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Sep 3, 2019

Graham Creek – a year later!

Last year we took you on a journey to Graham Creek in Toledo. We went along with the Belize National Teachers Union to see firsthand the hardship teachers in Graham Creek faced. We showed you the story of two men, local heroes to the people of Graham Creek. We walked in the shoes of Principal Jose Cuc and teacher Germuel Choco for one day and it was no joke. It was a brutal journey of seven miles in and seven miles out to access the village; teachers were sleeping in the classrooms because they didn’t have a teacher’s house. That’s almost one year ago.  On Monday we went back to take some help for the school and find out how things have been going. Our News Five team Andrea Polanco and Chris Mangar travelled south to Graham Creek, along with donors Alicia and Korie Williams of Hearts of Christ Ministry, as well as local manager for government schools Walter Garbutt, politician Dennis Garbutt, and NEMO. This time our news team took a different route – hoping for an easier walk, but as they found out – while it was shorter travel time – it was more like a swim and slip and slide in a swamp to get to the village. Here’s a look of how the first day of school went for the children in Graham Creek.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

On Monday was the first day of the new school year at Graham Creek Government School. These thirty-two smiling faces are excited to be back in class. But some of those smiles are because this first day back is an extra special one for them. They have visitors bearing gifts. This doesn’t happy everyday in Graham Creek, as a matter of fact, it has probably never happened for this southernmost village located deep inside the forest along the Sarstoon in Toledo. The Hearts of Christ Ministry gifted each student with a brand new back pack filled with school supplies for the school year; the Ministry also gave footwear and uniforms. These are just one donor’s gifts to the school as it reopened its doors on Monday – and it couldn’t have come at a better time:


Jose Cuc

Jose Cuc, Principal, Graham Creek Government School

“It will make a big difference. Like, sometimes, I have to buy books and pencils for the children and I have to give them. Now, I don’t have to do that anymore. Thanks to the business community. I am thankful. Only God can bless them. It will help them in their learning especially that we got a new printer and that will ease a lot of work on us because this is a multi-grade school. The residents they are very excited because when we send the news that gifts are coming they are very happy.”


Since we visited Graham Creek last October, we have kept in touch with the school. You’ll recall the principal and teacher’s call for help. Over the past few months, we reached out to the public for help and we got a few donations. Fultec Systems Limited gifted a much needed printer, an extra toner and water bottles. The BTB also donated bottles and some school items for the students. We gave a bag of classroom supplies for the teachers to use and the FFB donated footballs for playtime.


Jose Cuc

“Thanks very much, Miss Andrea. I compliment you a lot and your cameraman. I know it is difficult to reach in Graham Creek but I hope to build a relationship so that next year we can see better things.  Basically, it is the children. It is not us. We want to improve their lives so that they can have a better future. I am looking at it like that. So, thanks very much and thanks to the business community also.”


This time around we journeyed up the Sarstoon River for over an hour and a half. Businessman Dennis Garbutt provided a boat to transport the donations. The boat took us up through the Graham Creek where we met the villagers who carried the donations on their backs. And that journey, unlike the scenic boat ride, was rough. We walked and at times got stuck in swampy thick mud and vines – slipped and fell on some make-shift bridges made out of fallen logs. The locals made it look easy – for us, the visitors, it was brutal. I swore to never return to Graham Creek because the first route was tough – but on Monday I was there again with sticks and helping hands to guide me because we needed to get this help to the school. But this is an everyday reality that the residents of Graham Creek face. They have two choices if they want to enter or exit the village: they must navigate the Sarstoon in a dory, traverse this swamp, followed by a hike; or they can do like we did last year – a journey of several hours through a thick forest of countless flooding creeks and rough terrain. Regardless of which route you choose the journey to Graham Creek is almost impossible to do on most days.


Jose Cuc

“It’s rough; both ways you take it, it is kinda rough. So, that is the reason why we are asking the Prime Minister of Belize to look at our need for a road. Some of the kids don’t have access to secondary education. It is a need for them and that is why I lobby on their behalf. I register about seven kids going to Corazon this year but now actually only one is going. One of the parents is fortunate and so the others will stay behind. So, if the Ministry can look into it. If they can get some assistance with food and shelter then at least they go. They have the potential. I have seen people in the past that didn’t go. They had the interest but they couldn’t make it.”


Andrea Polanco

“From when we came last October – to now – the difficulty of that journey – it hasn’t changed?”


Jose Cuc

“It has not changed. It is always the same. I keep telling people it will never change unless a road is built there. So, we are calling on the PM to look at these things because if Machakilha can get then maybe we can get also.”


And while the conditions in Graham Creek are not likely to change overnight –and the school still needs a lot of support – since our last visit, exactly eleven months ago, there have been some small changes to celebrate. The school received some tanks to get running water to the village; they have also received flush toilets. And perhaps, one of the biggest accomplishments is the teachers’ quarters. The last time we were here, the principal and teacher were sleeping inside the classrooms because they didn’t have a place to live, but earlier this year their brand new teachers’ quarters was constructed.


Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.


Digi has committed to assist the school with some funds to get school supplies. Among other donated items, the school also received a sewing machine to be used to make uniforms for the children.

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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