Two years after then-Senator John F. Kennedy tasked students at a U.S University to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and giving service in developing countries, and a year after it was established in the U.S, members of the Peace Corps were deployed to Belize in 1962. While things have changed considerably since then, the Peace Corps remains committed to promoting peace and friendship by training men and women and exchanging culture and knowledge. For fifty years, the Peace Corps have been in Belize on two-year service programs assisting in a number of projects including capacity building. This morning, the US Embassy hosted the fiftieth anniversary celebration in Belmopan and News Five’s Andrea Polanco was there.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

The Unites States Peace Corps is celebrating fifty years in Belize. Since 1962, almost two thousand Peace Corp volunteers have served in the country to promote development in areas of Youth, Health and Education.

Vinai Thummalapally

H.E. Vinai Thummalapally, U.S. Ambassador to Belize

“We can only imagine the challenges the early volunteers faced here in 1962, in a country then called British Honduras. I can only imagine the roads, communications and so on. There were no cell phones, no cameras or home computers. Many villages had no electricity, yet those early volunteers were motivated and instrumental in helping Belize to train nurses, teachers and students. They assisted in building roads, schools and libraries. They assisted in installing water systems in some of the most remote villages. As the decades passed and the information technology age arrived, Peace Corps and Belize moved together from the past into the present. The first Peace Corps I.T program was established right here in Belize.”

Today, a letter of intent was signed between U.S Peace Corps and Ministry of Health Officials. Country Director, Nina Hernandez says the project is set to start in 2013.

Nina Hernandez

Nina Hernandez, Country Director, Peace Corps

“For the past nine months or so, we’ve been working with the Ministry of Health to develop a framework for what will become our new health project with a focus on family and community health projects. Our project will be designed to meet the express priority areas in the area of health for the Government of Belize. We are working jointly and strategically to develop a program that not only, provides great opportunities for our volunteers in Belize but where there are outcomes being measured and where we can see and monitor progress over time.”

And while there are countless stories of Peace Corps work, the strength of the partnership lies within the many tales of friendship and love. Whether the testimonies are from the hosts or the volunteers, it is clear that the work of the Peace Corps has been a mutually beneficial programme.

Elsie Zamora

Elsie Zamora, Director, George Price Center

“The teachers came to us and said that the main problem they had was trying to impart their knowledge with the students was because there were too many conflicts in the classroom. So we started with a workshop for teachers and Cisco was really instrumental in putting together the workshops and train the teachers. He trained all the teachers of Belmopan. I believe it was two hundred and fifty of them, which was really great.”

Gayla Missett

Gayla Missett, Peace Corps Volunteer, Corozal District

“What really pulls at my heart strings is the relationship I have with the women’s group, Kich Pan Hana Tortilla Factory, in my village. It has been an amazing experience to watch this group of eight women take wings and fly. I have never seen such hard working, dedicated and enthusiastic women. Their desire to learn and improve their business and lifestyle has been nothing short of incredible. They have been tireless in their efforts and think nothing of working seven days a week. Of course, I put a halt to that and told them that in my country that is illegal. They have been an invaluable support system. Their hard work has paid off with higher profits, better transparency, a work schedule that allows time for family and the possibility to expand the business to include a restaurant as well.”

Hernandez says the partnerships formed here help to secure more Peace Corps volunteers like Gayla Missett. After all, volunteers are the most vital part of the any partnership formed for much needed projects to be carried out.

Nina Hernandez

“Peace Corp does wonderful work but it doesn’t stand alone. We’ve done so through our partners here in Belize and we have done so for over fifty years. So, partnership for us is key. In Washington, decisions are being made about where to allocate resources and volunteers are in effect our most precious resources. We are competing with seventy plus other countries for where to place volunteers and we would like them here in Belize. Partnerships are a must for that and we need real dialogue like what is in the best interest for the communities in Belize.”

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Peace Corp volunteers are currently working with the Ministry of Health to update the current health care manual, which is used by over two hundred community health workers. There are thirty-four volunteers serving in Belize.

Channel 5

Ministry of Health signs New Collaboration Project with Peace Corps Belize

Nina Hernandez and Dr. Peter Allen sign agreement

The Ministry of Health signed a Letter of Intent to collaborate on Wednesday, September 26th, 2012 on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan during the celebration of Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary. The Letter of Intent outlines the creation of a new development project that will focus on rural community health and wellbeing.

Mrs. Nina Hernandez, Director of Peace Corp Belize, mentioned that the focus will be on Family and Community Health needs. “…the importance of the partnership is to provide what is in the best interest of communities in Belize.” Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Peter Allen, signed on behalf of the Ministry of Health. In his remarks, he mentioned that this is an exciting partnership because it sets the path to make our health services even more effective. He went on to mention that “it seeks to combine good intent with good administration.” He ended his speech by congratulating the establishment of Peace Corps and its volunteers in Belize highlighting that the Ministry and the Government of Belize takes pleasure in joining in the revolution of the new Peace Corps.

This 50th anniversary celebration and the renewed collaboration is a full reflection of two countries with the common goal of working together to make a positive difference in the lives of Belizeans. Dr. Allen expressed the Ministry of Health’s pleasure in further developing a strategic partnership with Peace Corps as the Ministry strive to improve access to quality health services for all Belizeans.

The Reporter