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Nov 1, 2019

Picking Up the Pieces – Overcoming Obstacles as a Youth

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to an education that develops their personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential. Belize is a signatory to the convention, but here, education is a must for children up to fourteen years. It is four years short of the definition that persons are children up until eighteen years of age. We say this, because earlier today we met with Wasani Lino, now twenty years old. Lino is originally from Dangriga; his move to Belize City showed signs of progress, but he eventually fell from the wayside and became caught up in street life. But Lino dusted himself, reformed and through a programme with the Ministry of Education, today he is a successful clerk. Here is his story with Duane Moody.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Meet Wasani Lino – originally from Dangriga, he is a data entry clerk with the Projects Office of the Ministry of Human Development in Belize City. The youngest of six children, he is also a first-year student enrolled at the University of Belize in the social work programme.

 

Wasani Lino

Wasani Lino

“I was born here in Belize City and raised in Dangriga town. I was raised by a single parent, my mother, and during the years, I completed standard six in Dangriga and then I reside to Belize City to complete high school.”

 

But even at only twenty years old, Wasani has had his fair share of life battles as a youth. At the tender age of fourteen, he dropped out of first form at Gwen Lizarraga High School when he picked up his first charge for wounding another student during a fight.

 

Wasani Lino

“Coming into a new environment here in Belize City from Dangriga was a drastic change for me. I had to learn to adapt the Belize City ways because I was pressured by my peers. The pressure was so heavy that I just had to follow. So I became a follower. I came across a fight because of this guy; he was teased and because I am the youngest, he tried to bully on me and I had to defend myself. And at that time, I was the class president, but then I had to defend myself and that led me to a suspension and I lost my president badge. And so I got de-motivated and I started to act like everybody else and so that lead me to be rebellious and being rebellious led me to an expulsion. I got into another fight with the same guy which allowed me to cross the law and the school policy was if you ever receive a charge, then you are no longer a member of the school. I was charged for harm.”

 

Wasani, like many other Belize City youth, got caught up in the juvenile justice system and was sent to the Princess Royal Youth Hostel.

 

Starla Bradley

Starla Bradley, Director, Community Rehabilitation Department [File: April 26th, 2019]

“They’ve either been at risk for committing offenses, have committed criminal or status offenses like uncontrollable behaviour; some of them have been in the Youth Hostel, some have been in the Wagner’s Youth Facility. And so it is often very difficult when a young person becomes involved in the juvenile justice system; quite often they kicked out of school even before they are actually convicted. They end up with a criminal record and that has its own stigma and it is very hard for them to get back in school and find a job.”

 

For Wasani, however, it was a life-changing experience that triggered him to reform after spending four months as a resident minor at the facility. He was exposed to unaccompanied minors, persons with mental health conditions and others, who society may define hardened criminals.

 

Wasani Lino

“The court system assigned me to a social worker and I ended up in the CRD system.  Later on that said year when I got expelled, I got into another fight which led me to be incarcerated.  At first I was remanded from August seventeenth to September twenty-fifth, but unfortunately no van came for me to come down for the court and that repeat itself for four months. And so again I started to point fingers and blame the system; they kept me in that hole. At first, I lost hope; didn’t know what I wanted to do, what will be my next move. How will that position affect me later on?”

 

But even as he reflected and tried to reform his life, he was faced with obstacles – his applications to several high schools were turned down.  At age seventeen, Wasani was still a child and had a right to an education. But there are gaps in the law as it currently stands because education is mandatory up to fourteen and not eighteen. The law also allows for children at age fourteen to be employed and a recent statistic shows that seven in every ten children, who are working, do not go to school and sixty-eight percent of working children are doing child labour.

 

But since 2015, a safety net of sorts was put in place by the Ministry of Education for young persons, like Wasani, who need support.

 

Jermaine Crawford, Coordinator, Gateway Youth Center

“Gateway is an extensive arm of the Ministry of Education, Education Support Services. So we fall directly under that unit which provides support services to youths who are in school and out of school. We also provide support to families. We do counselling with individual students, but also their parents because we find that sometimes the parents do need assistance and many times these parents are—some are on the same page or some are not on the same page with what their children are going through at a particular time.”

 

Duane Moody

“What are the reasons that you find that they are out of school?”

 

Jermaine Crawfor

Jermaine Crawford

“Some are just for financial reasons not being able to pay last year’s fee. Some couldn’t pick up last year’s report card because they don’t have a balance. Some for behaviour; not to return. We are primarily speaking of those schools that really do go the extra mile for youth. So to be put out or to be given a not to return from one of these institutions, sometimes you are looking at extreme behavioural issues.”

 

Forty to sixty percent of the out of school population at Gateway Youth Center would transition to the formal education system—either high school or the ITVET for a trade. Based on the age gap, those enrolled in the programme would transition to the workforce.

 

Jermaine Crawford

“We are not obligated to find payment but because we are a part of the Ministry of Education, support is given in some form. There are also scholarships awarded to students from PWC, Peacework, Collet Education Resource Centre, B.T.L., Social Security. So if they are clients of CRD, they are provided for. So there are avenues and ways to go about it to ensure that they have some form of assistance. Not being able to pay should not be the reason for not accessing high school.”

 

In the case of Wasani, he went on to become an honour student at Maud Williams High School and is now a poster boy for someone who has fallen off the path but with much needed support is back on track.

 

Wasani Lino

“Going back to school, I must say; that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thinking about it, for everybody who experience high school and graduated completely, I now know the feeling. And for those who think that it is impossible; that their age matters or whatever you think is hindering you from going back to school, don’t let anything stop you. Age does not matter; if you have the opportunity, you take advantage.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.


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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