Southwest Virginia parish finds its mission in the students of Anglican school in poor area of Belize
Over the past six years, clergy and parishioners of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lynchburg, VA, have fostered a caring relationship with Holy Cross Anglican School on Ambergris Caye in Belize, Central America.
A number of intergenerational groups have spent time there to work and play with students at the school in San Mateo, one of the most impoverished areas of Belize. The area sits within the country’s number one tourism destination and yet it is considered one of the poorest and badly planned subdivisions in the entire country.
San Mateo lacks proper water service, adequate road infrastructure and sufficient energy distribution. Built within mangrove swamps, the garbage-laden landfill materials used to create islands and improper waste disposal poses a very serious health hazard. According to The San Pedro Sun News, a local newspaper, environmentalists believe the area may well be a “catastrophe in waiting.”
Holy Cross Anglican School was founded in 2006 to provide an education to the island’s poorest children. Before the school was founded, many of these children simply roamed the beaches, sold jewelry to tourists and had little hope of a brighter future. It was started with a patch near a lagoon with the help of donations and teams of volunteers. The school was built with 16 classrooms, a library, computer lab, dental clinic, and a cafeteria where a hot nutritious lunch is served – for some, the only regular food they receive. There is also a preschool.
Holy Cross School educates and feeds more than 425 children. Each visiting group is asked to bring a project fee to meet the needs of students whose families cannot afford the cost of school tuition. Last year, St. John’s was responsible for sending a total of $14,000 through project fees, donations, and matching grants. Of this total, $1,000 was from a Jubilee Diocesan Development Grant and this was matched by another $1,000 from the Holy Cross Foundation.
St. John’s interest in San Mateo began six years ago with Ann Vest, a member of this parish, in her work with Episcopal Relief and Development, together with a Lynchburg couple, Francis and Vernon Wilson. In subsequent years, intergenerational groups from St. John’s have made mission trips there, often more than one a year. Ann Vest recently took a third grandson there. These groups tutor students, and help with painting, building and property improvement.
Still another group that has adopted Holy Cross School as a mission destination is the Canterbury Club of Lynchburg College. Canterbury Clubs are ministries of the Episcopal Church at colleges throughout the United States. This club is a ministry of St. John’s, the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, and the Lynchburg Convocation of Episcopal Churches. Led by Faculty Advisor Nina Salmon, Assistant Professor of English and The Rev. Mark Furlow, a member of the Lynchburg College ministries team, they have made two alternative Spring Break trips, tutoring students and working on property improvement projects at the school. Students report that they are thrilled to be helping the children of Belize and they bring back knowledge to share with classmates and their parishes.
Despite working with some most at-risk children on the island, the school still ranks in the top third in primary school exams. Also, in a country where only 25 percent of children finish primary school, nearly 80 percent of Holy Cross students go on to high school. In Belize, the government pays only the teachers’ salaries and for textbooks – all other costs must be raised by the school. School officials report they could not do what they do for the children without the generous support of individuals and groups like St. John’s and the Lynchburg College Canterbury Club.
For more on Holy Cross Anglican School, visit their website www.holycrossbelize.org.
–Bill Lindsay is Diocesan Jubilee Officer of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.
The Rev. Melanie Mullen
Director of Reconciliation, Justice and Creation Care