In early 2012, theGovernment of Belize (GOB) had growing concerns that the September 2011 truce it had brokered with the most active gangs in Belize City was beginning to falter. While the truce had decreased the homicide rate, it was increasingly clear that the GOB would need more than two mediators to settle disputes. Moreover, Belize was experiencing levels of violence similar to those engulfing its neighbors. Responding to a GOB request for help to build a cadre of mediators, representatives from the U.S. Embassy and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations met with the GOB in March of 2012 and devised a program that would support GOB efforts, while complementing the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and related U.S. citizen security programming. Over the next 12 months, CSO worked with the Office of the Prime Minister’s social development and crime prevention arm, RESTORE Belize, to build a locallyled and owned package of training, mentoring, and technical support for a mediation program that could help transform communities.
CSO initially sent a team of four advisors to build sustainable capacity in mediation and community dialogue through training and mentoring. CSO taught two 40-hour mediation courses, mentored mediators at various government and civil society organizations, led a train-the trainer (TTT) course, mentored the mediator instructors as they led their own40-hour mediation course, and coached mediators in two community dialogues. AfterRESTORE Belize taught two new 40-hour mediation courses, the CSO team returned, training more mediation instructors, meeting with government leaders to anchor sustainability, teaching a two-day community dialogue course, and coaching dialogue participants for two months.
A CSO evaluation team found thatmediation was judged by both disputants and mediators to be highly effective. Eighty percent of the cases that the mediations resolved involved threatened or actual violence, and agreements appear to beholding. Prime Minister Barrow called for extending conflict mediation to every high school in Southside Belize City. RESTORE Belize will continue to facilitate the training as government agencies, NGOs and Belize City’s high schools build their internal mediation programs. Due to the community dialogue training, community members are leading the way to improve their communities. For example, one group is leading dialogues in which young men discuss male violence and gang recruitment.
• 62 mediators trained, including 11 gang mediators
• 20 mediation instructors trained
• 115mediations performed – 96% successful outcome
• 17 organizations with mediation programs andplans to create internal training programs
• 2 high schools with peer mediation programs
• 12more schools developing programs
• 26 community activists trained as dialogue leaders
• 15 community dialogues initiated, enabling activists to address problems in disadvantaged communities, including:
- Gang-prevention projects that mentor at-risk youth
- Reclaiming community spaces
- A program to bring families out of poverty
- A “Day of Healing” to strengthen neighbor relations
“Belizeans fight over a lot of minor stuff. If this mediation didn't happen, blood was going to be shed. He was from a different gang - both of us from Belize City” – Mediation Disputant
“I now feel empowered, and I am a voice to get the community help,” said one of the 26 community dialoguetrainees. “I would have never stepped up to do this without the training.”
Two community dialogue class participants received an award on behalf of the St. Martin De Porres Concerned Citizens Group for the “Day of Healing” for“exceptional work.” From the Belize National Police:“The evening of appreciation and awards is just a token of appreciation to community members who have gone above andbeyond the call of duty in their endeavor to make our communities safer.”
RESTORE Belize’s Director said, “The mediation and community dialogue programs are helping to makeBelizean neighborhoods more resilient and to make the change from a culture of violence to a culture of peace.”
“Mediation helped change me – I have more understanding & tolerance now. I’m more understanding, better at dealing problems now when I sees them coming down the road” - Mediation Disputant