How it began
In 2009 I arrived on Ambergris Cay with 8 hockey bags of donations for the local school in the community of San Mateo. It was the walk along those dangerous bridges that challenged and changed my perspective forever on poverty and how it victimizes hard-working, undeserving people. Despite the fact they are surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, the water that surrounds their homes is being polluted by the discharge of untreated sewage.
Upon my return to Canada I began researching solutions that could help this community. I no longer spent casual hours on Facebook and YouTube. Instead, my computer screen was filled with images of composting toilets, wastewater gardens, community-led sanitation models and safe water filtration systems. My emails shifted to information sharing and consultations with experts and from other organizations with a similar focus. Relationships were quickly established within the community, and with national environmental groups and international NGO’s. It was time to bring the resources together to best help this community.
In January 2012 Engineers Without Borders visited the area. They found that people are getting sick from waterborne disease. The report also stated that the bacteria found in the water can be linked to fecal matter. Not surprisingly, this is due to inadequate treatment of the sewage in San Mateo. San Mateo is a small community, but that does not mean that they should not have access to the basic necessities, the biggest one being clean, safe water.
Discussions with local NGO A.C.E.S. (American Crocodile Education Sanctuary) disclosed the added danger of crocodiles that are beginning to move under the homes. They are being attracted by the garbage and sewage in the area.
Training to Achieve Success
Environmental Education Programs are essential to facilitate further understanding within the community about the importance of this project. I began Kids 4 Clean Water in San Mateo in 2012. Partnerships with complementary organizations are creating opportunities for hands-on learning and conservation. They support community empowerment initiatives that maintain and enhance the ecological integrity of the area. A leadership program will be established with mentors from the Environmental Club at Belize University and Caribbean Youth Environment Group. It is our hope that they will become the leaders within the community to facilitate future initiatives.