Making a Difference in Belize

Andy Harjula is an active volunteer in his own community and abroad.  He can often be found at his church at St. John’s Ida, at a free tax clinic at Centennial Place or on the Community Policing Committee helping to keep our roads safe or organizing youth events, always lending a hand with a smile.  For many years, his smile has been returned in spades by the people of Belize during his frequent trips to the Dangriga area of this former British colony, where he provides hope and help in many forms.

After volunteering in Spanish speaking countries such as Ecuador, Panama and Guatemala, he was relieved to find a situation in Belize where he could communicate effectively with the locals.  One of the most significant problems facing that country is their reliance on imported food- an issue where Andy’s expertise as a retired park planner could help.

For the past eight years, Andy has been leading an annual trip to Belize, taking food, school supplies, books, soccer shoes and refurbished laptops to the community.  He rallies local support, taking cash and volunteers with him who provide labour for projects.

During the year, Andy organizes a variety of fundraising events which fund local purchases including stoves and fridges for school kitchens, supplies for health clinics, fruit trees, school and food supplies for school lunches.  They have also helped plant trees such as mango, avocado, breadfruit and soursop trees on school properties to provide an on-going food supply.

This year volunteers in the project installed 132 feet of fencing around Christ the King Anglican Church, painted concrete fence posts, arranged for nine school scholarships, including one for a student to attend university, delivered a month of food for lunches at three schools, purchased 130 fruit trees for farmers and delivered 300 pounds of school supplies, soccer equipment and bras to Dangriga, Belize. There was also some fun involved: Wayne Blaby of Computer Solutions Plus brought projection equipment which was used to show a movie to help a school with their fundraising and at an outdoor church facility.

During their annual visits, Andy and his wife Maureen were particularly struck by a workplace tragedy.  Eduardo Diaz, the breadwinner of the family of six, suffered a catastrophic electrical accident in 2015, when he lost both his hands and both feet. Instead of working as an electrician, Eduardo turned to selling popcorn on the streets of Dangriga, Belize to support his family.  This year, Eduardo received prosthetic arms and legs, funded by a variety of events and donors in Canada.

Actions like these are life-changing for these individuals and their communities, as they offer a brighter future by addressing fundamental issues such as food security, access to education and a demonstration of compassion.  Andy and his supporters are wonderful ambassadors for our community and deserve our support.  KG

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