From a friend....
just wanted to share a link with you
it is the article in the ole miss paper about kim's san mateo project
she arrives with students this friday
susan lala's grandaughter made an AMAZING documentary
the girl can't be older than 10 or so-she is amazing!interviewing residents,dr gonzalez and nurse natalie
A far cry from paradise
By Natalie Dickson | The Daily Mississippian
In the shadows of paradise lies a group of shacks.
They are propped up on stilts and pieced together with odds and ends of tin and wood. They rest on scattered trash, stagnant sewage and sticky swamp and are connected by a haphazard system of narrow bridges built with plywood and nails.
When situated on Belize’s Ambergris Caye, the San Mateo community of shacks and swamp is a far cry from the azure skies and emerald seas tourists find on the rest of the island.
And while it is nothing like life at Ole Miss, the tiny Belizean community has been an extended member of the university family.
University of Mississippi students are helping raise money to establish a road system in San Mateo as a part of the San Mateo Empowerment Project.
Eleven years ago, social work professor Kim Shackelford began vacationing on the island.
Two years ago, she began taking UM students to the island for intersession and summer courses.
The result has been a slow but strengthening bond between the communities of Ole Miss and San Mateo.
Ole Miss students have tutored children and taught music or art at the local school; the Delta Gammas set up a sight project to help buy eyeglasses for children who can’t afford them; students from the department of engineering have drawn plans for a health clinic.
And this year, a group of Ole Miss students adopted the 175-family community longterm and promised to help improve this forgotten corner.
During the January 2010 Wintersession, a group of seven students traveled with Shackelford to Belize for an education, health and child welfare class.
The course was initially designed for the students to get to know the community through volunteering at the Holy Cross Anglican School and by performing surveys.
However, by the time the class had gotten a grasp on the needs of the community, nobody wanted to let go, said Jake McGraw, senior public policy leadership major from Oxford.
It became evident through the class’s first assignment of talking with community members that the main needs of the community were roads, electricity, sewage and water.
The Holy Cross Anglican School provides the community with many valuable resources such as a dental clinic, computer lab, library, as well as education to 517 children, a third of which are from San Mateo. Despite being a beacon of much-needed hope, the school cannot provide infrastructure to the community.
Neither can the community on its own.
The most recent Ole Miss class to visit San Mateo saw a need and desire for change and saw it as their responsibility to help make it happen.
“Not only do we want to do this, we should do this,” McGraw said.
It had to be a community effort, though. So, the class organized a community meeting.
Only a few people attended the first meeting, but the second meeting saw 30 community members in attendance. By the third meeting, 90 people attended plus representatives from both political parties, he said.
Those who attended agreed that the first issue to be addressed should be roads, he said.
The precarious plywood bridges, known as “London bridges,” were at parts barely wide enough to walk across, much less bring in the equipment and materials needed for electric poles, sewage pipes or a water system, McGraw said.
Since San Mateo’s inception, the government has promised to build roads and provide basic utilities, but through a decade of changes in political power and broken promises, the community has seen nothing.
“They are hard-working people, honest people, and they’re getting no help from anyone,” McGraw said.
Thus, what is now called the San Mateo Empowerment Project was born. A project that will give the people of San Mateo the support and resources they need to improve their community.
The needs are great, though.
The first phase of the SMEP is to build a main road of 1.5 miles through the area. The cost, calculated by one of four committees made up of San Mateo community members, will be $285,120.
If fundraising goes according to plan, the project should take at least two years. And then, after the first main road, the community will need to build side roads and fill the lots underneath all the houses.
The project is daunting, but the commitment from the community members and students is up to the challenge.
“I know it’s going to get done. There isn’t a doubt in my mind,” Shackelford said.
On her most recent trip to San Mateo in February, Shackelford met with 92 community members and their enthusiasm was as vibrant as ever.
“They’re totally taking charge of this. They know it’s their project,” she said.
Shackelford helped set up an executive board made of San Mateo community members.
The project now also has its own Belizean bank account, logo, stationery, and is also working on being a registered non-profit in Belize.
The biggest testimony to the community members’ commitment was a suggestion made at the meeting, Shackelford said.
An older community member stood up and said it wasn’t all the University of Mississippi’s responsibility to fix San Mateo, she said. So he suggested that each family pledge $5 per week to the project until its completion. It might not sound like much, but it is a big sacrifice to the families of San Mateo.
“We had over 100 families come to the meetings at different times, and I don’t know if they can pay $5 per week,” Shackelford said.
However, there is a spirit of sacrifice the community members possess that will be crucial in completing this project.
Patrick Welsh, a senior political science major from Oxford who also went on the January session trip, met an 8 year-old boy who really wanted a soccer ball. He had no father, two sisters and lived in a tiny shack. He played drums at a bar to help bring in money for his family.
When Welsh was going to buy him a soccer ball, the boy, Hussan, changed his mind and decided he would rather Welsh bought food and household supplies.
“He was sacrificing the toy he never had.” Welsh said.
Those who attended the wintersession course do not plan on leaving behind the people they met in San Mateo.
And with each group Shackelford takes down to the community, the seemingly random bond between Ole Miss and the Belizean island grows stronger.
The next trip for San Mateo is scheduled for Spring Break and still has two spots open.
Shackelford plans to keep involved each class with the small island community. The groundbreaking for the road is scheduled on March 14, just in time for the next group of Ole Miss students.