Hello all! I’m Avneet Dhillon – another one of the interns hired by ICAD through the IYIP program (and the last to post here introducing myself). I graduated from the University of Waterloo in June, where I was a student in the Arts & Business Co-op program, majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Studies. I’ve been delayed in writing my first post as I’ve been caught up in all the excitement and changes associated with moving to a new country and working in a new environment. Now that I’m all settled, I thought I’d finally sit down and provide you with an update.
I, along with Brian, have been placed with the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA) in Belize City. BFLA also has locations in Orange Walk, San Ignacio, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda, but I am working primarily at the office headquarters here in Belize City. I arrived in Belize on September 3rd and have now been here for two and a half weeks. I spent the first week of my stay at a local hotel while I looked for an apartment, and ended up finding a great one incredibly close to the BFLA offices, with the help of some of the staff here.
BFLA is the only registered NGO in Belize focused on sexual and reproductive health. It is also an advocacy organization, but it faces considerable opposition from broader society in Belize due to the nature of its work (safe sex education for youth, LGBT support, etc.). Since Brian already provided a general overview of what BFLA does, I thought I’d focus on explaining the role of the Youth Department, which is where I work. While BFLA addresses the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs of a variety of people, including sex workers and MSMs, the Youth Department focuses on the needs of young people (ages 10 to 24), including incarcerated youth and LGBT youth. The organization provides access to clinical and educational SRH services in a youth-friendly space and the Youth Department trains peer educators who provide support to youth in various schools. These educators include volunteers and interns like me, health personnel, teachers and community leaders, who educate young people in and out of school. The youth center that I help manage allows youth in the local community to come by and use the Internet or meet their friends, even if they are not looking to use the SRH services.
The Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) is the youth arm of BFLA, consisting of members between the ages of 12 and 25. There are YAM groups set up in different areas of Belize and the members of these groups, in partnership with BFLA staff, work to educate young people in their local communities about their rights and sexual and reproductive health options. The members also run a radio and television show called BIGG Chatz once a week, with the help of the Youth Department staff who help produce it. I will be providing more updates on that show’s production once it begins in mid-October.
Working under the Director of Education & Programming and the Youth Officer, my role is to assist them with managing the youth center, implementing peer education trainings in high schools, planning community outreach activities like movie nights, and collaborating with partner agencies like Belize Red Cross and the Ministry of Education on specific projects. In addition to these activities, I’ve also been tasked with setting up and managing BFLA’s social media accounts and promoting BFLA by creating videos and documentaries about the organization and the youth groups. I will also be assisting in the production of the BIGG Chatz show and exploring new ways to promote BFLA services and the YAM. While my internship position is labeled as Events Planning and Administrative Assistant, the work itself encompasses a wide variety of roles.
So far my experience of Belize as a country has been great. Everyone is very friendly and the atmosphere is unhurried. Mainly, I’ve learned that Belizeans like to have a good time. I arrived at an opportune time because the month of September is full of a series of celebrations leading up to Independence Day on the 21st, which happens to be today (Belize is still a young country, having gained independence from the UK in 1981). Last weekend I took part in J’ouvert, which is a massive street party that takes place at 5am the morning of Carnival, where everyone dances in the streets while throwing mud and chocolate at each other (yes, you read that right – mud and chocolate!). This weekend I’m in Orange Walk, a town about two hours north of Belize City, celebrating Independence Day. Last night we enjoyed watching the fireworks from the rooftop and today we’ll be viewing the official parade and taking part in the rest of the Independence Day festivities.
I’m looking forward to my upcoming projects at BFLA and exploring other parts of Belize in my free time (especially the islands!).
Until my next update,