VIU student encourages youth to get proactive in Dangriga, Belize

Working with a vulnerable ethnic group in the Caribbean has put my problem-solving skills, commitment to human development and competency to the test. Travelling to Belize as a scholar rather than a gallivanting backpacker was much more insightful than I had anticipated. One of the biggest differences I can pinpoint is my motive for and the outcome of networking. After several weeks of living in Belize, I found it easy to engage in interesting conversations with the locals, who were always excited to learn that I was here to advocate for the Garifuna, that I was informed of current affairs and that I would be staying for several months. Eventually I began to recognize people on the bus, in different villages and at various events, making me feel that my sometimes uncomfortable efforts to integrate were well worth it.

Traditionally, the Garifuna are agrarian people who live in harmony with the environment and firmly believe in “au bün amürü nu”, meaning “I for you and you for me.” The idea is that if I take care of the environment, it will take care of me, and if I take care of the people around me, then the people around me will take care of me. This prominent Garifuna phrase is all about reciprocity and community. In a country where resources and capacity are limited, the value of community is fundamental. The National Garifuna Council’s camp shares its success with the community. In addition to the many cultural and environmental activities throughout the camp, the youth participated in a beach clean up at a culturally significant park in Dangriga. This gave the youth an opportunity to recognize some of the commonly discarded materials found along the coastline such as straws, food containers and plastic.

The hands-on learning approach of the camp helped empower the youth. It is not only the youth who need more environmental education, but also the teachers and the government ministers, who often lack environmental backgrounds. Targeting the youth is important for increasing resilience as this is the generation who will soon be making the decisions of the future and living with the consequences of climate-induced disaster. For me, the camp was a test of community involvement, networking and youth empowerment. Though capacity is limited, the pride and will of the community is certainly present. 

Building resilience in coastal communities is equally as important for the cultural retention of the Garifuna as it is for the health of the coastal habitats and the provisioning of ecosystem services on which the communities depend. Reflecting on coastal community resilience, I can’t help but add emphasis to the word community. I have learned a lot about the real value of community and how essential it is when addressing resilience. I experienced the reward of community and perseverance. Look within your own communities at how things can be better not only for you, but for your community. Most importantly, be positive about yourself, and put the negative aside!

Kala Mackintosh, Global Studies, VIU