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Sep 9, 1998

Profile of new Speaker of House

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On Saturday morning history will be made when for the first time a woman will be chosen to preside over this nation’s most important legislative body, the House of Representatives. But to focus on Sylvia Flores merely as the first woman Speaker, is to do her and all women a disservice… because beyond any considerations of gender lies a remarkable Belizean. I met with her earlier this week in Belmopan.

Sylvia Sarita Flores was born in Dangriga, to Evelyn Avila and Santos Flores. Raised by her stepfather, Bernard Rhys, Flores describes her childhood days as a time when she learned from her parents, that to achieve anything in life, you must first learn to work… and work hard.

Sylvia Flores, Speaker, House of Representatives

“I was disciplined from a very early age by both my stepfather and mother. I learned from very early on that life is duty and that life is responsibility. And from a very early age, my mother and my stepfather instilled that even though I am an only child, my mother kept reminding me that if I’m to make anything of myself, then there are those things that I need to do and that is to work hard. Even up to now, you know, people from my community know me to be a workaholic. I like work and that is predominantly what my childhood has been about, work and disciplined.”

It was advice, that Flores carried with her throughout her primary school days at Sacred Heart and Stann Creek High School where she was valedictorian in 1971. Most of her scholastic achievements are attributed to the many nights her mother encouraged her to simply read a book. Today, Flores believes the minds of Belizean children would be better stimulated by the world of literature than the flickering images on a television screen.

Q: “Who is Sylvia Flores? How would you describe your personality, your character? You seem to be a very serious individual.”

Sylvia Flores

“I am. Perhaps people would know me not to smile too much, but I do smile. Certainly my friends know me to be a person who smiles. You have to really know me, to really know that. Yes, I like fun, jokes. I do crack a few jokes myself.

To say a little bit about my character, I am a personable person. I like people and I like doing things for people. I like to be able to help people to lift themselves up in life, not really doing things for them overall, but being able to help them raise their level or standard of living.”

But lest you think this woman is a soft touch, Flores was quick to point out, that when it comes to duty and responsibility, she takes her work very seriously.

Sylvia Flores

“My parents instilled from very early on, work, responsibility, sacrifice, perseverance, not giving up in the face of many obstacles. That’s what my parents taught me from a very early age and I have learnt how to use all those teachings throughout my life, whether I was at school, primary school, at high school, whether I was working in other jobs that I have done, other than teaching. Those were values I carried throughout my life and I still do.”

Flores was introduced to politics from a very early age. This was probably due to the fact that mother Avila who passed away last year, was a hard working community leader, who became one of the founding members of the People’s United Party in Dangriga.

Sylvia Flores

“You know my mom is largely responsible for it because she was there from a very early age, taking me to public meetings, you know, meeting the politicians. They would come to my house and even when there were really no real understanding of politics, I was there trying to raise a flag.”

After teaching high school Spanish in Dangriga, Flores would go on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Political Science from Hunter College in New York City. After returning home, Flores was commissioned as a Justice of Peace in 1983 and five years later, she made history when she became Dangriga’s first woman mayor. After serving two terms, Flores returned to her beloved teaching. The single mother of thirteen year old Sharonne Ramirez, Flores has also found the time to serve her community as a member of Dangriga’s Crimes Commission. Today, she not only looks forward to taking up her appointment as Speaker of the House, but will also lecture at Stann Creek Ecumenical Junior College.

Sylvia Flores

“You know, life unfolds. You know sometimes it is very rapid, sometimes it is very gradual and as I look back from where I came from. Certainly I do thank God for the ability to have achieved and even at a high school level and to be elected as mayor of Dangriga, certainly I see this new positioning as perhaps a new revelation. I cannot say if it is part of a trend, you know, because you and I know that tomorrow is something that we can’t adequately speak of. We don’t know truly what will unfold; we have to leave that to our Creator, but certainly I do rise up to the new challenges in my life and I hope that I can live up to the expectations people have of this office.”

Q: “How do you feel, knowing that you are the first woman Speaker of the House?”

Sylvia Flores

“Well, certainly I felt that this is a triumph for women in our country and for teachers across this nation. Of course I am not the first teacher assuming this office, but certainly for women, it’s a great triumph. But again too, we must look at the fact that the appointment of Speaker does not over shadow the real struggles of women. You know that there is still a large number of our women, in desperate situations, miserable conditions and if I represent a rising tide, then I have a responsibility to lift those boats that are stuck at the bottom of the sea.”

Sylvia Flores will formally be elected to her post as Speaker at Saturday’s ceremonial opening of the House in Belmopan.

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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