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Awakening the Dreamer in Belize

June 27, 2011

By Sister Mary P.

I went to Belize with two other Sisters with the knowledge that the American Dream that guides our behavior here in the North, leading us all on the treacherous path of mindless consumerism, might not be the operative worldview there.

In fact, as we got ready to present the Awakening the Dreamer symposium to four groups in this Central American country, we were prepared to engage in discussion that would put the blame for our unraveling world squarely on our US shoulders. We wondered if the participants in Belize would resent us as Northerners or even argue that they should be entitled to enjoy some of the American Dream benefits since they have not greatly contributed to the current ecological overshoot, climate disruption, or economic downturn.

What we found was that the people did not resent or blame us but did agree with the fact that the U.S. is one of the major polluters of the environment and proponents of the consumerism mentality. They were committed to educate others about the themes of the symposium — the dire needs of Earth and the urgency of changing behaviors that contribute to the problems – and the goal of promoting a more environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on Earth.

In conversation with Sisters and their co-workers, I learned that this country facing into the beautiful Caribbean with various palms, birds and fruit is already feeling the effects of climate change: the dry season drier, the rainy season wetter and stormier, the temperature noticeably hotter. Oil has been discovered off the coast, and the hope of job creation is being weighed against potential destruction of the ecosystem. There will be a referendum, and many people have mixed feelings as to how to vote. There are serious problems in Belize. The poverty is evident, violence is escalating, and the lack of respect for one another, animals and the environment was shared and discussed openly. The need for spiritual fulfillment and meaning was expressed as a deep hunger.

Some parents have left their children in the care of grandparents while they go off to work in the US. The parents then send back to their children, great gifts of toys and clothes and electronic devices. What we heard about was the same old American Dream, with “things” expected to fill the hunger in the human heart and it doesn’t work in Central America any more than it does here!

We learned that the same advertisements promising the good life if only you buy (fill in the blank) are filling the airwaves, billboards, and human consciousness. The measuring stick of self- worth, namely how much we earn and what it can buy creates a narcissistic society, destroys a sense of community and rewards predatory competition. We could all be living in equitable, caring and sharing communities and enjoying the resulting health and happiness benefits, but we have been seduced by the models of success presented by the media and we have assumed that the advertisements are correct! So many are left behind with no hope of ever catching up in this system and few get what we really want or really need.

A new casino hotel sits on the beach, but a Belizean has to show 300 Belizean dollars in order to enter! We saw places where people are merely squatters on a piece of swamp land where crocodiles live. The same dream tells them they are not worth the consideration of others, they are not good enough to be carefree and happy-go-lucky. Not valued by anyone, some young people turn to gangs, to violence and drugs, to belong and to escape. The gap between the rich and the poor is very evident, but education is still hoped to be the great equalizer. We had to examine that assumption as well. Is education a value in itself or is it the promise of a better life, a life filled with North American “stuff”?

I found it sad that our way of life is admired, that the hope for growth includes a vision of skyscrapers in a country below sea level whose streets flood in heavy rains and whose very existence is threatened by a major hurricane six months of every year.

We presented the Awakening the Dream symposium to just under 100 people — Sisters and Associates, students of St Catherine Academy and Muffles College and a group of local leaders from Audubon, the UN Development Program, the Scouts, Women’s International Network/Belize, the Ministry of Education, the local meteorologist, Belize University and teachers from St John’s, St Catherine’s and Muffles. The same concerns emerged in every group: violence, lack of respect, the ever present garbage dumping problem, poverty, pollution, and the lack of any real recycling. One group was really going to work on the garbage issue, writing letters to the editor, petitioning for free garbage pickup for everyone and offering “tips” at the end of the TV weather report. The students at St Catherine’s wanted to revitalize their environmental club and have clean-ups, educate the entire school, and even take Awakening the Dreamer to other schools. There was something about their confidence and assuredness that they could make a difference!

We trained 18 people to be facilitators and continue the education of others. They were so hopeful and determined to make a difference.

In Blessed Unrest, let us pray for Belize, for a future filled with environmental sustainability, spiritual fulfillment and social justice!

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