Posted: Wednesday, December 16, 2020. 1:22 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The young men of the St. Martin de Porres area of Lake Independence, Belize City, have been neglected and ignored and even abused to the point that they turned to crime, drugs and rebellion against authority to mask hidden pain.
A group of concerned citizens and supporters ranging from the U.S. Embassy in Belize to the LOVE Foundation and Kolbe Foundation made it one of their choices for a life-changing program aptly titled, “Empowering Communities to Empower Themselves.”
In the case of St. Martin, that means opening a one-stop auto repair shop on Partridge Street Extension, off Vernon Street, which doubles as a community resource hub.
The sponsors had previously been in the Yabra area on Caesar Ridge Road, opening a life skills center. A third component of the project will open on George Street in 2021.
Former convict Japheth Bennett explained: “I always look on dreams and opportunities. I like to make goals and plans and try to be successful, so for me this would be a good success for us. I always like things like this, put myself to new challenges and try to become something different. Most of the guys here went through no training. They grew up like the fixing tyres and they would see works and memorizing stuff. Some kids are not good at school work, but when you put them to do that hard work then you see the knowledge kicked in. Once you start to do that it build strength for each other and the older folks helps us. They show us things and if we don’t know it we ask.”
Albert Clother added that that institutional knowledge and bond will help with their main goals: “Some of the guys are going to have a regular job. We also try to work with the youths in the community to keep them away from crime and violence so that they don’t have to make the same mistake we made, or go down the same road we went…It’s time for us to return the favour to the younger generation and show them and teach them the same way that we learned.”
The Embassy’s Charge’ d’affaires ad interim, Keith Gilges, says the tools the men received on Tuesday were gathered over a five-month period as they were groomed for their new task. The project aims to, and in some cases has already reversed, the stigmatization of ex-convicts and gangsters who have chosen a new path but must convince the wider society of their reform.
Said Gilges, “This is about second chances and when you see somebody that took the easy way earlier and maybe went down a path that wasn’t great and paid a price for it and turned around and said I’m not going to continue down that path, they’ve chosen something remarkable and so part of this is saying to the community we all need to keep an open mind and we need to say listen they’ve chosen something different. They are building faith and building trust in the community. These guys are working hard and they are not saying give us anything. They are saying we will work for it.”
So if you’re willing to try it out, the men say they will be offering full auto-care service from oil change to fixing problems and eventually even detailing and customizing. In another five years, says Clother, they will move to a larger property and offer different services including heavy machinery.
The lot, which was donated, is located at 45 Partridge Street Extension (a few blocks down from St. Martin de Porres Church) and you can contact them at 620-6594.
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