Sixty-two Belizeans are now trained conflict mediators, thanks to a program designed by the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) in the U.S. Department of State. The last set of individuals to complete the course included school teachers and disciplinarians. They received certificates of achievement from the United States’ Ambassador to Belize, Vinai Thumalapally, on Friday, March 15th.
The newly certified mediators shared their experiences in mediations at the graduation exercise. Pamela Dyer works at a center for at-risks youths and is one of twenty individuals who have been trained to be conflict mediation trainers. She plans to use her skills to help youths understand that violence is not the answer to conflicts. Most of the youths that find themselves in such institutions grew up knowing only confrontations and violent acts as response to conflicts. Dyer believes that by introducing them to effective mediations the youths will be better able to cope with conflicts in their everyday lives.
Prime Minister Barrow shares the same belief and plans to introduce conflict mediation training in schools throughout the country. The Southside of Belize City will be targeted first. In his New Years Day address, Prime Minister Barrow said, “Conflict mediation will be extended to all high schools on the Southside of Belize City.” High schools on the Southside of Belize City that now have a trained conflict mediator are Wesley High School, Gwen Lizarraga High School, Sadie Vernon Technical High School and Maud Williams High School. Other schools with trained mediators are E. P. Yorke High School, Corozal Community College, Sacred Heart College and Hattieville Government School. Several government departments, community organizations and youth centers now also have their own in house conflict mediators. Those include the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, Youth Hostel, Conscious Youth Development Programme, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Education Support Services, Department of Youth Services, Youth Cadet Corps, Ministry of National Security, Belize Defense Force, Community Policing Unit, Belize Central Prison and several community centers.
Mary Vasquez, Executive Director of Restore Belize, said that Belize may not fully see the benefits of the conflict mediation program right away. However, as the program continues to be rolled out and fully integrated into schools and community organizations, the level of violence is expected to decrease. Vasquez said, “Today in Belize a minor dispute may end in a brawl or someone getting shot and killed.” She continued, “In conflict mediation we sit the disputants together and identify the specific problem.” Usually when the specific problem is identified, even if the two do not reach a common ground the situation rarely escalates after mediation.
Julie Walton of CSO conducted the first conflict mediation trainings in Belize. Since then the trainings have been conducted by Belizeans. She said that she is extremely proud of how dedicated the Belizean trainers are to the program. CSO turned the program over to Restore Belize completely on Friday. They will no longer be conducting training sessions in Belize. Instead, the United States Government will only support the program through funding from the CARSI funds. The British High Commission has also pledged to provide funding for the program.
In addition to the sixty-two individuals that have been trained as conflict mediators, twenty-six community activists have been trained as community dialogue leaders. Several have already shared ideas about organizing community events similar to the “Day of Healing” that recently took place in the George Street area. They will be reaching out to the public soon for assistance.