Story by Bailey Berg
Several hundred Drake University students, clad in neon colored T-shirts, will converge on Olmsted Center this Saturday to participate in the third annual Belize Dance Marathon in an effort to raise money to send impoverished children in Belize to high school.
The marathon was spearheaded by Drake Law professor Jim Albert after a trip to Belize two years ago. Nick Cooper, an assistant track coach at Drake, had shown him a photo of a group of kids in Belize standing next to a canoe.
“They were going to paddle two hours upstream to go to grade school, but they were grinning from ear to ear because they were holding the pencils some Americans had sent them,” Albert said. “I decided I had to see this for myself.”
A few months later, Albert flew down to Belize to meet with the students and was astounded by what he saw. The children were playing with sticks and had to sleep on the floors of their huts. Upon returning to Drake, he asked his students what they would dream about if they fell asleep at night knowing they would never go to high school.
“That’s what started this,” Albert said. “We wanted to give them something to dream about.”
Thus, the Belize Dance Marathon was born. Hundreds of dancers pledge to dance for four hours to raise the money be able to send some students in Belize to high school.
“It is a beautiful thing, students fighting for students,” senior Michael Sage, the Belize Dance Marathon president, said. “Education is the solution to poverty, but the problem is these families do not have the resources to send their children to high school.”
In Belize, it costs $200 to send just one student to high school for a year. However, Albert said the average annual income for an entire family in Belize is $380, meaning high school isn’t an option for many children. Less than half of all high school age children in Belize have the funds to attend high school.
The group believes that all those who want to attend school should be able to, so a scholarship fund was established to award students with the education. In the last two years, the group has been able to give out 100 scholarships each year. Sage said the goal for this year is to match that number again, if not add to it.
The money from the marathons has also build two grade school buildings, and the James Arthur Albert Foundation is responsible for keeping the doors open at the night high school for girls.
“That is one of my favorite things about BDM,” Sage said. “Your donation to other charities may buy a test tube or power the building or pay the administrators. Not BDM, every dollar goes directly to those children.”
Sage said the primary goal of the dance marathon is to provide the children in Belize the monetary resources to get the education they need through both scholarships and the building of the schools. The secondary goal, Sage said, is to unite the Drake campus.
“We want to bring together individuals from all colleges and a variety of organizations to fight for one amazing cause,” Sage said. “Last year we had over 1,000 dancers, and it was uplifting to see the campus come together.”
The Belize Dance Marathon doesn’t follow the normal dance marathon model, however.
“We do not want our marathon to be an obligation for people to come to that drags on for 12, or even 24 hours,” Sage said. “We want it to be a celebration of the hard work and amazing accomplishments that Drake can have when it unites around a common cause.”
Other than dancing, the marathon includes a live D.J., food, t-shirt giveaways and various contests throughout the evening.
“What we like to say is that the marathon is going to make New Years Eve look like Columbus Day,” Albert said.
Sage said one thing he particularly likes about the marathon is that it is Drake students championing for other students.
“No one has ever fought for these children before,” Sage said. “We are the first organization, the first charity, the first campus. This is a uniquely Drake effort.”
Albert said the students in Belize know it’s the Drake students who crusade for them.
“You know what is the most popular book in Belize is? It’s Peter Pan,” Albert said. “Those kids fall asleep believing that somewhere in the world, there are students who fly and fight for them. Well, there are. And they’re wearing Drake shirts.”