Life will become easier for the residents of May Pen, Belize District. After a decade of waiting, they finally got their wish. The community will now be able to travel to other villages through a sturdy new bridge that was opened this morning. It is welcome news for students, who have had to walk bare feet through mud to attend school in nearby Biscayne. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The construction of a new bridge near the outskirts of May Pen Village in the Belize District has been long in the making. For many years, residents of this seemingly forgotten community in the Belize River Valley have had to travel this lonely dirt road only to realize that crossing the creek at this location was oftentimes quite a headache.
Carl McCulloch, Resident, May Pen Village
“We’ve been waiting for this for a lot of years now because the old bridge got messed up, rotted. They fixed it, it broke again several times. So for about the last ten years we’ve been at a position where no dump truck could go in and dump the road, so it was in horrible condition. Even four-wheel-drive vehicles couldn’t make it during the rainy season, makes it very difficult for the people in May Pen because we’re mostly subsistence farmers or cattle ranchers and we need to get the stuff out and when it’s raining and it’s bad it’s impossible, you know to move products in and out. So it made it necessary for quite a few of us to move out to be able to survive. And we would come in a lot during the dry season and just avoid coming in the rainy season.”
Belize Rural North Area Representative Edmond Castro, who has been in office since 2008, admits that a bridge was indeed long overdue.
Edmond ‘Clear the Land’ Castro, Area Representative, Belize Rural North
“For thirty-four years, they’ve been waiting for a better bridge and I promised them in 2008 that once I get elected I will facilitate and I will work hard to make sure that we put a better bridge here for May Pen. This is not just for May Pen, this is for Belize. When you look at communities like May Pen [that are] cut off from the rest of the country, especially in times of disaster, I know most of you can remember the flood of 2008 when it cost the Government of Belize in manpower, with B.D.F. boats and coastguard boats and every boat that we could have find to assist the people and farmers in this particular community. It was extremely difficult and this part of May Pen, on this part of May Pen in front of Flowers Bank, is also a part of Flowers Bank. So Flowers Bank is a community that’s on both sides of the river. So this road access now would allow them to get in and out in case of emergency and also for productivity sake, in terms of cattle raring.”
Built at a cost of roughly two hundred thousand dollars, the new Bailey bridge will allow students attending primary school in Biscayne Village to travel to and from their destination unimpeded.
“For most people in May Pen that live here and stay here, they tough it out and kudos to them because the conditions that the kids have to face to get to school. Imagine having to get into a small fourteen feet or sixteen foot aluminum skiff when it’s raining. Early in the morning, before seven o’clock, they would come to the river bank just above the bridge here, they would have to walk up slippery banks, being muddy and then they would have to get into a vehicle, drive to highway, get out of that vehicle and then catch a bus to the Biscayne School and repeat that process coming back in the evening time. It’s very difficult, it’s a very difficult situation for them to study in, but still, people progress and they do very good in school, but it’s very, very difficult for them.”
This low-lying area of the Belize River Valley is flood prone. With the bridge now providing access, residents can evacuate on their own whenever there is the threat of a flood or natural disaster.
“Now NEMO does not have to provide trucks, tractors or boats to evacuate the people from out of this May Pen area. Now in case of emergency or flooding situations, NEMO will put out the warning and they will get the opportunity like everyone else to get on a tractor, get on a truck and load up their cattle, move them to safe and higher ground. So when you look at what this bridge is doing for us, it is a miracle really because even the kids going to school, sometimes the land rover cannot bring them out so they have to take off their shoes and walk barefooted for one, two, sometimes up to two miles that the kids have to walk in mud and water just to get to school. It was very, very difficult for the people in this area.”
The construction of the bridge also opens up the surrounding area to ecotourism, a livelihood that is largely missing in these parts. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.
A historical perspective of May Pen Village at the opening of New May Pen Bridge
I received a call from Ruth Staine-Dawson asking if I could give a historical account of May Pen leading up to the opening of our new bridge. She actually wanted my mom, Rosenda McCulloch to do the presentation since she lived in May Pen since before my birth.
- In 1786, a group of over 2,100 people displaced from their homes on the Mosquito Shores decided to come to the settlement of British Honduras.
- A free colored woman by the name of Ann Pattnett and her children, John and Lucy, came with them.
- In the year 1792, Ann was given a Spanish Grant approved in Yucatan Mexico, for all the parcel of land on the South of the Belize River from Muscle Creek to Flowers Boundary and on the Northern Banks of Belize River from Black Creek to Lime Walk Creek extending North to Crooked Tree Lagoon.
- Ms. Ann Pattnett established a logwood works on this property which was given the name May Pen.
- In 1823, Ann Pattnett willed to Lucy Pattnett, her holdings which included all these lands and her 10 slaves. To this day, all the lands mentioned are referred to at the Lands Department as Lucy Pattnett’s Boundary.
- The Belize River was the highway back in the day with the Cayo Boats, as they were called, making weekly trips to and from Belize City.
- The Community along the river grew rapidly as the Logwood and Mahogany trade boomed in the 1800’s and May Pen was no exception.
- A Baptist school and church was built and the children from places like Washing Tree, Babiley and Lime Walk all attended school here.
- By the 1930’s, things had changed. The Logwood trade was dying and most of the mahogany in the area was already cut. Now the men had to seek seasonal employment at Hill Bank and up North in the sugar cane fields and many did not return.
- By the 1970’s, when I was born, the Cayo Boats ran no more. Villagers had to paddle, use horse or walk all the way to Sand Hill to catch a truck that made trips from the Northern Districts to Belize City. This was very difficult especially during the rainy season when the river was high and the roads were muddy and
- A devastating flood in the year 1979 saw many more families moving to neighboring villages where there were higher grounds.
- The new Northern Highway was now the new transportation hub and more families made the move from the river banks to Biscayne and Gardenia.
- In 1983, (a ray of) hope came to May Pen. A (wooden) bridge and a road with the promise that the road would soon be extended to Bermudian Landing and made into an all-weather road.
- I was 10 years old when I stood at the opening of that bridge. May Pen soon became a popular place for people from all around who came to enjoy the river as well as the friendly and welcoming people. And of course the famous cassava wine. The village prospered for many years.
- However the promise of an all-weather road to Bermudian Landing never materialized and eventually, the wooden bridge deteriorated and could not support trucks any more. The road conditions also quickly deteriorated. For many of us this meant giving up the dream of living at home.
- However, today, some 34 years later, we have hope again. The promise of a new metal bridge has been fulfilled and the connecting road to Bermudian Landing has once again been opened.
- It is our hope that it will soon be made into an all-weather road as was promised some 34 years ago. We have every confidence in our Area Representative, Hon. ‘Clear the Land’ Castro, that shortly this promise will also be fulfilled.
- This bridge and road will once again bring prosperity back to the people of May Pen. Thank you Minister.
By Carl McCulloch – May Pen Villager for The Guardian