Toledo’s Jahrine Avila is the Next Queen of the Bay

L-R Abil Castaneda, Tracy Panton, Ian Morrison, Diane Haylock, Doctor Jaime Awe and Valdemar Andrade

A project to assist nine archaeological sites and their surrounding communities across Belize is moving forward with the delivery of an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) last Friday at the Museum Building on Culvert Road, Belmopan. Present to witness the delivery of the ATV were principal movers from the Belize Tourist Board, the National Institute of Culture and History as well as from the Department of Archaeology.

Conceived two years ago and signed into action in December of 2012, the Project entitled “Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Sites” hopes to bring positive changes within a 24 month period. The project will improve the infrastructure and services at nine archaeological sites with a main focus in reducing poverty in rural areas. These targeted sites that will stand to benefit include Altun Ha in the Belize District, Lamanai in the Orange Walk District and Nim Li Punit, Blue Creek and Lubaantun in the Toledo District. Also to benefit from this Project will be Actun Tunichil Muknal, Barton Creek, the Nohoch Che’en (Cave’s Branch) and Xunantunich from the Cayo District.

“It is very important; it is one of the Projects that we have undertaken along with two of our line agencies the Belize Tourism [Board] and the National Institute of Culture and History. The Project is meant to improve the safety standards and facilities at nine of our archaeological parks not only for foreign visitors but also for local visitors, and to also more importantly assure the surrounding communities of these archaeological parks get real benefits from the activities at the park,” says Tracy Panton, who is the Chief Executive Officer within the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

“There is always a difficult balance in terms of when we look at sustainable development particularly where it relates to creating opportunity and meaningful revenue and generating activities for these communities and so we continue to work at that so that the sites and attractions to Belize really support those communities that need it the most”, she also said.

The point man on the ground for the Project is Ian Morrison, who told us that he hopes to achieve three results during the next 16 months. Firstly, he said, will be to improve the monitoring system for the project, which means that a visitor satisfaction survey will be carried out throughout the life of the project; intended to gauge whether or not the interventions that are being made are improving the quality of services at the sites. The second result says Morrison is to improve the infrastructure, health, safety and security at these sites. The third result being the diversification of the tourism product and services where the arts and crafts at these sites will be certified, in addition to carrying out two training modules.

“There will be two training modules; the first training is for the health and safety standards for the tour guides and tour operators and the second training is for site specific guides…these will be community based packages where we target the people in these communities so they will be trained specifically to carry out tours at the archaeological sites nearest to them,” says Ian Morrison.

The ATVs delivered last Friday is part of these second intended results and once the project is concluded it will be used to assist in rescue operations mainly at Cave’s Branch but the Institute of Archaeology will be free to decide where they want to position the ATVs. The $16,000.00 machine is modified with a winch to be utilized in difficult terrains and has a full package of helmets also to ensure safety of the riders.

The Government of Belize has received counterpart funding from the European Union via the Belize Rural Development Program for the ‘Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Site’ Project. Co-financing for the aforementioned project is being provided by the Government of Belize. More specifically, the Project is being brought about with grant funding of BZ $2.75 million from the European Union and BZ$1.25 million contribution from the Belize Tourism Board and the National Institute of Culture and History.

President of NICH Diane Haylock took the opportunity last Friday to thank the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and Project Coordinator Ian Morrison for doing an amazing job in taking the rural Project forward. Valdemar Andrade from the Belize Tourism Board also expressed satisfaction in seeing the Project’s launch, in which he said will bring many benefits to communities.

The Guardian