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Dec 10, 1999

ANRI students boycott classes

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Today the Minister of Education Cordel Hyde handed over a computer to the St. Alfonso Roman Catholic School in Seine Bight as a reward for their female volleyball team winning the National Tournament. The Stann Creek Ecumenical College also received a donation of five computers as part of government’s commitment to “prepare students to meet the challenges of the twenty-first Century.” But while the students of Ecumenical will soon be surfing the Internet, some students at the campus formerly known as Lynam, now an agricultural institute, just wish they could flush the toilets or make a phone call at their school. Earlier this week students began to protest the lack of basic amenities at ANRI. Today they held a press conference to draw attention to their plight and demand some action from their Ministry, the Ministry of Agriculture. Complicating matters is the termination of a lecturer who has been outspoken about conditions at the school.

Despite its peaceful and enchanting surroundings, the students and staff have been troubled and concerned about the deplorable conditions at the Agricultural Natural Resource Institute, ANRI formally Lynam College. According to Kenrick Williams, fourth form student, they have been neglected for too long and it is about time action was taken to bring positive change to the high school.

Fredrick Williams, Student, ANRI

“The conditions at Lynam that we the students, as well as the staff, face everyday are basically no running water, no portable water, no electricity. We do not have any form of communication once we have left town to come to school. In case of emergency we have no kind of communication with the town, with the outside world. Thirdly, our classrooms are in a deplorable state. Many times the teachers can’t find dusters to erase what has been written on the blackboards. When it rains the class gets flooded.”

Kenrick Sampson, Student, ANRI

“We the boys at the school, we actually do not have a bathroom to use. Sometimes some guys go by the creek and use it and there is where we get the actual water to cook the food.”

Kenrick Williams

“We also go into the practical in the fields early in the morning, the first thing in the morning. After you are finished with the practical you come up sweaty, you got to go to classroom that way. You do not have the facility to change your clothes.”

The students have lodged a protest by holding a peaceful strike. Today half of the school population of one hundred twenty-one remained at home. Natividad Obando, the interim principal said while he agrees there are some problems, steps are being taken to address them.

Natividad Obando, Interim Principal, ANRI

“We do have all the arrangements for electricity. The solar panel is there. If we can go a little further up you can pick out the solar panels. Right now it is not working. We are replacing some parts and as soon as we replace those parts we will be having solar energy.”

Obando says there is a long-term plan to have the school connected to the main electricity supply on the Southern Highway. As for running water, Obando says they are also improving that system.

Natividad Obando

“What we have been doing ever since we started out actually, I was just there cleaning the vat because the big reservoir is there all the pumping system is in place. What fell down was that the motor that turns the pump broke down and it was not replaced. Right now we are hoping that we get another motor to run that pump and once we run that pump that comes back to normal. In the meantime what we have done is we have placed like a temporary measure, tanks that hold the water in the rainy season. We have been using that as our supply for water for cooking and the sanitation around the place. For drinking water we ask Crystal to bring water for us every week.”

The interim principal would not comment on the decision some of the students have made to boycott classes but some believe the students are being encouraged by Cynthia Ellis-Topsey who was recently terminated as ANRI’s Development Resource Counselor. Kenrick Williams says this isn’t true.

Kenrick Williams

“Why can’t Belize understand that young people are capable of thinking on our own. We are the ones that are living it everyday.”

Jacqueline Woods

“Today a press conference was called at the Dangriga Town Hall so the Lynam students can voice their concern. The students as well are calling on the school board and the government ministries to support them and provide their high schools with the basic necessities needed in order for the institution to operate properly.”

During the press conference many citizens expressed concerns that the protest may be politically motivated and that racism played a part in the removal of Ellis-Topsey. She says her outspokenness and political viewpoint were really the reasons she was fired.

Cynthia Ellis-Topsey

“I have been vocal about things that have been wrong with the school putting them in the context of many of the suffering that people experience in the south of the country. And I also have been active in political issues.

I find the letter very embarrassing in terms of coming from the board because the professional process was not pursued. None of the members of the board are my enemies. We have been friends and colleagues for years especially in the NGO community and never has there been any kind of indication or consultation with any of these members.”

It was also stated at the press conference that contrary to media reports the students do not have a representative on the school’s board.

Kenrick Williams

“We the students of Lynam are doing this simply because we want the Belizean public to recognize what is happening to us here. The Ministry has been giving the impression that all is fine at Lynam and it is absolutely far from that.”

Some of the teachers we spoke with say while they do not disagree with the students expressing their views on the situation at Lynam,

they believe the matter could have been handled differently.

John Bernardez, Teacher, ANRI

“By focusing it through the school, have the students meet as a student body and deal with it as a student body and a problem that is related to the school and the interest of the school on a whole.”

Today, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives in a press release stated that the Ministry believes the disturbances being caused by a few at ANRI are politically motivated. However, the Ministry says they are ready to discuss the matter with all the partners involved.

While some people at the press conference were asking that Obando be removed as principal, he says he is only the interim Principal, and was asked to hold over in August until a permanent principal could be found. Interviews for that post begin December twentieth at the Education Department in Dangriga.

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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