Spartan nourishment he would have had a few hours earlier.

 

Alfonso Putul

“Every time we are tired when we reach and it’s hard to focus on your work when you are tired, but I know that the Ministry of Education found a place for us to stay in Dolores but I choose not to go because I want you and the government to see what we always go through.  And not only during PSE we need help, because later on I will be going to high school.  If the government still [has] not built our road then we are going to suffer again.”

 

Just before first light, three of the five students sitting the second half of the Primary School Examinations set out on foot from Machakilha.  They will meet up with other pupils in Dolores where they will board a passenger bus to Corazon Creek.

 

Isani Cayetano

“The road to the Primary School Examinations 2019 has taken me deep into the wilderness of Toledo District where a class of five students has made the trek from Machakilha Village to Dolores and on to Corazon to sit their P.S.E. part-two.”

 

Among them is fifteen-year-old Jahimer Quib.  He lost his father at a very young age and has had to relocate to Machakilha with his older sister and her husband.

 

Jahimer Quib, Resident, Machakilha

“I was born in San Vicente Village.  Well, my dad died then my brother-in-law adopted me and I come here to study because for my mom it’s difficult because she was left alone and then she went to San Miguel and I stayed here.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Do you feel confident at this point that you will do your best and you will perform to the best of your ability and try to pass the exam?”

 

Jahimer Quib

“Yes, I will try my very best and try to do good.”

 

There to help them is Arnaldo Putul.  Not only is he the second alcalde in the village, he is also a teacher at the multi-grade school.

 

Arnaldo Putul

“The children are interested in education.  They are willing to take what needs to be taken by them, especially when they have to leave early in the morning.  Children are always excited, always willing to come out and learn and test out their knowledge out there.  But the hard part is when we have to walk and these children would get a little cut on the foot and sometimes they would scream and run if they see snakes and scorpions as well.  So these are really the dangers that we face here in Machakilha.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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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