Years ago, I lived on the mainland in one of the most impoverished towns in Belize. Everywhere I turned another child looked in desperate need of my attention. Instinctively I wanted to mother them, feed them, clothe them, and care for them the way I had raised my children in America. I was overcome. I wanted to do something. Protest. Get TV crews to witness the hunger. Start a soup kitchen. Most of the children didn't have breakfast or shoes.
Every morning, I watched a young girl haul a bucket from a cold water spigot by the street. It weighted five times as much as she. Her brothers and sisters stood in the bucket and washed; then they reused the water for their clothes. At night, their mother stood in the yard and washed from the same bucket. Water is not scarce there; but, it does cost money.
Unless they wear school uniforms and pay a small school fee, children aren't allowed to go to school. In one family, it seems there was only enough money for one girl's uniform. When it was hanging on the line, the girl stayed home. The previous year, her older sister went to school in the same uniform. Now she stays home full time and watches the toddlers while her mother works.
The children never fight. After school, they all shared their lessons and some chips.
I felt frustrated by the seeming indifference of those in power. Then, knowing my concerns and teasing me about a soup kitchen, a good Belizean friend commented while pointing to the avocado and mango trees which were dripping with fruit: "Don't worry. No child starves here. And besides, you don't have a big enough kettle."
My friend was right, of course. Mangoes and bananas are perfect for breakfast and shoes just aren't that important. But education should be available – uniform or not. I'm happy to report the present government is working on it.