Inaugural Ceremony for the Appointment of the Special Envoy for the Development of Families & Children

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January 22, 2021

Remarks by Special Envoy, Mrs. Rossana Briceño

Good morning.  I am truly happy you are able to join us as we launch the Office of the Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children.

First of all, let me thank Minister Dolores Balderamos-Garcia for being here today, for her words of encouragement and for her willingness to enter into this partnership which I hope will aid in the success of her work as the Minister of Human Development, and in the service of Belizean families.

I also wish to thank the other government officials here with us including my husband John who I am still getting used to addressing officially as “Prime Minister.”

While I know that it is customary for the wife of the Prime Minister to take on certain projects on behalf of his administration, I am glad John has given me the latitude and support to fulfil my role in the manner I feel will best benefit our country. For those of you who do not know me, I am schoolteacher and a Principal. I love children and I am passionate about their holistic development. To this end, I continue to work at St. Peter’s Anglican School in Orange Walk Town where we have developed a program that includes children with special needs. Our school integrates children of diverse talents and needs, an experiment that has provided a full learning experience for all our students.

I believe all our children are special and we owe each and every one of them the chance to grow strong, safe and reach their best potential. It is my hope that through this office I can use my voice to bring greater priority to the development of our children. Of course, for this to happen, all of us must appreciate and understand the important role families, all families, play in the development of our nation.

I want to help John and his government give the next generation the best chance at success and I believe that this can only happen if we recognize the crucial role the family plays in the formation of our children and in the building of productive communities and societies. This is why I worked with Minister Balderamos-Garcia and CEO Tanya Santos-Neal to define my role as the Special Envoy for the development of families and children.

See, good societies are build up when all of us see the value in each other. It is built up when family is first and when the community understands that we must always work for the betterment of our children.  It is a work that is always in progress. Whatever success I enjoy today, I credit to the way I was raised and the love and guidance of my parents. I have a mom who taught me to work hard for success. My mom told me that as a girl I could do anything, and that the harder I worked the more I would achieve. But it was not just my mom, it was my dad too, and my brothers and sisters, who challenged me, and yes, my grandmother who even to this day still calls me child or hija, but whose love and concern helped me to appreciate how lucky I am to have two generations of parents whose wisdom I continue to benefit from.

Today in Belize too few of our children have the kind of family support that help them to believe in themselves and to grow up strong and confident. My strength, whatever measure of it I have, comes from my mom, Elia Adela Cansino, a beautiful, quiet, gifted lady with a gentle spirit. Someone who loves God and believes that we are our neighbour’s keeper. Yet this quiet, soft spoken lady was never afraid to stand up for what she believed. Which is why in the 1980s she volunteered at organizations and causes like, Women Against Violence. She worked with pioneering women like Dorla Bowman, Irma Carballo and, yes, Dolores to promote laws to protect Belizean women and to go after abusive and deadbeat fathers. Her inspiration, commitment and encouragement motivate me to define my new role and to work for the development of strong Belizean families and children. So I see this as my duty to engage in the work of this office and to this end we seek to achieve four objectives:

First, to raise awareness of the condition of families and children in Belize with a view to improving the lives of the most underprivileged among us.

Second, to work with government, civil society and the private sector to address and meet the challenges faced by families and children.

Third, to advocate for the improvement of our women and children at home and abroad.

Fourth to make sure that the plans and obligations for the protection and advancement of families and children that are a part of my husband’s agenda and for Plan Belize are realized.

I believe the work to achieve these objectives will require commitment and immediate action.  I will put together a team of persons most of whom are volunteers to start to work on four main projects in 2021. The Office of the Special Envoy for the Development for Families and Children will push government to identify and provide Covid relief for women who have been adversely affected by dreadful virus. Presently scores of women have lost husbands and partners and are grieving without access to appropriate counseling or worse, unaware of how they will take care of their families. More than a half of those unemployed, over 60,000, are women and many of those are the only providers for their children. We must not let these women suffer alone. We will seek ways to provide assistance and support for them and for their families.

My office will also reach out to social partners, civil society, the churches and, yes, government to ensure that a proper facemask wearing awareness campaign for children be launched. We have to teach our children how to properly wear a face mask and learn the necessary hygiene before they return to the classrooms. And before we reopen the schools, the office of the Special Envoy will work closely with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to start the study and assessment to develop a sustainable school feeding program. Our children cannot learn on an empty stomach, and it is time that we take a serious look at a proper feeding program in all our schools. I know we can do this because together with the teachers and parents at St. Peter’s Anglican School we run a successful, sustainable feeding program and it will not cost the government a dime.

So no more excuses, we will work at this even if we have to start one school at a time in each of our six districts. We can and we should do this. The time has come for us to move towards greater equality.

Through this office we will advocate for legislation to ensure that our public buildings are equipped with facilities to help people with disabilities, and John or Prime Minister, it is time to introduce legislation that will ensure that Sign language interpreters are available during public broadcasts, especially announcements and bulletins during national emergencies and, also, during press conferences and meetings of the national assembly.

We can get this done.

My friends I am fully aware of the challenge before us.  I know we are faced with a health crisis, an economic crisis and that times are hard. Yes we are worried, but we cannot not be deterred from this work because right now more than ever, our children need us to do what may seem insurmountable. Our families will make it through this if we work together and draw from our amazing Belizean talent and creativity. Look, I get it, I see across this nation so many Belizeans who get up every day and work their hearts out to provide for their children and still some come up short. It is in these people that one can see the greatest courage, they never quit. This is the kind of courage I see in the children I am privileged to teach, and I am grateful to all those people who work hard and who are dedicated to making our country a better place, not just for us, but for the next generation of Belizeans.

My sincere hope is that my office can help in this important work so that even on those dark days we find the courage to soldier on with the important work for the development of our Belizean children, our Belizean families and for our Belizean nation.

Thank you.