Features — 25 November 2017 — by Wuri Lucia Ellis
My reflections on Jeremy A. Enriquez’s book, “To Educate a Nation”

I ask permission from the elders to speak.

I will draw on the conversations that I have had with my mother, Ethel Bernadine Ellis, and her brother, Simeon Sampson, about their experiences while their father, Simeon Marcus Sampson, taught in Barranco, Hopkins and Seine Bight during the period 1919 to 1957. My father, Godsman Ellis (deceased), taught in the villages of Dolores, Toledo District, in 1950; August Pine Ridge, Orange Walk District, in 1952-53; and Succotz, Cayo District, in 1954-57.

In addition I was privy to reflections of Mrs. Bernadine Avila, whose father taught in the villages of Chunox, Progresso, and San Estephan. Uncle Clifford Palacio and his wife, Aunt Rita Palacio (deceased), who were both teachers in Bullet Tree Falls, Uncle Eugene Hernandez (deceased) and his wife, Felicia Hernandez (my godmother), who taught in Santa Familia and Santa Elena also shared with me their reflections of their teaching experiences in those communities. Their shared reflections have deepened my appreciation of the noble sacrifices of Garifuna teachers and their families.

I wish to thank Jerry for writing this book, “To Educate a Nation: Autobiography of Andres P. and Jane V. Enriquez.” I am thankful for his enthusiasm and focus toward the completion of this book, having followed its evolution over the years. Thankfully, he has joined the ranks of men and women who are deeply committed to telling a fuller, richer and more in-depth story about our pioneers and the impact they have had on our world, particularly our education system and our socialization. It is also unusual for the perspective of the woman to be included in past accounts. For this I am appreciative.

This story will be the commencement of a revelation – of amazing, powerful Garifuna women around the nation of Belize who have been and continue to be influential change agents (many in their own, private ways), who are “braving up” to change the world, often with just their own quiet voice or with one small initiative that shifts everything around them. Unknowing to Jane V. Enriquez, her journal has done that.

In reflecting on this book I wish to refer to another book, Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingslover. The setting is 1959, when an evangelical Baptist preacher, Nathan Price, takes his family to the Belgian Congo as missionaries. Nathan travels to Africa, along with his wife and four daughters, intent upon saving souls. However, they were unprepared to deal with life in such a drastically different culture and climate.

While the journey for our Garifuna pioneer teachers was not across the world, the impact was the same; the culture shock was just as devastating. One cannot give an account of the life of those Garifuna pioneer teachers without a feeling of bittersweet emotions. It saw the beginning of assimilation or integration of a culture with another but also an opportunity to learn about other cultures.

The history of Belize’s Garifuna pioneer teachers and their families can be compared to that of the preacher’s family in the Poisonwood Bible, including:

• the experiences of women moving into primitive situations but socialized to be obedient to her husband such that wives seem powerless to mitigate their situation;

• the stories of happiness and tragedies that a family experiences through their service to others;

• the challenges to stability of a family on both local and global fronts, including the World Wars; the Depression, hurricanes, threats of violence and murder and inadequate health care leading to family illnesses and loss of infants;

• the struggles, hardships and commitment that come with supporting a loved one;

• dealing with loneliness and being away from one’s family and support system while serving others; and,

• the harsh and inhospitable living conditions that they were forced to endure in remote areas.

For most of us who can identify with these aspects of the Garifuna pioneering spirit and what it brings about, I once more refer to a commentary on the novel “Poisonwood Bible” which describes the experience of the pioneering family as “the disastrous outcome of the forceful imposition of Christian theology on indigenous natural faith”. Accounts in the Jesuit Archives show that the teachers had to sign a document denouncing their Garifuna spiritual practices as hedonistic. Imagine the conflict that this presents. We, the descendants, are still being affected by those impositions.

Again, those of us who have lived with this reality will read this autobiography by Jerry as an opportunity to:

• bring a sense of closure;

• cease from romanticizing the pioneer experiences of the early Garifuna teachers and see their lived experiences for what they truly were;

• reconnect with the spirit of our grandmothers, grandfathers and ancestors;

• begin seeing women as important assets in the scheme of things, such as their maneuvering of meagre resources and the dynamics of their world with finesse in order to ensure the survival of their mate and their children especially under difficult and challenging circumstances;

• forgive and respect our elders, especially recognizing and appreciating the tremendous price that they paid through their sacrifices for us to be here; and,

• recognize that the experiences and resilient spirit of Andres and Jane V. Enriquez are reflections of what many men and women go through as they dedicate themselves to serve this nation even through dire circumstances that affected them and their families.

Overall, this autobiography is a directive to the Enriquez family and those families of pioneer Garifuna teachers to forgive, especially because their ancestors had no control over the damage and suffering that they experienced as they sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others, who may or may not appreciate what they have done.

This book also highlights an opportunity to begin a healing process, which has begun for many of us who were impacted by similar experiences. According to universal wisdom reflected through various spiritualties, if people remember and forgive, they can move on and begin to live again renewed and free from a burdensome past. This book provides us this opportunity. I thank you, Jerry, for sharing these experiences of your grandparents in this book. I am confident that this work will enrich and expand our nation’s historical discourse about the foundations that were laid for building this nation. Seremein niya buhn.

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