San Mateo Empowerment Project a reality

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 12            March 25, 2010

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    San Pedro is synonymous to long, white sandy, palm tree laid beaches. We advertise this paradise getaway, rave of our untouched natural resources and the world’s second longest barrier reef. Our world class diving complements the five star resort experiences that we invite our visitors to come enjoy.

    What visitors, as well as many residents of the pristine island, do not see, is right before our very eyes. How many times have we crossed the bridge to visit the northern resorts, restaurants and pier bars? We set aside time out of our busy schedule to take our families to visit the relaxing establishments that line the shores of northern Ambergris Caye. As we cross the bridge, I invite you to look left, and take a little drive down that street that many of us fail to realize even exists. San Mateo, a community just north of the San Pedro Bridge in Ambergris Caye, appears to have been forgotten by the Government of Belize. Residents of this small, yet very important community, have been surviving without their basic needs being met. School children are forced to study under candle light as electricity is not available to many of the homes in the area. Portable water is a thing of the future and is another amenity that is not offered to residents of San Mateo. Talks of the construction of roads for the San Mateo Sub Division have long been on the table.

    On Thursday, March 18th at 4:00 p.m., residents of the San Mateo Sub Division proudly gathered at the site where the long awaited road will be initiated. In attendance were Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation and Culture, Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr., San Pedro Town Councilors, Kim Shackelford of the University of Mississippi, students of the University of Mississippi, along with the Executive Committee of the San Mateo Empowerment Project.

    The first leg of this undertaking is the construction of a one and a half mile road with the width measuring 12 feet, through the areas of San Mateo that are in highest demand. With the construction of this road, water and electricity are sure to follow. Residents of the area will finally be able to start living the lifestyle that many of us take for granted. This marks the commencement of a fully functional Sub Division, complete with all the amenities and infrastructure that are long overdue. Thanks to endless efforts and persistence by the Community of San Mateo and volunteers from the University of Mississippi, among many others, this long awaited project has commenced.

    Nine volunteers from the University of Mississippi were on the island last week and worked out of the Holy Cross Primary School. They rallied to get the San Mateo community together and from Mississippi in the United States have been garnering funds to begin the road. This time around however, they also brought with them specialization in various fields such as, Social Work, Civil Engineering, Elementary Education, Biology, Pre Med, Geological Engineering, Public Policy, Landscaping and Art/Journalism.

    Toran Dean, specializing in the field of geological engineering, has walked all the “London Bridges” (elevated wooden footbridges) that connect the various properties in San Mateo, and provide the only means to get around the area, in an effort to acquire GPS coordinates and create specialized maps to show where the roads are needed. Through the efforts of the students, they have also been able to come up with an estimate of materials needed as well as cost estimates.

    Apart from their extensive work with the first phase of the San Mateo Road construction, the volunteers are keeping themselves busy with the construction of compost bathrooms, social work, tutoring, cooking and offering assistance to the faculty and students of the Holy Cross School, as well as volunteering with the Ambergris Hopes Clinic.

    This is, however, just the beginning of a long process to get to an acceptable standard of living for the residents of San Mateo. Assistance is still needed to complete this project, which in its entirety includes the construction of a Poly Clinic, proper water and sewer lines being ran and electricity to every home in the community. The San Mateo Community is pleading to the residents of San Pedro, as well as the business community to assist in any way possible so that this project may be successful. Donations are being accepted and interested people are asked to purchase 12 feet of road for $108US or one foot for $36US. For further information, kindly contact
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