Day One: Finding a Passion for Reproductive Health in Belize

Patrice Daniel, Youth Network Coordinator

Was that dark and erratic line a river? I pressed my nose up against the window of the plane, peering out in fascination at the scenery thousands of feet below. I was moments away from landing in Belize. As the Youth Network Coordinator, I was part of a small team that would spend the next week connecting with the staff and youth members of the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA). Our local partner had gained an outstanding reputation for its strong Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services. We were there to learn more about the work of BFLA and how its success might provide a model for enriching the work of other Member Associations in the region.

The line I saw had been a river. My eyes darted between the Belize River to the Caribbean Sea—one on each side of the road leading from the airport to Belize City—as a friendly taxi driver pointed out the natural wonders of the country. I saw the juxtaposition of these two bodies of water as a perfect metaphor for Belize itself. The only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize has the honour of being considered both a Caribbean and a Central American nation.

Belize has much history in common with its Spanish-speaking neighbors, Mexico and Guatemala, with whom it shares a continental land mass. But is also connected closely to the English-speaking Caribbean islands. Indeed, like many Caribbean islands, Belize has a British colonial history. Consequently, it holds a unique place and perspective within the region. It seemed fitting that my first moments in the country were traveling on a road in the center of the Belize River and the Caribbean Sea.

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, I greeted my IPPF/WHR colleagues, Mandy Van Deven and Ilan Cerna-Turoff. I also met a smiling Erica Morillo, who took photos for duration of the trip. Our first day in Belize took us from the offices of BFLA to the streets of Belize City. After briefly speaking with Joan Burke and Melanie Montero—BFLA's Executive Director and Director of Programmes and Education, respectively—we headed to the Belize Skills Training Centre to visit the Popular Opinion Leaders (POLs). We chatted with four POLs then watched these dedicated young people in action as they conducted community health outreach.

One thing that stood out to me throughout our various conversations was the enthusiasm that emanated from the speakers. Each person displayed a palpable passion for their work. From Joan's description of BFLA's advocacy efforts to ensure safe and legal abortion to the POLs sharing their experiences with peer education, a love of the work was evident. I began to understand why BFLA is able to make such a prominent impact in its community.

At the end of the day, I was exhausted yet intrigued. There was so much I could learn from Belize, and it was my responsibility to pass along what I learned. What would the second day bring? Until tomorrow, Belize!



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