*The US Embassy and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today donated one hundred fifty-seven sanitization stands and ninety-eight gallons of liquid sanitizer to the Ministry of Education. The sanitization supplies and Early Childhood Development (ECD) kits were handed over this morning at a short ceremony held at the St Martin De Porres Primary School in Belize City. Minister of Education, Culture, Science and Technology Francis Fonseca says the donation will help students have a safer education experience.*
Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education: “These ECD kits as was said aim to provide a range of activities to encourage the development and social interaction of our children in playing, story telling, numeracy, those are all critically important areas. I’m also very happy to note that some of the materials also provided for caregivers. That’s very very important. Water and sanitation items for improved health and awareness of our children very very important. So I want to thank everyone who has been involved with this today and I want to again pledge the Ministry of Education’s full support as we move forward. We will have challenges as we have said from the very beginning. There will be challenges just similarly to how we are trying to reopen the country there has to be a delicate balance. We have to protect the health of our people that has to be priority number one but we also know that when people are out of work, when people are desperate economically that that leads to mental health problems, that leads to many many other challenges as well so there has to be the right balance and in education we are striving everyday to find that right balance to ensure as always the health of our stakeholders but also to ensure that we are sending a very clear message to our students and families and communities that our education system is here for them and that we have to get back to educating our people. We have lost too much time, there is no more time to lose. Too much valuable time has been lost and the greatest impact as I said has bene on our most vulnerable students.”
The donation is a part of the ongoing COVID-19 prevention project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the help of the US Embassy in Belmopan. US Charge’ d’Affaires Keith Gilges spoke about the importance of a safe return to face-to-face learning.
Keith Gilges, US Charge D’Affaires: “This is part of a broader strategy as the minister talked about, as Allison talked about. If we’re gonna defeat COVID it takes everything from vaccinations to the sanitation stations, people accepting and enforcing the protocols ,doing everything we as individuals can do to make sure that we’re limiting the possibility of this disease spreading further. We can’t eliminate the risk but we can do our best to manage it. And so by putting in these sanitation stations at schools we’re giving the tools to the students and the teachers to try and ensure that they limit the likelihood that COVID-19 can be transmitted in the school. We cannot eliminate the risk but we can manage it and that’s what this donation is about. Again we’re able to say hey listen we can provide some resources but we may not be best positioned to figure our exactly how to spend that money intelligently and smartly. So we partner with folks like UNICEF that have that expertise on the ground. Partway through this project when the floods happened they said hey can we reprogram some of this money because that’s the direct need we see right now and our answer is “Sure. Ask us what you need and make that happen.” and so we were able to redirect some of that money. So this is the final part of that grant is to provide these wash basins to schools, to provide some equipment and everything and again to give the tools to the students and the teachers and then they need to take them up and enforce the protocol so that we can get through this and get back to in person learning which is so vital for the development of students.”
UNICEF representative for Belize Allison Parker added that the donation is a part of the longstanding relationship the organization has with Belize.
Alison Parker, UNICEF Representative, Belize: “UNICEF actually has a five year cooperation plan with the Government of Belize. So we’ve been supporting the Government of Belize over the last five years and the US Government has been an integral part of that incremental support to the government. So this is just one of many initiatives that we have together. This particular intervention was linked to COVID last year when we recognized that the schools were closed and that distanced learning had to be provided and at the same time some of the same families were impacted by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. So the support from the US government came to support those families and showing that we can go house to house and deliver some of the most needed humanitarian support to them and this included the same ECD Kits, Hygiene Kits as well as some tools for the caregivers, mothers and parents to take care of their children so caregiving and ECD go together because without those caregivers the children cannot also evolve and develop. So this is where this evolved from and as the schools reopen together with the government we had a lot of conversation as to what will be needed for the safe reopening of school and we realized that having water and sanitation stands and facilities in the schools would be a critical component of it and that’s why we’re supporting that today with the generous contribution.”
The stands and supplies are worth twenty thousand Belize dollars and will be distributed among forty-five primary schools nationwide.