First Indian Diaspora Conference in Belize - a Resounding Success Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 04 September 2014 00:00

The First Indian Diaspora Conference in Belize, held from August 5 to 11, 2014, was a resounding success. The theme of the conference was Highlighting Indian Culture and Contribution in a Multi–ethnic Society.

The conference’s success was due to the input of several organizations and the hard work of many individuals. In the year 2012, Mrs. Sylvia Gilharry-Perez, President of Corozal Organization of East Indian Cultural Heritage (COEICH), with the approval of her executive members, accepted a suggestion. The suggestion was made by anthropologist, Dr. Kumar Mahabir, a professor at University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) to host an Indian Diaspora Conference in Belize.

The suggestion was circulated to many individuals and organizations. The National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) supported the idea. Mr. Nigel Encalada, Director of NICH, and his team were fully involved with the planning and implementation of this conference. Dr. Albert Williams, Professor at Nova Southeastern University, Florida and a Belizean East Indian, gave his time and expertise to help with the planning of  the conference, actively participated  in its implementation, and provided exquisite entertainment with far-reaching solos on his guitar. Mrs. Curlette Ramclam-Palacio, President of The East Indian Council of Belize – Southern Chapter (EICBSC) greatly  assisted  in planning to make the conference a reality.  Mrs. Sylvia Gilharry-Perez, the main convener of the conference, worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this conference.

The conference consisted two full days of presentations and field visits in Corozal and two full days of the same in Punta Gorda and surrounding East Indian villages. The presenters came to Belize from Canada, U.S.A., Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Guyana, and India.  About 50 percent of the presenters were Belizeans.

The ceremonial opening was hosted by Belize Indian Merchants Association (BIMA) at the Shukh Shanti Temple in Paraiso, Corozal. Dr. Williams emceed the official opening ceremonies at Dreams in Corozal.  Highlights of presentations given at the opening ceremonies are provided below.

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Gilharry-Perez encouraged Indians to reclaim their cultural heritage. She dedicated the conference to the memory of all their Indian ancestors who had left a cultural legacy. She paid tribute to Dr. Mahabir’s vision in conceptualising an Indian conference in Belize.

Mrs. Ramclam-Palacio from Southern Belize welcomed participants and guests. She applauded the descendants of those brave Indians who endured, persevered and continuously contributed to the development of many countries in the western hemisphere.

Mr. Gabriel Pate, the President of the National East Indian Council, gave an overview of his role in the cultural progress of the East Indian community in Belize. He shared his vision for the East Indians in Belize and the Caribbean, and spoke about a need for unity among East Indians in the region.

Ms. Diane Haylock, President of NICH, expressed support for the National East Indian Council of Belize, which she felt, can help in the promotion of Indian culture in the country.

Mr. Doug Singh, a prominent businessman and politician, gave the featured address.  He encouraged the Indians in Belize to learn more about their history and culture. He also emphasized the need for every ethnic group to work together as Belizeans.

Special addition to the conference included a dance and a culinary workshop. Mr. Surujdeo Mangaroo, President of Indo-Culture Union of the Caribbean and the Amercias (ICUCA) sponsored a dance and culinary workshop. The dance workshop was facilitated by Ms. Neha Dawar, a Trinidadian dancer and Indian fashion designer. In addition, Ms. Dawar mesmerized the different audiences with her exotic, mysterious, and captivating dancing. The culinary workshop also facilitated Ms. Indra Roopnarine who taught how to make parata [buss-up-shut] roti, and mango anchar [pickle].

Poet, Mrs. Asha Lelawatee Rahming shared inner meanings of poetry with students and teachers. She also mesmerised different audiences as she evoked Indian history in her poetic renditions. 

The conference covered many key topics.  Dr. Williams’ presentation on the offensiveness of calling an Indian in Toledo a ‘Coolie’ generated much discussion in both Corozal and Punta Gorda.  The conclusion was that Indians were offended. He urged people not to refer to other ethnic groups in derogatory language.

Mrs. Gilharry-Perez and Dr. Kiran Vanjani did separate presentations from different perspectives on Indian entrepreneurs in Belize and their contributions to the development of the economy.

Dr. Susan Chand’s presentation was on ethno-medical practices in Trinidad and Belize. She discussed various traditional medicinal herbs, including the use of yellow ginger for the removal of worms. Dr. Nesamony Prakasam spoke on the high rate of diabetes among Indians. She encouraged Indians to exercise more, and eat healthier foods, including the consumption of the moringa plant. Mr. Leo Hall made a presentation that focused on natural healing methods.

Dr. Dorian Barrow and Ms. Nicole Kent did separate presentations on the identity of Indians in Belize focusing on ethnic disconnectedness and creolization.  An important issue was discussed: Are Indians in Belize disconnected from their traditional culture? Cultural research has shown that Indians from Corozal and Toledo were more connected to their culture than those from Belize City.  This observation implies that the former were less creolized than the latter.

Dr. Sabita Manian and Dr. Brad Bullock discussed Indian (Hindu) funeral rites of St. Lucia and Belize respectively. Manian also spoke about the role of Indian women in St. Lucia.
Dr. Roop Misir and Mrs. Irene Sanker Gusman showed data on the migration of Indians from Belize to the U.S., and from Guyana to Canada.  Many Indians migrants became disconnected from their traditional culture and have adapted Western traditions. 

Dr. Greesh Sharma and his wife, Dr. Olga Sharma, gave a presentation on the need for treatment of Indians in the Indian diaspora who may suffer from mental illnesses due to migration and exploitation from other ethnic groups. 

Mrs. Lucia Ellis gave a presentation on the need for East Indians and other cultural groups to learn to understand different cultures and to live in harmony.  

Mr. Roy Rodriguez discussed land issues and compared Mayan and East Indian land rights. 

Mr. Mansraj Ramphal emphasized the history of indentured labourers in Belize and the arrival of 1000 Sepoy Indian soldiers who were involved in a mutiny against the British in India.  The soldiers and their families arrived in Belize in 1858.

Tanya Sitaram spoke about women indentured laborers in Suriname and how their shortage lead to wife chopping by jealous husbands.

Mrs. Emy Gilharry, a prominent East Indian Belizean woman, shared her trials and tribulations on her journey to success. 

Ms. Shanaaz  Mohammed reflected on the existence of Indian culture though Indians were removed from their Mother land which  was quite evident in Belizean Indians.

 Dr. Dorian Barow, Dr. Orlena Broomes, Dr. Carmen Lopez and Ms. Niclole Kent discussed the cultural comparisons between India and Belize. 

Mr. Gabriel Pate focused on the reparation for Indians.

In Corozal, the on-site village tours were very informative. Self-taught artist Alex Sanker showed his competence in painting. The story was narrated about how “Gilharry Seven” became the number one musical band in the land. Mr. Roy Rodriguez delivered useful information about the Santa Rita Maya temple.

Mr. Harry Gomez discussed living in Forest Home Village and working for ex-confederate sugar plantation owners.  Mr. Gomez discussed the sugar cane plantations in Toledo and mentioned the use of flour bags by East Indians (and other races) to make underwear for both males and females

In Toledo, the delegates travelled to Mafredi Village, an East Indian village.  There, Mr. Gerald Parham, a mechanized rice farmer, gave a presentation on rice production and marketing in the Toledo District. Mr. Fred Williams gave a presentation on yellow ginger production and marketing.

The delegates and many locals stopped at Jacintoville, another East Indian village, where the village chairman, Mr. Egbert Jacobs Jr., gave a presentation on the history of this village. 

The team travelled to Elridgeville, another East Indian village, where they heard presentations from Mr. Timothy Bardalez, Mr. Ralph Bernard Williams and Mr. Harry Gomez.  Mr. Bardalez, a retired teacher, recounted the East Indian way of life in Forest Home.  Mr. Williams, a retired teacher, discussed growing up in Forest Home and migrating to the United States.  He is now retiring in Forest Home. Mr. Gomez, who spoke earlier at the conference, gave the closing remarks.

Mrs. Vilma Ramclam paid tribute to those Indians who contributed to the country.  They were active in all industries and government.

Ms. Tricia Perez and Jason Parham, two young Indians, shared their experiences about their challenges and dreams as young Indians.

The closing gala event took place in Corozal under the patronage of Mr. Arun Hochandani ,  the Honoray Consul General of  India to Belize. The guests enjoyed Indian cuisine, and witnessed the award giving ceremony, and an evening of entertainment  by local artists.

There were some memorable field trips. The visit to the Belize Spice Farm and Botanical Gardens sparked interest in the growing of the vanilla, black pepper, cardimmon, and cinnamon trees. Some delegates visited the cayes (coral islands) off the coast of southern Belize.  They had presentations as well as a day of swimming and sun. Some delegates visited a five-star resort, Belcampo, and had presentations on its organic agricultural operations.  Most of the vegetables for the resort were produced on site. Some delegates visited the Mayan temple of Nim Li Punit. This was very informative.

The delegates were exposed to Belizean Indian dishes as well as other cultural dishes.  The Indian dishes included white rice, dahl, tacari (curried) mutton, chicken, and cohune cabbage cooked with yellow ginger and other spices.  The guests got to enjoy tamales (a Mestizo dish), coconut crust (dessert), sweet potato pone, old-fashioned  coconut ice cream and fever grass tea,

Numerous attendees and participants expressed their feelings about the conference in their own words.

Mr. Nigel Encalada said, “The first of its kind for any cultural group in Belize.”
Mrs. Yvette Torres : “I was honoured to be a part of this enriching Indian Diaspora conference . We are all brothers and sisters. We must continue being united and very appreciative of who we are, and what we have . Thank you, Ms. Sylvia Perez for believing in yourself and for the great achievements in your life. May God continue blessing you and all of the participants.”

Dr. Albert Williams: “The enthusiasm was amazing.  The support was tremendous.  The passion was burning!!! I am very pleased that the foreign delegates got a good exposure to Belize in general - a trip from the north to the south, and some of them took the trip to the cayes! We learned a lot from the presentations! I am sure that you all learned a lot about the Indian diaspora in Belize and about the people of Belize in general “

Dr. Kumar Mahabir : “Folks, thank you for your contribution in making the conference and related events a grand success … Sylvia, thank you so much for taking and bearing the torch. Every attempt will be made to publish the presentations, photos and videos in print and/or digital media, including YouTube and a website of the conference.”

Dr. Roop Miser : “This mammoth undertaking (Diaspora Conference in Belize) was a huge success - thanks to the team of dedicated pioneers, notably Sister Sylvia and team in Corozal, PG, not forgetting the various groups and communities all across this beautiful land … and the government/culture executives (Giovanni and our affectionate friend, Nigel Encalada)… Special thanks to Overseas Belizeans (Dr. Albert Williams, Prof. Barrow), the delegates of course, and the visionary Dr. Kumar Mahabir who saw the need for such a conference and the meeting of the minds and those of us who share common ideals”. 

Ivory Kelly: “It was a great learning experience and a wonderfully organized event”.

Lucia Ellis : “Much respect and appreciation for the commitment of all. The initiative has taken discussions on culture in Belize to a higher level”.

Ms. Shanaaz  Mohammed: “I would also like to sincerely thank you both and all the others who invested their time, energy and support (financial or otherwise) in making the conference and my stay in Belize such an informative and pleasant experience. Please let me know if I could ever be of any help in any upcoming events related to the East Indian Diaspora in Belize. Once again, thank you.”

Neha Dawar: “I’m feeling home sick from Belize. Thank you for everything. I loved every moment and I hope I did a good impact on Belize, and I do wish to come back and support and help as there is so much I want to offer to your community. I have also learnt your culture … I will help you plan any event you have. I am willing to help as also I am an event specialist … I Appreciated my students and I love it again.”

Will Mejia: “Congratulations you guys you all put in lots and lots of work and it turned out great. Thanks for all the hard work and continue to do good work for the group and the culture and for Belize ... thanks again and so glad it all turned out so spectacular … congrats again. Now you all should go for well-deserved rest some place ... take good care.” 

Umeeda Umedaly Switlo: “Thanks so much for the workshop and a wonderful jam packed day. I followed along and joined the group going to villages where I met many members of the community. They were so very warm and kind. I also saw many ways of engaging the Ministry of Youth in training youth in entrepreneurship with the three communities we visited. I will be in Punta Gorda again and would love to share some of my family recipes with the community from my mother’s bestselling book called Mamajees kitchen and pay the community back for their kindness.  
What next?  This conference is like the sand in the oyster.  It is the beginning of a beautiful pearl. We will continue to:

•  promote the culture and contributions of East Indians in Belize.
•  strengthen East Indian organizations
•  focus on creating educational materials that can be utilized by all schools in Belize. 
• share information on East Indians with all libraries
• find innovative ways to promote East Indian culture, e.g. a one-hour weekly radio show including music and contribution to Belize. 
• work on the expansion of an East Indian museum
• encourage  the younger generation to embrace their Indian heritage
•seek partnership opportunities with people of similar organizations within and outside of Belize to:
•Participate in communication platforms
•to discuss and share common cultural  problems, and practices
•Develop  and share common ideas to uplift the organization
•  Tap into expertise wherever it may be available to strengthen and expand  the group
•Seeks Guidance and Training in
•culinary arts
• visual arts
• performing arts

• Promote our culture in the context that we are Belizeans first!

We hope that one day we will be able to get some more participation /representation from our government, the media for coverage, and more People of Indian origin (PIO).

We wish to thank the following sponsors who assisted us in making this First Indian Diaspora Conference in Belize a great success.

National Institute of Culture and History (NICH)
Indo Cultural Union of the Caribbean and Americas (ICUCA)
Institute of Social and Cultural Research (ISCR)
Mr. Arun Hotchandani, Honorary Consul General of India to Belize
Belize Indian Merchants Association (BIMA)
Dreams - Corozal
Bel - Cuisine Condiments
Panaderia La Victoria
Y-Not Bakery, Corozal
A & R. Enterprises Ltd. -Corozal Branch
Social Security Board
Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL)
Public Utilites Commission (PUC)
Roy Meighan
Irene Sanker - Gusman
Odette Perez
San Antonio Village Council, Corozal
Gush & Emy Ramirez
Chico’s Tortilla Factory, Corozal
Window Into the Past
Froylan Gilharry Sr.
Louis Vivas
Corozal Town Council
Courts Ltd. - Belize City
Mirab & Company.
Traveller’s Liquors Ltd.
Paul Ferguson
Roses Paper Products Ltd.
Ahmad & Sons Ltd.
Gongora”s Bakery
Gilaharry 7 Band
Alex Sanker
Leo Hall
Gonzalo Romero
Chicos tortilla factory
Central Bank of Belize
Citrus Products of Belize
Dr. Albert  Williams & family
David Akierman
Efrain Gilharry Sr.
Dorian Whittaker
Martin Rivera
Stafford Williams
Taj Mahal Store
St Francis Xavier Credit Union
Fruta Bomba
Wellworth Store
Aligraphics Limited
Belize Bank, Corozal Branch
Alantic Bank, Corozal Branch
Bowen & Bowen Ltd.
Georgina Casanova
Delmar Guerra
Centaur Cable Vision
Publics Supermarket
 Corozal District Education
We Art Gallery Museum
 Raju’s Variety Store
Belize Spice Farm & Botanical Gardens
Romero’s Charter Service
Punta Gorda Town Council
Marian’s Bayview Restaurant
Seaside Heights Restaurant & Bar
Grace Restaurant
Ms. Olive Woodye
Mr. Edgar Woodye
Mrs. Vilma Ramclam
Mr. Joel Ramclam
Mrs. Lizbeth Skeen
Mrs. Josephine Supaul
Mrs. Judith Williams
Dr. Albert & Mrs. Juana Williams and Family
Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Williams Jr.
Contact Information:
1. Mrs. Sylvia Gilharry Perez - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   Home 011 501 422  0126 , mobile: 011 501 600 7801/665 0232 
2. Dr. Kumar Mahabir -   This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
3. Dr. Albert Williams -  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
4. Mr. Nigel Encalada - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
5. Mrs. Curlette Ramclam Palacio - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it