Belize – Last week from the 17th to the 21st of April, Manpreet Darroch and Laura Daniela Gomez of the YOURS Capacity Development Team went to Belize to conduct a “Training of Facilitators” session to train the Belize Youth for Road Safety to become road safety leaders in their region and community. The five-day training session was filled with interactive activities that put the current mobility situation into perspective. 

Nearly a decade ago, YOURS started its first mission to Belize in 2014 to train and empower young leaders in the country on road safety issues in a “Train the Facilitator” approach. 

Back then, Belize’s population stood at around 310,000 inhabitants, the size of a medium town from where I live in the UK. Yet, although having a relatively tiny population, the number of road deaths in the country was stark, at 22.2 per 100,000 placing it high in the Caribbean community as having one of the highest death rates. The sad reality of road traffic crashes being the biggest killer of young people, predominantly young males, was no different in Belize a rapidly growing and rapidly motorizing country.

The task back then was to educate and empower a select group of young leaders to spread road safety knowledge amongst their peers and the population. This was part of a wider systemic approach whereby through a Caribbean Development Bank assistance loan, the Government of Belize was able to improve infrastructure across the notorious George Price Highway (Belize City to Belmopan), improve enforcement by training police officers, improving access to post-crash care through new ambulance and specialist training as well as educating drivers and road users through education.

Our role fell nicely into the latter; to educate a group of 35 activated and inspired young leaders from across the country, namely on the periphery locations of the highway, to work with their communities to raise the profile of road safety and its associated practices; to be safer on the road – wear a seatbelt, don’t drink and drug drive, don’t speed, wear a helmet.

Our Belizean young leaders took their task of reaching young people across the country through their own road safety youth-friendly workshops and amplified it across the country. They reached 3,000 youth in face-to-face workshops in schools and thousands more through expos, festivals, and media appearances. Our very own road safety rapper Sylvian Neal aka the “Traffic Man”, became a national hero, singing anthems on everything road safety from seatbelts to how to navigate a new roundabout.

Then, as the nature of youth work dictates, many of these young people moved on – to study abroad, to professional jobs in other countries, or started families and businesses. Even though they had smashed their targets of reaching youth in Belize, some stuck around and carried the torch of road safety further to be part of the newly formed NGO Belizean Youth for Road Safety (BYRS) and continue action in road safety.

When the first road safety project focusing on the George Price Highway finished in 2016 – a second project was initiated in the country focusing on the Philip Goldson Highway from Belize City to Corozal, the eastern part of the country. This time, instead of having YOURS deliver the next training of facilitators with young people in the surrounding areas of the highway, a group of Master Trainers from BYRS, who were part of the original cohort in Road Safety Project 1.0 took the helm to deliver this training to attract new members to BYRS delivering road safety education. 

And so, we come full circle. Our mission for Capacity Development at YOURS is to ‘leave capacity behind’. Capacity development means just that, to build the skills and knowledge of passionate, talented, and committed young leaders to not rely on international consultants like us but build the skills to no longer need us. After all, this is where sustainability thrives; when communities themselves are skilled and resilient to emulate and improve what we do.

We worked with 6 youth from the original BYRS Group on all the things needed to deliver their own Training of Facilitators; logistics, recruitment, planning, and delivery all the way down to materials and venue. This was all delivered in an online training (during the pandemic no doubt) to gear up these young people to deliver their own training. Luckily for us, we turned much of our in-person road safety learning into self-paced online training via the YOURS Academy, which meant two things; 1) all of the theory parts of the in-person training could be cut in half and delivered online 2) the duration of time needed in the country was cut in half (although nobody minds 2 weeks in the Caribbean, the length of our usual empowerment program training).

In mid-April,  these master trainers absolutely smashed their roles in welcoming a new class of BYRS members, ready to go out and reignite a road safety focus in Belize. In the words of Sylvian Neal aka the Traffic Man ‘We nah want nobody get knock dong” (Creole: loosely meaning – we don’t want anyone to get killed in a road crash) – and that is what BYRS will attempt to achieve in the months ahead as the new youth in BYRS take on the mission to spread road safety awareness to 2000 more young people from Belize City to Corozal. I am so proud of what they have achieved and their nearly decade-long commitment to road safety in Belize. I also love it when something comes full circle, which makes my fifth visit to the beautiful country of Belize even more enjoyable.

While Belize’s population has moderately grown to 410,000 – the beauty of working with such a small population, apart from the beauty of the country itself, is that interventions such as this one can reach a massive amount of people quite quickly and in a short time. We wish our new BYRS members the best of luck in their noble road safety missions and post-pandemic, thank you for reminding me of the power of in-person workshops to lead transformational change on personal and community levels!