Capacity Building among the Garifuna in Belize

Beautiful Belize has been a stimulating and action-packed adventure filled with breathtaking landscapes, flamboyant birds, friendly folks and flavorful, coconut-infused foods.

I am here as a community development and education intern with the National Garifuna Council (NGC), working in the predominately Garifuna coastal communities of Dangriga, Hopkins and Seine Bight. My work revolves around meeting with key stakeholders and hosting community consultations to determine viable and sustainable economic development opportunities based on the needs and interests of locals. I will be compiling community summaries to supplement funding proposals of various projects for the NGC. Part of my work includes planning a youth summer camp and providing environmental education for students. I am living with a traditional Garifuna family in Dangriga town, Stann Creek. Living in a homestay, I am privy to the insider dynamics of a Belizean family. Outside the month of November when people flock here to experience Garifuna National Settlement Day, Dangriga is not considered a desirable tourist destination.

I have met with many key stakeholders working with coastal resilience issues, including politicians, village chairpersons, teachers, students, local business owners, elders and Garifuna youth. I have attended many local events including one held by Oceana on the topic of sustainable fisheries, a presentation by the Belize Women’s Political Caucus and an entrepreneurial business fair at Delille Academy. I was invited by the Gulisi Community Primary School to attend an annual convention hosted by the NGC in the northern village of Libertad, Corozal. This was a very enriching cultural experience for me. Although I was the only non-Garifuna in attendance, I was warmly accepted to participate in all activities including traditional song and dance, a mass, cooking and eating several traditional Garifuna dishes such as darasa with pigtail, hudut, fry jacks and cassava cake. I learned about the various issues and annual progress from executive members of the NGC branches throughout Belize. The experience of this convention is definitely a highlight of my internship thus far here in Belize.

After hearing personal stories from Garifuna elders about the rich cultural history and resilience of their people amidst cultural genocide, I have learned a lot about their strength in perseverance and their adaptive nature. The struggles the Garifuna face here in Belize parallel those of the West Coast First Nations on Vancouver Island; Garifuna share the coastal culture and are inhibited by issues such as land ownership, climate change and the infiltration of western culture into traditional values. I already feel a deep connection to the Garinagu and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Kala Mackintosh, Global Studies, VIU