If you had eggs for breakfast,
rice, beans and chicken at
midday or ate cheese with
johnny cake for tea, chances
are you did business with a
Mennonite. These fair skinned
Belizeans contribute to the
nation's economy far more than
their numbers alone would indicate... and in honour
of Princess Anne's visit they gathered Wednesday
in Blue Creek to do a little bit of showing off. News
5's Jose Sanchez took the opportunity to get to
know them a little better.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
They have travelled the world searching for a country
that would allow them to live according to their own
beliefs. And after establishing colonies in Canada and
Mexico, many of them found a perfect place to
live...Belize. And with seven thousand inhabitants in
the settlements of Shipyard, Spanish Lookout, Blue
Creek and smaller communities, Belize now boasts the
largest percentage of Mennonites in the world.
Abraham Dueck, Spanish Lookout
"Our group left in 1948 going to Mexico, we stayed
there ten years and in '58 we moved here to Belize. It
was kind of strange because we were not used the
bush out here. Mexico is all open land, but coming to
Belize being all bush and it was a completely different
lifestyle for our people. We had to clear the land by
whatever means we could. The first part of land was
cleared by local people. They came with axe and
machete and they chopped the land for us."
And that was probably the first and last time that they
depended on others, because self-sufficiency has been
the key to their agricultural success. In the year 2000,
Mennonites reared twenty-seven thousand head of
cattle, eight thousand hogs, over six and a half million
broilers, thirty-one thousand tons of corn, and over
five thousand tons of beans and peas, for both local
and export markets. And while agriculture is their
primary source of income, many are beginning to
expand into other industries.
David Dyck, Blue Creek
"For example Spanish Lookout, they have a lot of
business people. They import stuff, tyres and parts
and all kind of stuff and sell it, and they do a lot of
farming. In Blue Creek we do a lot of farming too but
different crops like rice, which they don't do much.
Basically it's rice and cattle and poultry."
Albert Reimer, Spanish Lookout
"We do a lot of construction work around the country,
road construction, pond construction for shrimp ponds
and stuff like that. Used to be a lot of bush clearing,
but that has faded out. There's also some people
building houses and stuff like that, and there's
fabrication. There's quite a bit of furniture being built,
there's trailers being built, just any kind of metal
fabrication and mechanic work. There's a lot of people
that depend on mechanic work for their livelihood."
One group of Mennonites that is well known in Belize
City is from Shipyard. They wear traditional farm
clothing, ride on horse driven buggies and are mostly
carpenters by trade. Many of the tables, chairs and
cabinets inside our homes are built by Shipyard
Jacob Dyck, Blue Creek
"Right at the moment when you discuss the work it's
very hard, very hard for us...And the beef and chicken
and still we have hard times for those, but right now
it's more better. The last few years the profit on the
chicken is better than it was before, but for the eggs
it's more hard."
And while hard work is their hallmark, not even the
Mennonites are immune to setbacks.
"Last year with the hurricane we had, we lost a lot. I
had four hundred acres of rice in my fields, I lost
everything. We lost a lot of our grass that we planted,
but the flood was so long for three or four weeks and
by the time the flood went down the grass was rotten
and we had to plant over again. I had to sell a bunch
of cattle because I didn't have enough feed for them.
Sometimes it's rough and sometimes it's nice."
What's also nice is the Mennonite-made milk and ice
cream. And while most of us don't to let them know
how much we enjoy it, Prime Minister Said Musa made
a point of showing his appreciation.
Prime Minister Said Musa
"Your community is now fully integrated in the
economy of Belize, contributing greatly to the growth
and development of our country. I think anywhere you
go in Belize today and you ask about the Mennonite
community, the first thing that comes to mind is your
sense of industry, hard work and your great
productivity. Belize has benefited greatly from this
and we just want you to know how grateful we are
and happy we are that you are here with us."
Reporting for News 5, Jose Sanchez.
As part of the arrangement under which they
originally migrated to Belize, the Mennonites are
allowed to establish their own educational system
and are exempt from any military draft.