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Point and Counterpoint – Elevators to Heaven: Advocacy groups in Belize

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2021. 4:36 pm CST.

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

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: As the Blues Singer, Chris Bell, observed in one of his popular songs on drug addiction: ‘I haven’t seen any rain dragging round a ball and chain.   Angels says it’s quarter to eleven, I’ll just take the next elevator to Heaven’.  If heaven on earth for the Belizean society is the agency of its citizens, that is, if the goal of the society is to build the capacity of individual Belizeans to act independently and to make their own free choices, advocacy groups can become one of the country’s elevators to heaven. This is especially so since advocacy in our social ecosystem is a form of public support for, or recommendation of, a particular cause or policy. 

The question I wrestled with over this long weekend is whether there are enough advocacy groups in Belize to meet the minimal needs of the society to grow and developed in a sustainable way?  In summary, the answer that I came up with is that though there are many civil-society groups that do see the need for advocacy and includes some of it in the very important work they do in various sectors of the society, there should be an urgent call for more civil-groups with missions and visions that are more focused on advocating for more specific, targeted changes in the social fabric of the Belizean social ecosystem, if we are ever going to achieve that goal of the agency of our citizenry.

In social science, agency refers to the human capability to influence one’s functioning and the course of events by one’s actions.  People set goals for themselves and foresee likely outcomes of perspective actions to guide and motivate their efforts anticipatorily.  In other words, human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.  Human agency entitles the observer to ask should ‘this’ have occurred? in a way that would be nonsensical in conversations lacking human decision makers.  For example, the human agent is the type of individual that would ask: should we have reached the stage where the National Teachers Union and the Public Service Union had to go on strike?  Or should we have allowed Belize Bank to acquire Scotia Bank Belize?  Human agency entails the claim that humans do in fact make decisions and enact them on the world and if a situation is the consequence of human decision making, persons may be under a duty to apply value judgements to the consequences of their decisions and held responsible for those decisions.    

But how does a small struggling country like Belize build this capacity of agency in its citizenry? The systems approach to development recommends that the society needs to have a myriad of strategies to accomplish. One very salient strategy is for the country to have a critical mass of advocacy groups advocating for more specific, targeted changes in the social fabric of the of the Belizean social ecosystem.  These include groups that would focus their advocacy in such targeted areas as land reform, constitution reform, public service reform, political reform, poverty alleviation, and to push the envelop on gender and equity as well as education and finance sector reforms.

I spoke to a colleague last week who said to me that she has just moved to Belize from the US after working for more than thirty years in the Financial Market Sector there.  She has been here for over a month, and still cannot access her US accounts directly.  She cannot transfer some of her financial resources to Belize that she desperately needs to live on, simply because the connection between our financial system and the international financial sector has been broken or so badly damaged that it needs urgent repairs.  Had she not shared her story with me, I would have never known that our financial sector is in such dire straits! Listening to our official sources alone, all we hear is that the government is broke, not a word on our broken monetary and fiscal systems. I could only conclude that a financial advocacy group in Belize is urgently needed, that is, we urgently need a grouping of informed persons to speak, write and stand up for our financial sector and by so doing stand up for the society.

Fortunately, in this area of advocacy groupings we are not starting from ground zero. Current active, powerful advocacy groups in Belize include BGYEA (Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association) operating at Mile 43 on the George Price Highway, that is advocating for more access to agricultural lands for the landless in Belize; The Mayan Rights Groups in the south advocating for Mayan Ancestral lands; The Organization of Caribbean Women Leaders advocating for greater direct involvement of women in running for political positions in the country; our Council of Churches advocating for a greater diffusion of moral agency; and of course the LBGT groups advocating for gender equity and gender rights.

Advocacy groups are important in a society because they promote equality, social justice, social inclusion, and human rights.  Advocacy aim to make things happen in the most direct and empowering ways possible.  Most importantly, advocacy recognizes that Self-Advocacy – whereby people perhaps with encouragement and support speak out and act on their own behalf – is the ultimate aim, or as Chris Bell puts it: ‘The Elevator to Heaven”.  Belize now more than at any point in its history needs more people involved in the education of its citizens about the issues that are leading to more and more of us losing control of our economic lives; we need more people to contact and encourage our elected leaders to focus on poverty alleviation in the country; we need more people volunteering to help fight poverty locally; and we need more of our informed citizenry to educate the larger community on the structural flaws in our social infra-structure. 

My own definition of advocacy is, taking action and being accountable for oneself in creating a better life for others in the society.  For me it is a process not a title and I find it gratifying.   My wish is for more members of our society yield the call of more advocacy groupings in the country.  I guarantee that you will find it equally gratifying.

Feel free to challenge any or all of the issues raised in this piece and lets get the critical discourse on sustainable development of the country going.            

Dr. Dоrіаn Ваrrоw іѕ сurrеntlу wоrkіng аt Gаlеn Unіvеrѕіtу аѕ thе Dеаn оf thе Dераrtmеnt оf Еduсаtіоn. Не hаѕ а lоng hіѕtоrу оf іnvоlvеmеnt іn еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе, hаvіng ѕеrvеd аѕ а Lесturеr аt thе Unіvеrѕіtу оf Веlіzе, аnd аѕ Сhіеf Ехесutіvе Оffісеr іn thе Міnіѕtrу оf Еduсаtіоn. Dr. Ваrrоw іѕ аn еmіnеnt рrоfеѕѕіоnаl whо іѕ wеll rеѕресtеd bоth lосаllу аnd аbrоаd. Не іѕ ѕеrvіng аѕ аn еdіtоrіаl mеmbеr аnd rеvіеwеr оf ѕеvеrаl іntеrnаtіоnаl rерutеd јоurnаlѕ аnd hаѕ аuthоrеd mаnу rеѕеаrсh аrtісlеѕ/bооkѕ rеlаtеd tо еduсаtіоn. Араrt frоm еduсаtіоn, hе іѕ аlѕо а ѕроrtѕ еnthuѕіаѕt.


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