The Belize National Teachers’ Union is marking its fifty-first anniversary today. It’s a low-key celebration and the union only issued a press release to thank members and friends for their support of its work. In an interview with Senator Elena Smith, the union’s president, discussed the importance of the union’s work over the last five decades.
Senator Elena Smith, President, BNTU: “In terms of our role that we play not just for our members but for the country in general because as you rightly said our constitution allows us to address national issues because we do understand that these issues affect all of us whether directly or indirectly these issues will affect all of us and so for that reason then as a union we feel we are obligated because one, we are members of this nation, two we have responsibility to ensure that our people are treated fairly that’s what unionism is all about but also that we must hold our government accountable because if we don’t then it would mean that the people would then suffer and because we understand the connection that we have as citizens, as union leaders, as an organization that has that as it’s mandate then we will continue with that platform. We don’t believe that if it is that we don’t have unions that our democracy would be as strong as we want it to be. We play a very key role in that but we also play a role in educating, sensitizing the general public. A lot of times for example people take for granted the kind of work that we do as teachers and they only see us as okay you just go to school and you get the whole summer off and those kinds of things but with education, with us standing up for things that we believe in, things that we now will make our country, our people better I think it helps our students.”
The union’s mantra is service, security and success for this anniversary. President Smith said that one of the ways she will help the union prep for the future is to create strong leaders to carry the torch.
Senator Elena Smith, President, BNTU: “As a leader I am of the view that for you to be recognized as a great leader or a good leader it means that you have to make leaders out of others. And so it’s not just about having your members following you because that is how we look at members are following you. Whereas really and truly it is the members telling us how to go and you know we just take that direction. But if it is that during our term as leaders we are unable to help the other persons within the organization to grow and grow to a point where they too can be leaders at some point; some of them might not be ready to be a leader at the national level at this point in time where they are but they are certainly ready to maybe be a leader in their respective branches. And so once you are able to do that, you provide training for your people, you get them involved, then I believe that we are well on the way to ensuring that going forward our union would be able to identify persons who could properly carry the union forward in the same manner that we have been doing before.”
The union has had a long history of successful presidents including George Frazer, Helen Stuart, Luke Palacio and Anthony Fuentes.