Our Community - Saeed Assales -"Beautifying Belize with Bamboo"

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 11            March 27, 2003

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Saeed Assales

The resources in Belize, although plentiful, are limited in numbers. Therefore, "renewable" resources, such as bamboo, are important. While other materials like hardwoods take many years to mature, bamboo (an ecologically sound material) takes only five years, and is more readily available. Although, there are other people in Belize who create hardwood furniture, Saeed Assales from Bamboo Furniture, is the first one to use the light, durable grass called bamboo.

    Saeed Assales was born on October 1st, 1955, in Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina. He came from a fairly large family of three brothers and two sisters. Saeed grew up and finished high school in Cordoba at the age of 18, and at 19 attended a local Catholic university, where he enrolled in an architectural course. At the time, Argentina was experiencing political turmoil, more specifically the "Dirty War," when more than 30,000 people disappeared, including Saeed's brother. Saeed left school in 1978, and traveled for two years looking for a more peaceful place to live. He passed through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean islands, the United States, and Mexico before he landed in Belize. 

    When Saeed arrived in Belize, in 1981, his first stop was Belize City where he was immediately impressed by the friendly and peaceful nature of the people. Also astonishing was the ease at which he was able to meet and converse with the then Prime Minister, George Price, whom Saeed considers one of the great leaders of the 20th century. For the following year he taught Spanish at a primary school named Sister Clara Mohammed. In October of 1982, Saeed married his first wife, Janice Young, a young woman from Gales Point. Together they had three lovely children: Ashanti (20), Khadija (16), and Amal (6). After his teaching career ended, Janice taught Saeed the craft of weaving baskets with "basketti tie," a material found in the rainforest. Having learned this art, the couple decided to experiment with bamboo, a grass found in great supply near Gales Point. First they used bamboo to make small items such as cups and ashtrays, and then moved on to bigger creations like beds, chairs and living rooms sets. Once they mastered the art, they used bamboo to build a small house on a farm. Saeed and Janice spent most of their time producing bamboo crafts and selling them at the farmer's market in Belize City. Over the course of the next 14 years, the couple moved between Belize City, Gales Point and Burrell Boom. The business continued to succeed, and Saeed noticed most of the sales came from residents of Ambergris Caye. 

    After 16 years, Saeed's first marriage ended, but he found love again, and remarried an American woman from Maine, named Katherine Devine, in February of 1998. Together they have two children: Tariq (4) and Aliyah (2).

   That same year, the Bamboo Furniture Factory was moved to the San Telmo area of San Pedro Town, in order to more easily supply the demand of its customers. A year later, the show room was established, and shortly after that Kate and Saeed opened the "Juice Bar". Bamboo Juice Bar sells fresh fruit juices, smoothies and vegetarian food, which in turn attracts customers to come in and see the bamboo furniture. Now that Saeed has found his niche in San Pedro, he is looking to expand again. While he is currently exporting some of his products, his goal is to enter into the larger export market. In order to accomplish this, he must first have enough space to sustain the mass production, forcing him to move the factory to the Calla Creek area of Cayo. Despite this expansion, the Bamboo Furniture showroom will remain in San Pedro.

   Although the move to San Pedro was mostly a business decision, Saeed and Katherine have discovered island charms, such as the smell of the ocean, the pleasant beach, the friendly people of the town, and a peaceful existence. The couple work long hours, between the Juice Bar, the Bamboo Furniture Factory, and their children, so they treasure any time they can spend quietly, either enjoying a day on the beach or just sitting at home.

    The Assales' have learned to appreciate their natural environment; Katherine from studying ecology in school, and Saeed from working with the fruits of Mother Nature. Saeed has also learned that bamboo is an environmentally safe, sustainable resource that can be grown, cultivated and manufactured into furniture over the course of five years. Bamboo is also a very forgiving art medium, and Saeed refers to it as music, when he says, "Working with bamboo is like music, when you make a mistake you create something new."

    The people who seem most interested in this type of furniture are the Americans who live in San Pedro, giving the Assales' about 98% of their business. Saeed would like to extend his thanks for supporting the business and allowing it to expand. He is also extremely grateful to the community for allowing him the opportunity to create bamboo furniture; to beautify the businesses and residences in "Our Community".

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