The Belize National Teacher’s Union has rightfully earned a reputation as an activist union - one not only concerned with its own benefits and salaries - but actively involved in public affairs, agitating mightily - and successfully - for transparency and accountability in government.
This week the country’s most powerful union turned its attention to crime - especially the recent rash of crimes targeting innocent children and women. Today they had a rally and protest in Belmopan to key in on the issue and press for a concerted community effort to put a stop to the senseless killings. Daniel Ortiz found that the messages and the messengers ran much deeper than politics - here’s his report:..
Getting an early start at 8:00 this morning, about 450 or so teachers countrywide took to the streets of Belmopan for a march against the violence recently visited on women and children.
Some of them carried posters like this one, and this one, each with powerful messages that the general public needs to stop looking on in disgust, and to start taking affirmative action on behalf of the nation’s women and children.
Once the march was completed the teachers went over to the Belmopan Civic Center for a rally which included a varied list of speakers.
But, they stated it over and over that this day of demonstration had no political slant to it; they simply wanted something done to stem the tide of violence and abuse against women, and especially the nation’s children whom they teach every day.
Orville Melendrez - Member, BNTU
"BNTU and its supporters are there to defend the welfare security and rights of our children and our women."
"And when it comes to our children, then we're going to have problems."
From there, a wide range of speakers were given an opportunity to discuss the spate of crime against the innocent:
Kim Simplis-Barrow - Special Envoy for Women and Children
"It is for this reason that I say that I am honored and thankful to have been invited to be here with you all today, and let me, as a first order of business, thank the Belize National Teachers Union, especially Senator Elena Smith for doing what is required of those on the front line of defense to do. Speak up, for our vulnerable.”
Lisa Shoman, SC - Creator, Manifesto for Linda
"We want to make sure that it is the state, not parents, not teachers, who are actually the virtual complainants when there is a crime against our children, against our women. So, that parents no longer have to have the burden of pursuing a criminal for what was done to their children. That must be the duty of the state, and we won't want to see them standing up to nolle pros a case because they can't get witnesses."
Mario Rodriguez - President, BNTU Belize Branch
"It is detestable, distasteful, downright deplorable when you can take a gun and shoot a lady in the back, when you can shoot our children."
Hon. Elena Smith - National President, BNTU
"Imagine having a 5 year-old child saying to you, 'Teacher, I am tired of hearing that kids are dying. Teacher, I couldn't sleep last night because I heard all the gunshots.' But, we expect our children our children to perform."
But, possibly the two most powerful presentations of the day came from Shakera Young, who lost her son, Tyler Savery in 2016 to gun violence and from Shereema Graham, a teacher who is also a survivor of domestic violence.
Shakera Young - Mother of Tyler Saver
"I sat in the corridor and waited outside that trauma room, and a doctor emerged and said, 'Where is the boy's family.' As I got up, and I walked towards here, she pulled me in the little room, and she said, 'Ma'am, I'm sorry, we did all that we could.' I don't know about you guys, but my world shattered when I heard that, because my child was my world. He was my only child. I will be honest. I had days that I couldn't eat. I had nights I could not sleep. I attempted to kill myself twice. And that is a painful truth, and if it was not for God, I would not be here to speak to you guys today. As a nation, we need to come to repentance because at some point, I know I failed. Though I was a victim, I failed because if I had not lost my son, I wouldn't care about anybody else's child. Because my mind and heart would be on mine."
Shereema Graham - Teacher
"I wanted to make sure that when I taught my babies, and I tell them that if someone touches you inappropriately, come to teacher, I didn't want it to be a lie, and I sat in my class room today, while this rally was happening, I would have been lying to those students, when I look them in their faces, and tell them come to me, I am going to stand up for you. I am going to make sure that you're safe, and I cannot lie to those 5 year-olds that I teach every day. If management wants to take my $85, let them take it. I spent some time, and I taught about it, I said, but this is double reasons for you to be there, because this rally is for me as well. I am a survivor of abuse. On April 24, 2015, I was brutally attacked in my house in Lords Bank, by my ex-common-law. Looking at me, you wouldn't know what I've been through, unless you've been told the story. But, I can tell you that my nose was broken in 2 places, and my cheekbone was shattered. My son is the vocal type. He acts out. He says things. At the age of 4, he looks at me and he says, 'Mommy, I don't trust people. I want a new daddy. I want to change my name because my dad tried to kill you.' At the age of 5, he spends time mixing milk other things and leaving it to spoil because his goal was to make poison, and he wanted to know if his poison could kill a rat, at 5. He sat down, and he asked his sister, 'How would you feel if your daddy was my daddy, and he tried to kill mommy? Would you still love him?' Here at 5, a child, trying to understand if it is wrong for him to love his father, or if he should be angry and hate him. These are the things a 5-year-old should never ever have to ponder, but my 5 year-old had to."
So, while the BNTU protested all forms of crime and violence against women, and especially children, their national president made sure to stare down her membership to say categorically, that the Union has a zero tolerance policy for abuse against children, especially that which may be committed by teachers:
Hon. Elena Smith
"And for those among us, who have been accused, and who have been guilty of molesting children, we want to say to you, while we have a duty to represent you as a member of our union, we will not condone any of our teachers. We will guide. We will advise, but we will not condone any action that you take to molest any of our children, none of them. And so, please, teachers, let’s do our jobs. Let's do it to the best of our ability, and let us remember that our children are precious, and as we said this morning, Teachers love the little children, all the little children."
Rounding off the speeches was Evan Mose Hyde, WUB the morning talk host. His message was satirical and aimed at those who opposed the BNTU for organizing this rally, protest, and demonstration.
Evan “Mose” Hyde - Talk Show Host
"You know that I hope what's to happen after this? [I hope] that no idiot in the future questions when BNTU says it wants a day to rally or demonstrate, or protest. We don't want another idiot - and I don't care if the idiot is a low-level idiot, a mid-level idiot, or one of those idiots over there. I don't care. And the reason why I get worked up on that note is that if any of those idiots every came in here and sat down, and see the kind of reception BNTU gave to the wife of the Prime Minister when she was here; anybody who was in this hall today, and heard the powerful messages of the people who are actually living with crime and violence in an intimate personal way know that BNTU didn't organize this event to embarrass anybody, never organized the event to be pro-PUP, or anti-UDP. BNTU, as it has always done, organizes a rally, and a protest, and a demonstration because it has the courage to do, and the love of country, bottom line."
We estimate the crowd at around 500 - and they ended off at 2:00 pm.