If you have been at a harvest dinner, you have heard about our friends from San Pablo—that’s the remote community we talked about that is surrounded by banana fields. You have heard that they worked for $.75 / hour from 8 am – 10 pm six days a week just to provide the basics for their families. You may have heard that some of these young men are working to send their children to school—remember, education is not free here in Belize. Tuition, uniforms, books—they are all the responsibility of the family. And I’m sure you remember our friend Thomas, who had to take the job in the banana field because he couldn’t support his family as as a produce farmer. Yes, this is the community at the end of a 12 mile “road” that takes a minimum of 50 minutes to traverse because of the ruggedness.
After nearly a week, we were able to coordinate schedules for a trip to the village—finally a chance to sit and talk with the farmers—to see how the turmeric planting is doing and to talk about how we are going to work towards crop diversification in their fields and more. But, the evening before we headed over, Pastor Ishim (the village chairman) and I were talking on the phone and he asked if just he and Juaquine Makine the Alcalde(village magistrate) could talk, I knew something was up, but had no idea what…
One the way back the 12 mile road we began to get an idea what the conversation was going to focus on. Field after field, acre after acre of banana trees were cut down! In November, the trees were bearing huge bunches of fruit and looking great, but now, there was nothing but stumps and weeds!
In the Toledo District, from the community of Santa Rosa to the village of Trio, there are 5 communities along the 40 mile stretch who depend on the banana industry. When the bananas are harvested they ship across the Atlantic and hit the markets throughout Great Britain. For decades, this has been what they rely on for financial stability.
Unfortunately, there is a fungal problem that is attacking the leaves of the banana tree and there are no available control measures. The only course of action is to hope and pray for 1 final harvest from the remaining trees for the few remaining workers, chop down the diseased trees, wait several months, and then replant–(Putting the same crop in the same field where chemical control measures completely failed…this doesn’t seem logical to a simple produce farmer…but what do I know about bananas? I’m guessing they are developing an even stronger chemical control) This will mean 16-24 months where many communities will suffer mass unemployment!
When we sat to talk with Pastor and Juaquine, we began to understand the magnitude of the problem for just this one village! Tuitions aren’t being paid, books aren’t being bought, and uniforms are no more. The church had done a promissory campaign for an expansion, but now, with no income from the farmers and no way no make their financial contributions, there is no money in the coffers to pay the contractor who was doing the work. Men are leaving their families to find work in other communities, and, remember Thomas? He has found work, but he is leaving his home even earlier and getting back even later and now he is working 7 days a week!
Pastor Ishim and Alcalde Juaquine just kept hanging their heads and over and over again said, “It is so hard brother Eric…I don’t know what we are going to do…It is just so hard!”
Believe it or not…their problems goes deeper than the banana fields, and their many struggles weigh heavy on our hearts. One of the other challenges they face is their small elementary school—roof leaking, windows (wooden shutters) are falling out, and the paint is chipped and falling off. I had offered for us to come in and spend a few days bringing it to a more liveable condition—a little paint, some patching of the tin roof, and maybe rebuilding the worst of the shutters…but we can’t! The school is run by a Catholic organization who will not allow a “Christian” organization to do any work on the structure—yet, they refuse to do anything. (Before you begin to think well…hey, Catholics’ are Christian…right?? Yeah, I was thinking he same thing, but in this small community, there is a Catholic church, a Baptist Church, and a Christian Church—all with very separate identities…possibly a failure of those who were serving in the community before us???)
And to top it all off—there is a small thatched roof structure that was built as a health outpost—a place for government folk to come in and give immunizations, vitamins, do health screenings and more. In the past year, that building was commandeered by the school and now houses the classroom for the youngest kids. The problem with that is now the health department is unhappy—they refuse to share the space with the school and will not return until the classroom is out of the building…”It is so hard Brother Eric, I just don’t know what we are going to do” So, do they kick out the school children to make the health department happy? Do they build another building for the students? Where will they get the funding for the project?
We are doing what we can…We will be buying anatto from the community, and we will buy some turmeric, but really, this is only a drop in the bucket! We will be working on introducing a morenga program to the village where we will take cuttings from the few mature trees and propagate enough for at least a 1 acre plot. We are taking an expedition into the jungle to seek out wild growing vanilla orchids and we hope to bring back a few hundred cuttings to begin a large scale vanilla vineyard. The quote from Bono really sums up our vision for relief:
But, for right here, right now, they need some relief and we don’t have monies to help with the contractors bill that is due for the church, we are just developing the Sowing Seeds Scholarship fund, (that will not be ready to implement until next fall Belize Govnt stuff) and we don’t have materials here to give them the tools to be able to redirect away from their reliance on the banana fields!
We know this is not in our timing—His timing is perfect, so we know what they need when they need it most we will have it to give. If Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company had the customer base and market outlets to be a financially viable business, then MMCSC would be funneling monies into Sowing Seeds in Belize to fulfill this kind of need—but we are not, and Sowing Seeds does not have the funding to do much of anything by ourselves! We are prayerfully seeking your help—maybe you can add SSIB into your monthly budget, maybe a one time gift? Even though it is not up and running, we are raising funds for the scholarship fund—details are coming soon. When we return to the states we will be looking for partners to help with collections to help fill the sea container and funding to get it here. You can also support our work with your purchases from Maya Mountain Coffee and Spice Company. Just imagine if we were at a place where we could order 4, 6, or even 10 tonnes of fresh turmeric?!?! What would this do for that community?? We have faith and confidence that one day that will be the scenario…but until then–we are relying on your generosity and compassion to help us Sow Seeds in Belize!