San Mateo Road Building Continues

Anyone who has visited San Mateo in the last two years knows the absolutely transformational effect the roads have had on this community. Previously, all residents had to walk in and out on precarious "london bidges" - thin walkways made of old planks build over the dark and suspicious lagoon waters. But now - thanks to the roads - access in and out of the community is much, much easier and daily life improves as locals can now have building materials and drinking water delivered much closer to home.

The road building began with the University of Mississippi, who together with members of the local community who were sick of waiting for local authorities to act, formed the San Mateo Community Empowerment Project. It has now transformed the local community by providing access.

Here's the story of the latest road building told in the excellent words of the San Perdo Sun, our local newspaper here in San Pedro. (View this article with aditional images are read other great articles from the San Pedro Sun  here.)

"The members of the San Mateo Empowerment Project continued with their main goal over the past weekend; to expand the San Mateo road. In the past two weeks, some 24 volunteer students from the University of Mississippi, USA paid a visit to San Pedro Town where they participated in many volunteer projects; one of which was to helping with the road expansion in San Mateo.
Over the last two weekends, beginning in the early morning, the volunteer students along with San Mateo residents and community members were off to work, caps in hand, to expand the road into new areas. Equipped with wheelbarrows, buckets and shovels, the group was able to make significant progress.

According to coordinator Kim Shackelford, to date over 850 linear feet of road has been constructed. The road is 12 feet wide and three feet deep and has a solid concrete base of limestone. Another section of the road, leading to the next section of the lagoon was completed.

Shackelford said that the success of the project is widely attributed to the excellent cooperation from the San Mateo community. “We have a strong commitment from the community which is good for the success of the project so far,” explained Shackelford.

While there has been some help from the larger community of San Pedro, Shackelford explained that there are still some misconceptions. “Some people outside of San Mateo feel that there are not as many people living in the San Mateo area,” said Shackelford.

Slowly but surely the road is moving along replacing the London Bridges in the San Mateo area. The road project has been materializing mainly through the efforts of the “Ole Miss” students who continue to raise funds at their University to purchase materials. Along with the San Mateo residents, the volunteer students push forward, giving of their time when visiting Belize with the final goal to complete the roads."

Thanks everyone for your hard work.

EWB Visit Holy Cross & San Mateo

This week, Holy Cross welcomed our first visit from the Texas A&E chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB). This was a fantastic visit and will form the beginning of what we hope will be along lasting partnership.

The EWB students focused their attention to two different areas: How can we help the school; and how can we help San Mateo?

The EWB team in San Mateo, Belize
At the school the engineers focused on two tricky issues - protecting our computers from the erratic power we receive and monitoring the effectiveness of the waste water garden. The design for our computers was already pretty good, but they were able to give us some ideas for continuing to improve the water garden, for which we are very grateful.

But more excitingly were the ideas generated to help the community of San Mateo, from where we draw many of our students. San Mateo has inadequate water, power, road, and sewerage facilities, so there were many challenges for the engineers to choose from. They chose the following three:
  • WATER. The engineers tested the water and confirmed what the locals already knew:  the town water supply that some residents have access to - while still being much, much better than carrying water home in buckets like they used to - is not reliably safe for drinking. Although it enters the area as safe water, the pipes lie in the sewerage contaminated lagoon water, which seeps into the pipes in some areas when pressure is low. Likewise, some of the many tanks that locals use for storing rainwater were found to be contaminated too. This is a serious hazard to the health of the local residents, especially infants and children. Read more here.

    The engineers identified that informing the local residents of the issues and teaching the residents how to safely treat the water were the immediate need, and they will then develop several prototypes of point-of-use water treatment systems that will provide safe drinking water from the local tap water. (Currently locals pay $5 BZ for 5 gallons of bottled water. This solution would reduce the price to less than $1).
  • ELECTRICITY: The next need is electricity. Some houses are now connected to mains electricity, and a fascinating yet not entirely safe web of extension leads and wires attach yet more houses to the grid. Yet many houses are without any power and all houses have blackouts several times a month (or even several times a day on a bad day).  The biggest impact is always the lack of evening light for study and general household activities.

    The engineers proposed a simple battery operated system that could run a light electric load (eg a light, radio and maybe even a fan), that could then be recharged by someone who had mains electricity. The local population thought this was a wonderful idea and are excited to try it. I suspect that this might also be adopted by other residents of San Pedro who have less than reliable electricity, or as a back-up during hurricanes.
  • ROADS: The engineers were also able to give a few suggestions to improve the roads being built by the community. These were to add culverts to improve drainage, and adding a geotextile under the road to support it in the mud. Most interestingly with the culverts, they were as much to let the tidal water in as to let the accumulating water out - the tidal water is salty so every time it washes inland it prevents harmful bacteria and mosquitoes from breeding.
We are very excited about these developments for San Mateo. To find out more about San Mateo and how you can help the development there, visit the San Mateo Community Empowerment Project website hosted by Ole Miss here.

Electrical measurements

Sampling the water

Engaging the local population

A new generation of EWB in training?

Solar Success

We're excited to report the Solar Panel project is up and running! Thanks to Baker Renewable Energy for installing and many generous donors for contributing, the 24 solar panels generated over 758 kwh so far - at that's with some very cloudy and rainy weather.

These solar panels are just one step in making Holy Cross School more green and importantly more sustainable in our use of water and power. As both electricity and water are expensive on our small island, these green technologies make a big difference in operating costs.

Read more about the project here: Global Giving

Global Giving

Ole Miss Winter Camp

Exploring science - shadow drawings

The kids of San Pedro had a very welcome addition to their Christmas Holidays this year - a team from one of our favorite partners - the University of Mississippi - brought down a wonderfully talented team, who ran a fun winter camp for the local kids. Each day brought different activities - science experiments, cheer leading, arts and crafts, fitness tests, games and more.

As an observer it was simply delightful to see our students getting so absorbed in these activities. The girls simply loved dancing, and some had great rhythm and style. Strangely, many of the boys really enjoyed doing simple jig saw puzzles, and my fondest memory is of watching these boys concentrating so hard and working so co-cooperatively to complete puzzles together.

An Old Miss student interviews a local boy

The 24 Ole Miss students and professors came from a variety of faculties incuding social work, education, exercise science and journalism and were headed up the amazing Dr Kim Shackelford, who has done some much to help the children of San Mateo.

Thank you so much Ole Miss for brining smiles to the kids of San Pedro

Learning the cheer leading moves

Totally absorbed in finger knitting

The boys get competitive with push ups

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