Twenty-five Macon County eleventh grade students are part of a mentoring program with ten Auburn University students and graduate assistant Raven Conwell. The project is funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the work these students do together revolves around workplace and college readiness.
Tonight we were pleased to have with us Cynthia Ellis, all the way from Belize. Cynthia was in the USA to speak at Auburn University on her work with women and youth in the Caribbean, and we were pleased to have her speak to our group.
Ms. Ellis gave us an overview of Belize, which is a relatively small country (only 300,000 in population), bordered by Mexico and Guatemala. Belize is home to many people groups, including indigenous Maya, Creole, Mestizo, Garifuna, and more. The official language of the country is English, since Belize was a colony of England until 1981. She talked about the ancient Maya ruins, parrots in her backyard, and the 174-mile-long barrier reef off the coast.
Despite a thriving tourism industry that focuses on the sea, tropical jungles, and mountains, many people in the country are poor, and many young people find themselves trapped in cycles of poverty. Ms. Ellis has worked with many programs to help at-risk youth find opportunities for success, and she is the sponsor for the international Duke of Edinburgh Award Program in Belize. Through this program, young people create their own goals in community service, physical fitness, life skills, and adventurous journey. It’s not about competition, since the focus is on self-development. Mentors coach participants and help them work toward receipt of the prestigious award. Her stories of youth who have broken the cycle of poverty were inspiring.
Ms. Ellis, who is of Garifuna descent, shared some about Garifuna history and culture. According to most accounts, in 1635, two Spanish ships carrying African slaves shipwrecked near St. Vincent. The slaves escaped, intermarried over time with the indigenous people, and developed a culture that is still present today. Cynthia led us in a few Garifuna songs and even taught us a couple of dances!
Thank you, Cynthia, for introducing us to Belize and for reminding us that success is up to us!