Located on the south side of Belize City, Belize, the Jane Usher Boulevard community is often overlooked and shunned for its poverty, crime and swampy setting. There are no schools or health clinics and during the rainy season parents carry their children through knee-deep water to get them to school dry.
With support from the American Red Cross over the past two years however, the Belize Red Cross is guiding the community toward becoming more united and prepared to respond to and recover from floods and other common threats.
Since conducting an assessment to determine local risks and needs, the Red Cross is working to train groups of volunteers in disaster planning, search and rescue, first aid, fire safety, and shelter management.
“There are a lot of unfortunate things in our community; we live in the floods, the drainage is bad, but we live in the mess and we want to help our community. The Red Cross helps us, so we want to help too,” said Belinda Vaughan, a Jane Usher resident.
The Red Cross found its strongest supporters in women like Vaughan. After being trained to conduct the needs survey, the women formed a group to increase community involvement in the activities, including disaster response simulations.
Now, the Jane Usher Neighborhood Association (JUNA) not only inspires the community to strive toward the end goal of reducing deaths, injuries and economic impact from disasters, but is also working to change the negative perceptions of the town.
“Children don’t go to school. We don’t have health services. We need to get together to help each other,” said Sarita Gonguez, a JUNA member.
Recently the group organized a clean-up day bringing together residents, especially youth, to remove garbage and weeds from public areas.
“When it rains, the basketball courts get covered with water and the sewage treatment at the back spills over into the area, but the children still play in it and then they get sick,” said Tremaine Mitchell, one of the few male members of JUNA. Tremaine and his brother were encouraged to join the group by their mother, who was trained by the Belize Red Cross as a Community Disaster Responder.
Last August, the country’s Ministry of Health worked with the Belize Red Cross to train 17 volunteers from JUNA as Community Nurse Aides. Once their training is complete, the volunteers will assist with health outreach, education and response in their area.
As the group continues to grow and fortify its leadership, it plans on expanding its activities and applying for funds from an American Red Cross-sponsored program that supports projects to lessen the community’s vulnerability to disasters.