We may be a poor country and a small country, but I am proud to say that I am part of a community-owned and -managed program that is founded on the idea that being poor and small is no excuse. We can stand up for ourselves and do things for ourselves.
This program is focused on the children of the inner city of Belize City, and it is operated completely by members of that inner-city community. The aim is simple. We know that we need to get our children off street corners and into school. We need to keep them in school. And we need to help them to achieve the way other children achieve, to graduate, and to find employment.
We realized that the children of this community were way behind where they should be in certain areas. We needed a space to be able to spend time with these children, helping them to progress the way they needed to progress.
We identified a location and, over time, we have built a series of buildings and recreation areas. Children from all schools in the community are welcome, and all of our services are free for them.
When children come to our Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence, they are reading below the levels where they should be reading. They have behavioral problems. Sometimes they don’t have the support they need at home.
We do things a little differently. We have outdoor classes. We take children on outings to give them a chance to get out of their inner-city environment.
Arts And Music
We have expressive arts and music programs. Many times a child with a behavioral problem benefits greatly by learning to play a musical instrument. The discipline this requires transfers to their schoolwork and their personal habits.
Our school bands perform concerts and play in religious parades. Sometimes this is an income stream. If we are paid for a performance, this pay is shared among all the children participating. We have often heard from parents how much they appreciated and needed the BZ$25 their children brought home after playing in a paid concert.
Experienced members of our band are now teaching new students, which is very rewarding to watch.
We focus on computer literacy. We insist that our children use our computers for research and study. We want them to learn how to search online, how to use free education services online.
We assist with homework. That’s the first priority each day before we move on to our programs, which are targeted child by child.
Our programs are focused on elementary-school-aged children, but we also make our computer lab and other resources available to high-school-aged children who don’t have computers at home.
Books, Sports And Other Skills
We offer “Sports for Peace” programs intended to help show our children strategies for peaceful conflict resolution.
We have a book club and a gardening club. We have a cabinetmaker who instructs our children in woodworking skills that can be used for earning income. We are about to launch a coding club under the direction of an American robotics coding engineer who wants to spend time in Belize and who has generously volunteered his time to work with our children.
We have just begun construction of a new building where we are planning to work with younger children. We have found that even by age 5 or 6 or 7, the children coming to us are set in their ways. They already have behavioral challenges. We want to be able to begin working with children as young as six months, in communion with their mothers and fathers.
We make our sports compound available to the entire community in the evenings so children and families can come and play basketball or volleyball, for example.
Finally, we are completely self-funded. That means that, yes, we welcome donations. And volunteers. We always need money and we always need more help. All types of skills. We appreciate every donation of money and of time.
Director, Samuel Haynes Institute of Excellence