Belize is a country of Central America neighbouring the region often referred to as the Northern Triangle comprised of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The Northern Triangle countries are facing a surge in violence linked to gang activities exacerbated by the drug route forcing itself throughout Central America. Belize, being so close to this epicentre of crisis, is host to those fleeing the violence. In addition, the lack of opportunities that young people face in Belize, because of high unemployment and low secondary school attendance, create the conditions for similar violence to take hold in the country. RET International’s activities concentrate in Belize City and Cayo District and aim to open up opportunities for vulnerable youth through job creation and the building of their positive leadership capacities. The crisis can be stopped if the youth themselves become productive members of society, entrepreneurs and actors of positive social change.
The Crisis Affecting Belize
Its Impact on Young People
How RET Protects Them
1. The Crisis Affecting Belize
Despite some economic improvements, the region surrounding Belize remains one of the most violent areas in the world. Belize is, therefore, vulnerable to the same growing trends of violence as its Northern Triangle neighbours and is host to migrants and refugees fleeing this epicentre of the crisis. Belize is, as a matter of fact, also home to several fierce street gangs involved in the drug trade, people trafficking, prostitution and violent crime. A growing population, high inward migration and limited services all compound this problem, making Belize at risk of tipping into the same downward spiral as its neighbours. The most problematic regions in Belize are the highly dense urban areas, including Belize City and Cayo District.
2. Its Impact on Young People
Sixty per cent of Belize´s population is under 24 years old, the actions of young people therefore play a significant role in defining the social context nationally. Unfortunately, young people in Belize are increasingly involved in illicit activities that range from theft and petty crime to participation in the drug trade and people trafficking, as well as, in some cases, gang related murders. This illegal activity is inextricably linked to a lack of educational, vocational and social opportunities. Despite significant government investment in education, only around 45% of secondary school-aged youth attend school. Thirty-five percent live below the poverty line and the 22% unemployment among young people is almost double the national average.
A key challenge, therefore, is not only to provide more opportunities, but to ensure that individual interventions can provide sustainable change. Opportunities need to be highly practical for young people and their communities and delivered in a coordinated way, building on local expertise and experience.
3. How RET Protects Them
Our project in Belize, launched in late 2015, combines proven methodologies from RET’s significant experience in the region in order to create real innovative and sustainable solutions to the crisis. The two main pillars of our intervention are: providing job creation opportunities as an alternative to crime and violence, and opening leadership-building opportunities for at-risk youth.
We work with marginalised communities that suffer from high levels of crime and violence. The activities conducted provide direct opportunities for more than 200 young people and their communities in Belize City and Cayo District. Our main goals are to reduce the risk of youth engagement in criminal activities, to support young people in becoming employed or self-employed and to enable them to take up leadership roles in their communities by becoming agents of positive social change.
This is done through apprenticeship opportunities in collaboration with local employers and job placement services. Young people are also supported to develop viable business plans and given advice and assistance on applying for start-up funding for their initiatives. A mentoring service is provided to assist the young entrepreneurs along the way.
Leadership trainings, which work with existing local programmes and quick impact projects implemented by the at-risk young people themselves, are at the centre of RET’s vision of helping young people become the actors of positive social change they could, should and wish to be. Particular emphasis is placed on young women and their empowerment.
What is more, RET engages with local employers, seeking to build a sustainable, community-based network of support. We also coordinate closely with local youth associations, in order to make sure there are benefits for the local community and that real opportunities for leadership are created.