Restore Belize and US Organizations training sessions to help youths

The Belize Police Department has had a rocky relationship with at risk youths in certain areas, particularly in the city. But that may soon change, with the help of a partnership between Restore Belize and two US organizations; Partners for Democratic Change and the North American Family Institute. Together they are implementing a program that has successfully reduced youth involvement in criminal activity in parts of the US by forging better relations with police. It’s called the Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) and it started in Belize with the first round of training last week. Fifteen young persons and fifteen police officers participated and facilitator, Jessica Varat, says it was a clear success.

Jessica Varat, Latin America/Caribbean Mgr, Partners for Democratic Change

“The training was a product of a partnership between my organization, Restore Belize and another organization based out of Boston called the North American Family Institute. And with funding from the US Embassy, we came down here in November and December to try to get a sense of some of the issues dealing with citizen security, crime, violence and prevention especially in Belize City. The idea is that we would sue this information to help adapt a model that’s already being employed throughout the US. It was created by the North American Family Institute, called the Youth and Police Initiative. And the idea behind the initiative is that it brings together youth and police officers who have historically had antagonistic relationships with each other to go through a five day training where they work on building leadership, they work on conflict resolution skills and basically just having dialogue about some of the issues that are affecting both the youth and the police. Another part of the training is that about seven local Belizeans are being trained in the methodology that was created in the US and the idea is to enhance the sustainability of the project.”

Delahnie Bain

Jessica Varat

“So there will be more trainings done by locals.”

Jessica Varat

“Yes, exactly that’s the idea. We’ll have a couple more trainings where we’ll bring down the facilitator from the North American Family Institute and the idea was the first time the local Belizean trainers were able to observe and participate in some of the sessions, the next time they’ll participate even more and the last time, they’ll actually run the session. And then after that they’ll be trained in the methodology that the YPI employs so that they can continue to do it once this project has ended.”

Delahnie Bain

“So how would you say this training went?”

Jessica Varat

“It went amazingly, it was fantastic. The transformation that we saw between the youth and the police was just really incredible. Again, my understanding is that there are difficulties and challenges in the relationship between the community and youth and police officers. But we had high participation from both the youth and different units of police thanks to a lot of advocates from both the police side and the community side. It was great, by the end of the week we were all sitting in a room and talking about some of the serious issues and then on Friday night we actually had a celebration dinner where the youth and ht police were honored for their hard work throughout the week.”

The Youth and Police Initiative is a part of the Restore Belize project called Community-Police Collaboration to Improve Citizen Security or CPC-Belize. The project’s objective is to deter gangs from recruiting youths by providing a positive alternative.

Channel 5