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Graduates of John Paul II Junior College called to lead transformational change amidst global pandemic
July 1, 2020

Speech delivered by Carolyn Trench Sandiford on June 26, 2020 at John Paul II JC Commencement exercise

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Posted: Wednesday, July 1, 2020. 10:27 am CST.

Photo courtesy: John Paul II JC

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

Delivered by Carolyn Trench-Sandiford: Good evening, faculty, staff, students, family and friends; and esteemed graduates, whom I wish to thank for the honour and the prestige of addressing you today on your 2020 graduation commencement ceremony. It is indeed a glorious moment for an accomplishment earned by hard work, discipline, commitment and as important, one only possible with the grace of God, the support and guidance of your family, and the shared Blessings of your friends, your college and your community. I am humbled to be here.

More importantly, I am so re-energized by being in your presence today, as I am sure that throughout your high school years, you have inspired and guided others; sharing the gifts that the Almighty has bestowed on you.

Given this opportunity, I wish to share some thoughts with you at this milestone moment in your life, when you are making critical choices of career pathways, of whether to continue your studies, or to stay in Belize or migrate; of starting a family or seeking a job, and what your role can be in national life; as we face a global pandemic that is crippling the socio-economic fabric of developed and developing countries like our Belize.

I, like many other Belizeans, have become very concerned about the state of our nation, and what we see as our trajectory, a Belize that is like a ship on a journey on open water, moving in all directions at the same time, with no sense of purpose, not a clue as to a destination.

Today is a day of joy for you graduates, for your family, your friends, John Paul II Junior College and your community and Belize. In presence of tears of joy, however are the tears for the reality of a Belize of rising and widening poverty and inequality; of greed and corruption; of loss of trust and confidence in our systems of institutions of our democracy; of the nonchalant attitude toward protecting our borders and our Belizean identity; of the blatant disregard of our constitution, the very essence of our existence, of who we are and the values for which we stand; and we see many of our leaders placing self before God and country;

I will confess, that at times, I found myself disillusioned and cynical, losing hope each and every day, grappling with the many questions of what more can I do? What can we do together to change this course, and calibrate one that can deliver on the promise of the peaceful constructive Belizean revolution, of which our independence on September 21st, 1981 and our constitution were milestones?

A constitution which affirms that our nation shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in human rights and fundamental freedoms; a constitution which speaks to respecting the principles of social justice and for the operation of our the economic system to result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good;

A constitution that says that we, the people of Belize, believe in a democratic society and that all persons may play some part in the institutions of national life; one that recognises that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and for the rule of law; and one that require policies of state which protect and safeguard the territorial integrity of Belize, and which eliminate economic and social privilege and disparity among the citizens of Belize and which ensures gender equality;

One that was the vehicle for the peaceful constructive Belizean revolution that was to bring to all Belizeans a better quality of life and a just share of the national wealth.  That revolution has been derailed and our constitution has been sabotaged. The dreams of our forefathers and mothers, the architects of our constitution, are now merely illusions for many.

So here you are now, poised to shape the future of the nation state of Belize for your generation and the next. Your years of learning and equipping yourself with the knowledge and skills set; of overcoming obstacles and pressures, whether from your peers, from society, from social media, to be here today, is a testament of your strength and of your resilience, and your capacity to take charge of your destiny and that of your country; holding to your faith in God that Belize will be made a great nation and you will be a Blessing to your country Belize.

But I will not sugar coat it. COVID-19 has changed the landscape in which we exist. It has also exposed the blatant pre-existing economic and social disparity amongst us. When over 80,000 persons or almost ½  of our labour force apply for unemployment relief that says to us that they are only a paycheck away from being sucked into the poverty statistics of 43% and 14% vulnerable to becoming poor. That’s 54% of our population. This is not what the revolution was supposed to be.

COVID-19 has exposed us as debt ridden nation, where each of us owe $10,000.00 at last count, and where the annihilation of one industry,  brought our economy to its knees, and our lifeline to survive are now loans and the benevolence of other countries. It says we are a dependent nation. This is not what the revolution was supposed to be.

It has also  exposed our failure to share the wealth of this nation when thousands of people were prepared to congregate at a time of state of emergency just to have the hope of acquiring a piece of land to build their dream house or carve a livelihood from a farm plot, when there are persons and organizations who individually or collectively own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the country. This is not what the revolution was supposed to be.

Your deliverance, therefore, must be different. For this is not the Belize of 1950, when that revolution was birthed. Neither is it 1981, when the promise of Independence gave us hope for a brighter future, nor is it 2000, which was the dawn of new century.  It is 2021 and counting. It is your generation, and Belize is in a new decade, where our development challenges are multiple, more complex and wide-ranging and deeper. We are now a multi-cultural society instead of one that is ethnically diverse, with shifting values, and perhaps with more Belizeans residing in the Diaspora than in Belize. We are also living in an age of tri-identity, national, regional, being both Caribbean & Central American, and global.

We have issues that are yet unresolved, for example, the unfounded Guatemalan claim to our country and the systemic and deeply rooted gender, spatial and representational disparities in our governance system, whereby women are absent from the highest levels of decision making, where vulnerable groupings of our population are discounted in the development discourse; and whereby there is marked differences in the size and populations of political constituencies, the most populated being 5 times that of the least populated and more so of its size, yet each is allocated the same resources; and whereby villages that have populations more than that of cities and towns, receive inadequate subvention and constraint protocols disallow their revenue collection efforts.

Then, there is the existing culture of acceptance of the non-governance approach to democracy; which have resulted in institutionalized corruption and mismanagement of our resources, and the evasion of transparency, accountable and ethical practices.as business as usual. In agreeing to decisions and actions that are politically driven and not in the interest of the common good; we give no accountability of our land inventory and its alienation from the national estate, neither do we know who are awarded scholarships and grants from the public purse, or do we hold those who gain contracts from the public purse liable for inferior work or for getting paid and not producing any work. These are only examples.

In addition to these internal issues, are those external ones of which we have no control over, for they are spawned regionally and globally, that is, free trade, terrorism, the insatiable appetite for drugs, human trafficking and money laundering activities to escape taxes and hide the gains of illegal activities.  There is also climate change creating havoc on our weather, bringing higher temperatures, heat waves and droughts, more intense storms and rising sea levels and increased flooding.

Even more, at this time, COVID-19 has injected increased uncertainty and unpredictability into the mix that we have to charter through deal. It has turned our world upside down.   However, borrowing from the Chinese culture, even though the virus originated from China, we must search for opportunities within our challenges. Therefore, we should appreciate the added invaluable lessons from the impact (gains and losses) to those experienced throughout our 39 years of political independence.  As Generation Z, you now have the opportunity to  build on what has worked, and can work, and fully embrace a new form of thinking in order to respond to, adapt and pro-act to our unique development challenges, and ultimately, to bring about the future we desire. To change the business as usual approach, for then extinction will be our destiny.

Things that were once demeaned by traditional thinkers and progress stoppers, like earning academic qualifications by online learning, has now become accepted as the new norm, kicking wide open the windows for educational and employment mobility. COVID-19 has elevated our appreciation and the value on our security forces, our health care professionals and our teaching cadre.  The internet, technology and data are driving progress, creating new forms of opportunities for livelihoods, removing the middle people, and connecting suppliers with buyers globally, and elevating the run-man. Whoever thought that there would be a job as a social media influencer, and money can be earned from it.

These progressions definitely provide hope for a changing future and I am confident that you will be the generation that history will record as having faith and courage along with the conviction to do what is necessary to preserve the Nation State of Belize, and who, with a sense of purpose and urgency, will begin the process of designing the future you want to see for yourself and for Belize.  For you are Generation Z, and I have no doubt that you will deliver on the promise of the peaceful, constructive Belizean revolution

There is the legacy of many successes to guide you, to anchor you; despite the many disappointments and failures that have sowed the seeds of disillusionment and hopelessness.  This convinces me that amongst you is an Antonio Soberanis, who will lead the fight for better living wages and employment benefits for the working class, to ensure never again, our Belizean people will be thrown under bus by a pandemic or a disaster.

That amongst you is a Madam Gwendolyn Lizarragua, who will lead the fight for rebuilding our communities and families, and ensuring that the voice and needs of families and vulnerable population are included in the development discourse and state delivery, and that we will have a woman, very soon as a national heroine, that our anthem will no longer speak of pledging our manhood, but pledging our lives to thy liberty, and that our women take their rightful place to lead this nation, side by side with our men in government and on our flag.

That amongst you will be a Phillip S.W. Goldson, always ensuring that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our nation state is held intact for your generation and the next to come, who will advocate for all Belizeans to join forces, shoulder to shoulder, in the defence of this nation.  And that amongst you will be a George Cadle Price, who will lead the next revolution, a progressive change and reform revolution, that will give effect to the social justice and democratic nationalism values and principles and fundamental rights and freedom that are enshrined in our constitution. For the peaceful and constructive will not be words that the landless, the starving and poor will find palatable.  Your leadership must propel and sustain efforts of being our gatekeepers of democracy and good governance.

Graduates of 2020, the multiple roles of technology, innovation and research, have transformed the way we think, live, communicate, learn and do business. You are Blessed with the tools to rapidly elevate Belize to developed nation status.  Remember graduates, we are a nation that God has blessed with wealth untold, inclusive of oil, minerals, flora and fauna, and most importantly, a people with knowledge, skills set and unlimited potential, working in the public and private sector, and domiciling in rural and urban communities, and in the coastal and marine and terrestrial realms, and in the diaspora, each equipped with a deep desire to live in a Belize of prosperity and opportunity for all, with our communities safe and striving, and our borders secure.

With transformational thinking, there are unlimited opportunities for approaches and action, an entire nation on board, and a blue-print for ensuring that wealth sharing improves socio-economic status for all and not just a few. It requires you to resist the cancer of the get rich quick mentality like many in the generations before you; for you to take a zero tolerance approach to corruption and mismanagement; to show respect and treat all Belizeans fairly, and justly, as partners in our development, and above all, to always put country first before any personal interests.

Graduates, I am hopeful that disillusionment and cynicism will not sow within you , for this dream of a better quality of life and a just share of the national wealth are only delayed, and you can be instrumental in its realization. For in Genesis 12:2-3 Abram learned that sometimes a delay is for the benefit of others, not us, so we are to patiently bear it so others we may never even meet can be Blessed through us.

Graduates, you are now prepared to lead the transformational revolution to release society from the bonds of captivity, disillusionment, cynicism and hopelessness; to the realization of land redistribution and quality knowledge building and education access to all, especially our marginalized and vulnerable population as top priorities in the actions of the state; That our credit union and cooperative movement, the social security net and national health insurance be expanded.

That we build on our globally recognized environmental stewardship as the core of our survival and sovereignty, that we once again engage in a cultural renaissance; that we give municipalities and villages the power to make decisions about their communities and provide more support for the work of civil society. Graduates, the future is yours to change, you are the change for a changing future, and you are blessed to change the future.

I thank you for this opportunity to be here with you on such a momentous day for you. May God Bless you and guide you on your journey. May God bless John Paul II Junior College, and may God bless Belize.

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