Texas Episcopalian: Education is Foundation of Mission in Belize

Reprint of the September 2010 article in Texas Episcopalian


By Jimmy and Barbara Hemphill

Miriam’s mother needs a miracle. Every morning the first thing she thinks about is what she can sacrifice to help assure that her daughter finishes high school. The second thing she does is pray for a family at Good Shepherd, Kingwood – a family that donated the scholarship for Miriam’s first year of high school. Miriam and her mother live in San Mateo, one of the poorest parts of Belize, a tiny, poor country between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea. Her family cannot afford the cost of high school and the government does not financially support public education beyond the eighth grade.

San Mateo, a community of about 1500 people, is a barrio built over a swamp with no sewer or sanitation system, no roads, no running water or electricity. Most of the families live in homes built from scavenged pieces of plywood and sheet metal. Most of the 175 families who live here came to work in the booming construction and tourism business on nearby Ambergris Caye. But the cost of living on the island is high, and the typical San Mateo resident earns the equivalent of $20 a day.

Until 2006, there was no primary school for children in San Mateo to attend. In September 2006, starting with 60 students, American Episcopal missionaries Vernon and Francis Wilson co-founded Holy Cross Anglican Primary School. The school has already become the cornerstone for an ongoing series of miracles.

Today, Holy Cross has more than 500 students. It has the largest library in the area and a state-of-the-art computer center. Graduates score extremely well on standardized tests and demonstrate amazing results when given the opportunity to attend high school.

Miriam graduated from Holy Cross in 2009. She completed her first year at San Pedro High School this year and was third in her class. Her sponsors have already committed to paying tuition for another year of high school.

When asked about the value of education in Belize, Miriam’s mother said, “I have suffered for not being educated. Because I am not educated, I remain as I am. I am not bad, but always I have work that is hard for me. I have to work many hours to have a little bit of money to eat … many hours to have a little money.”

This year, Nancy Schorr, director of Youth Ministries at Good Shepherd, Kingwood, raised money for scholarships to send as many Holy Cross graduates to high school next year as possible. The program was so successful that 24 graduates—every qualified student—received a scholarship. Twelve students who could not have continued their high school education without some help also received scholarships.

Holy Cross co-founder Francis Wilson lives in San Mateo and coordinates the high school scholarship program. She is relentless in her pursuit of academic excellence and has been known to rent a taxi to find errant students to make sure they attend class.

The Wilsons structured the scholarship program on character development as well as education. Recipients commit to an ongoing program of accountability, service and learning. They review their grades with the Holy Cross management team. They participate in work programs to give back to the school and their community. They attend computer classes at Holy Cross to assure their future academic success.

This year Estrella, another Holy Cross graduate, told Wilson that she would have to leave high school because she was pregnant. Wilson encouraged her to go to night school so that she could work during the day to provide for her child and still continue her education. A sponsor provided a scholarship and Estrella finished the year first in her class (up from tenth the previous year). Estrella attributes her remarkable performance to a promise she made to her sponsor, a person she believes an angel sent to her. “I made a promise and I had to keep it,” said the young mother.

In four years Holy Cross has grown from a swampy piece of property to a vibrant, growing school that is changing the lives of every student. To keep the dream alive and growing they are going to need lots of help (mission trips, hands–on construction projects, $500.00 high school scholarships, and special projects of all sorts). If you would like to support Holy Cross’ work in Belize, contact Francis Wilson at www.holycrossbelize.org.

To learn more about Good Shepherd, Kingwood’s work at Holy Cross, see the video at: www.epicenter.org/youtube or contact Nancy Schorr at Good Shepherd: NancySchorr@GoodShepherdKingwood.org

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