The Maya Seek Disaster Relief in Belize
Fundraising Appeal – Cash Donations
October 18, 2001
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Hurricane Iris violently struck southern Belize on Monday, October, 8, 2001, leaving an estimated 13,000 people homeless and desperately in need of help to recover.
The Maya communities of the Toledo district, who have courageously struggled to protect their ancestral lands from logging and other destructive encroachments, suffered the brunt of the hurricane’s 145 mph winds. The hurricane leveled and ripped apart homes, split and uprooted trees and completely ravaged carefully tended crops.
“It is almost impossible to describe the destruction and devastation experienced by the communities of Toledo,” said Gregory Ch’oc, President of the Ke’kchi Council of Belize and spokesman for the Maya Leaders Alliance. “It is not only the homes that have been destroyed, but the forest which their livelihoods depend upon has been felled.”
When the storms abated, an eerie calm reigned over Maya communities as the people emerged from what was left of their shelters to survey the extensive devastation.
Preliminary accounts reveal that at least half of the approximately 16,000 Maya villagers in the Toledo district are now homeless. Some villages have been completely destroyed. Those dwellings left standing have sustained serious structural damage. People are now forced to live outside with very little protection from foul weather. No one knows how the Maya will rebuild.
“Cahune palms which they make their thatch roofs from are down, the trees that they use for their house structures and walls are scattered and destroyed,” Ch’oc noted. “The basic materials for building their homes are no longer there. I can’t imagine what kind of homes they will now construct.”
The communities’ life sustaining crops – rice, corn, fruit trees etc. – have been decimated, and most livestock are dead or missing. A reported 95 percent of the Toledo district’s banana crop was destroyed. The rivers are now contaminated and water and food supplies are quickly running out. People are cold, wet and hungry, and there are already reports of flu, colds and diarrhea breaking out amongst the population.
Communities are now lacking in even basic communication capabilities and are in such disarray, it will be some time before a true count of the killed or injured can be made.
The devastation was particularly shocking to Maya communities because hurricanes almost never hit inland where the Mayas live. “Since 19 years old, I have never seen any winds like this come to San Antonio (village),” said a dazed Mr. Bol, a Maya Mopan shop and hotel owner in his 60s. “And then it was not as bad as now.” Mr. Bol lost the roofs of both his home and hotel in the fierce winds.
In the village of San Jose, portions of the rainforest are completely lost. People who endured great hardships to carve out their communities are mourning the loss of their lives’ work--homes, crops, livestock, belongings. The losses are so overwhelming and the morale so low, that villagers were unable to form search parties for the missing. A hunter who left the village before the hurricane and had not returned was feared dead.
The villagers in San Vicente huddled in a partially constructed civic center to shelter from the hurricane, often being slammed to the ground by the fierce winds. Because no emergency supplies or help was immediately forthcoming, they were forced to gather and cook dead chickens over a fire they labored to start in their drenched surroundings. The only water available to drink was dirty and polluted from the storm. The children and babies in particular are in need of clothes and wrappings.
The hurricane destroyed 95 percent of all homes in the village of Big Falls, and, as in other nearby villages, left the people traumatized and without even basic shelter or supplies. In one case, a man asked for assistance because his sick wife was released from a hospital, but he no longer had a house in which to take her.
“This hurricane has totally changed the physical and cultural landscape of our communities,” says Ch’oc. “We have to find some way to help our communities reconstruct their lives. We appeal to all our friends at home and abroad to help us get through this catastrophe that has befallen the people of Toledo.”
What the Communities Need
There is an immediate need for food, water, medicine, clothing and temporary shelter. There is also an urgent and long-term need for building materials for the long task of reconstruction of the various villages. With many of the communities cut off from town, communication devices such as two-way/CB radios would also be extremely useful.
How to Help
The main Maya organizations of the Toledo District – the Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC), the Ke’kchi Council of Belize (KCB), the Toledo Alcaldes’ Association and the Toledo Maya Women’s Council have all been collaborating for some time on issues of common interest to the Maya villages of Toledo. They intend to use their 20 plus years experience in the voluntary sector to coordinate and maintain the current effort to alleviate the suffering faced by the Maya of southern Belize. They are setting up a command center in their joint office in Punta Gorda town, from which to coordinate the relief effort through the Maya leaders of each community affected. For our supporters abroad, since all the items being requested can be obtained in Belize, and shipping will considerably delay the receipt of aid, it would be most practical for those who wish to help to send cash contributions.
The Indian Law Resource Center is dedicated to helping its friends the Maya through this very difficult time. Tax deductible contributions can be made through the Center’s Toledo Maya Distaster Relief Fund, where 100% of the contributions will go directly to relief efforts. The funds can be sent to :
Toledo Maya Disaster Relief Fund
Indian Law Research Center
602 N. Ewing St.
Helena, MT 59601
Contributions can also be sent directly to the Maya Leaders joint account, which is:
The Maya Leaders’ Hurricane Iris Disaster Relief Effort
Checking account number: 500.6417
Belize Bank, Punta Gorda Branch
If you are wiring your contribution from abroad, this can be wired to either:
Bank America International
201 South Biscayne Blvd.
28 Floor Miami, Florida 33131
Bank American International should be instructed to send these funds on to:
The Belize Bank Limited
60 Market Square
P.O. Box 364
Belize City, BelizeTelex BZ158 BZE BANK BZ
who finally send it to:
Checking account number: 500.6417
The Belize Bank Limited
Punta Gorda Branch
For further information, please contact the Maya Leaders directly at their offices at:
The Maya Leaders’ Offices
Jose Maria Nunez Street, cor. Queen Street
Punta Gorda Town
tel: 501-7-22728/22774 (TMCC - Contact person, Valentino Shal)
tel: 501-7-22011 (KCB - Contact person, Gregory Ch’oc)
emails: [email protected]
/ [email protected]
Denise McVea Communications Fellow Indian Law Resource Center 602 N. Ewing Street Helena, Montana 59601 (406)449-2006 (406)449-2031 www.indianlaw.org