A few months ago a hard working father died in his early fifties on the Southside of Belize City. In his relatively short life, he had buried three young, grown sons at various times. We know of a mother on the Southside who has also buried three young sons. The carnage continues on the Southside, as it has continued for the last quarter century.
Whereas in the beginning of these neighborhood wars in Belize City, mothers used to call for justice when interviewed for the television evening news, now there is resignation, fatalism even. The common refrain from grieving mothers involves “leaving it to God …” This is how it has been for the last several years.
July is a time of year when Belizean parents, and on the Southside many of the parents are single mothers, are scrambling to prepare their children, as best they can, for the school year which begins in late August and early September. Almost all parents in Belize believe that the least they can do for their children is buy their uniforms, their underwear, their footwear, their books, their schoolbags, and pay all their school fees so that their children’s education continues and their children have some kind of a chance in life.
In places like the Southside, this is a desperate time for parents, because many of them just don’t have the money. Hon. Patrick Faber of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) has been the Belize Minister of Education since 2008, and some of his massive power in his Collet constituency, and indeed nationwide as expressed in the recent First Deputy Leader convention of the UDP, derives from the large budget he controls, which he uses to assist some of those desperate parents to whom we previously referred.
The budget for the Ministry of Education is the largest amongst the Ministries. The cost of education for individual Belizean families is very high. Belizeans, however, do not spend a lot of time considering whether the education available for our children is worth the cost of it. Are we getting value for money? Discussion should be taking place on this question during a time like this, which is the long school holidays. Most parents are not in a position to enter any such discussion, one reason being that their time is taken up with trying to make sure their children are equipped and ready for the new school year.
There are Belizeans at the top of our socio-economic pyramid who believe that other, less fortunate Belizeans should not be having so many children unless they can maintain and educate them properly. There is a historical irony here, because in the settlement of Belize two centuries ago and more, the slavemasters were dying for their slaves to produce as many children as possible, because there was a shortage of labor in the dominant forestry industry in Belize.
There had been thousands and thousands of people who were forcibly brought here from Africa in the belly of sailing ships for the specific purpose of having them work as slaves in the forests in order to enrich a white and “colored” elite. Today, it is the descendants of those enslaved Africans who are not being properly educated and do not have employment opportunities who are murdering each other, while their families “leave it to God.”
Well now, as desperate Southside parents scramble to prepare their children for an education which has been proven year after year to be inadequate and irrelevant, the ruling politicians show little concern about the inadequacy and irrelevance of the education which is available. This Southside education, you see, comes with generous doses of God, the same God, presumably, to whose care the dead bodies of our young males are being delivered. Once God is involved in Belize, and everybody is calling out His name, everything is everything. No problem.
Yet, the reality, which all of us can see on the Southside, is that there is a problem, a very serious problem, a problem of life, education, employment, and death. This is apparently a problem which is too huge and troublesome for our elected politicians to analyze and address, so in a couple weeks time they will begin to dole out some medicine for the symptoms. This medicine is Centenary money. It is a tried and proven remedy from colonial days. It is a medicine which never fails to alleviate the symptoms of marginalization, dysfunction, and discrimination. In a few weeks time, around the same time the school year is beginning, the power structure of Belize will sponsor music and song and dance and drinks and merrymaking. The party will last almost the whole of September.
There is, of course, a bloody crisis on the Southside. The murder statistics are at the level which the United Nations considers that of a civil war. There is ample evidence to indicate that the education system in Belize has failed us, and there is ample evidence to indicate that the justice system in Belize has failed us. But the young men who are the casualties of the Southside civil war are not responsible for the education system, nor are they responsible for the justice system. There must be people who are to blame for the state of affairs in Belizean education and the Belizean judiciary.
How does one reconcile our bloody human crisis with all the celebration which is about to take place? The answer is that one should not be able so to reconcile. But, Belize is a nation which does the same thing year after year: we use the name of God to cover up injustice, greed, corruption, bigotry and incompetence. As it is written, so it will be done.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.