Empowering Young Belizean Women Through New Opportunities

IMPRESSIONS FROM BELIZE

Last week, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate and help lead a Code Camp for young Belizean women through an organization called Hope Haven, a non-profit that strives to provide shelter and empower the children of Belize for a brighter future. The camp was developed for those who expressed interest in learning some in-demand job skills centered around information technology. As with any trip to a foreign country, there were a lot of unknowns, as was especially so with Belize, however, the trip ended up exceeding all of my expectations!

The main goal of the Code Camp was to focus efforts on the young women in the San Pedro area and teach them the basics of this high-demand industry of web development and coding. By the end of the camp, our goal as a group was to encourage and spark learning in this area and potentially provide these girls with the baseline to be able to pursue a career in this field and support themselves as well as their families. As part of my own core values, I believe we are called to stand up for those who can't stand on their own, and to give them love and hope in the process, so after I heard about Hope Haven and its mission, I knew it was something I wanted to take part in.

You may ask why Belize was selected for this mission. The history of the town of San Pedro, Belize comes with its share of traditional, simplistic lifestyles which provides much room for growth and untapped potential. As a bustling seaside tourist town, the views were incredible and the tropical weather was paradise. However, it is also a society riddled with brothels and domestic violence - specifically, mistreatment of women. Due to this, it was difficult to support and implement a camp centered around empowering women, both with getting young women to sign up as well as maintaining a friendly and supportive image within the area. Appropriately, Hope Haven’s facilities have found its home in an old brothel building; one step closer to putting a stop to this mistreatment of women and instead providing them with a space to empower and spark knowledge and learning.

TESCHGlobal made a generous donation of laptops to help enable the four day program that included 16 total hours of teaching for 11 engaged young women. We provided a fun program that introduced them to the basics of web development and the front end coding languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The girls were able to clone an open source game, “2048,” and create their own version using unique images and colors of their choice. They were also able to code a meme generator from scratch to make their own memes. On the last day, each girl enrolled in freeCodeCamp (an online tool to help learn more of the basics about coding) and a certification program that helps people who have little to no experience get jobs as software engineers, security professionals, data analysts and much more. Out of the 11 girls, five expressed an enthusiastic interest in continuing to learn coding as well as entering into a mentoring relationship with volunteers at TESCHGlobal.

Given this was considered a pilot program and our first iteration to test the idea, it received an incredible response! We now know that this kind of program is valuable in Belize, and there are many more young women who want to and are willing to explore a different kind of career. We hope that for these girls, these first steps into developing new skill sets can inspire them to have a better life and keep them out of poverty- something that affects so many families in Belize. This trip was all about opening new possibilities for the young women that attended our camp, and we certainly achieved this goal.

Next year, we hope to do a two week camp, one week for the girls and another for the boys as the education system in Belize is segregated. We hope to have more of a "camp" aspect next year as well, by holding the camp at a jungle retreat where we can have camp food, games, and overnight activities along with the usual instruction components.

If you’d like to learn more about Hope Haven and the Code Camp, please contact me.

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