It’s a story rarely told. It’s dirty, crowded and discriminating. It’s the story of children and women in Belize.
James Albert (Jim), a Drake professor of law, is hoping to write this story on the hearts of Drake students. After a trip to the Central American country of Belize, he came back with a strong mission.
Albert is on a fight for kids to grow through the James Arthur Albert Foundation (JAFF).
What began as a trip to the only English-speaking country in Central and South America, ended with sights of students taking extreme measures to get to school.
“I saw Mayan children living in such poverty that they hollowed out fallen tree trunks to get to an elementary school,” Albert said. “ They’re just wanting an education so badly.”
Albert saw a collection of many villages near the larger town of Punta Gorda, built along the river, comprised of escaped refugees from war-broken Guatemala. The population sleeps an average five children in one room. Huts are little more than walls for straw mats, dirt floors and little food.
He plans to fight through the power of collective action. Think a rhythm of donation. Think a movement of emotion. Think dance party.
After months of planning, the full 12-hour event is set to take place April 16 from noon to midnight. Albert is expecting close to 1,000 high school and college participants to shake, move and mingle in Olmsted Center.
Belize Dance Marathon will be the hot and happening Des Moines place to be with live bands, prizes, entertainment acts and an endless supply of food for energy.
Each participant will raise $200 in donations to hit the event’s goal to raise a total of $100,000. This financial objective is due to supplies and uniforms that cost a total of $200 a year. The average Belize family income is only $375, which makes it almost impossible to send children to school.
The largest demographic left out of the school picture? Women. Girls have been denied education in Central and South America for years and the modern day woman is no different.
Last year JAFF donations raised enough money to send 32 students to high school, commence building of an elementary school and keep the doors open for a night high school for girls.
Students applied for the 32 scholarships with heart-wrenching cries for an education.
“I would not be able to attend [grades 11 and 12]. Only if this scholarship helps me then I will be able to make it to 12th grade. I would like to become a teacher so that I can teach the little children in primary school so that they can end up like myself,” writes a 16-year-old girl.
“By working hard at school, I will make you proud and also my family.”
Donations from the 2011 Belize Dance Marathon will be used to financially underwrite the night high school for girls, so that it could not possibly close due to monetary issues.
Albert believes that Drake plays a strong part in this mission for education. Global citizenship is the main buzzword. As part of the university mission statement, it’s a term written in the minds and hearts of first-years before they step on campus and encouraged through years of study.
“It’s a great cause and it’s uniquely a Drake cause and we have a Drake cure with education,” Albert said.
Albert is working with a committee of Drake Law School students and is looking to all areas of the undergraduate population from athletics to Greek fraternities and sororities. One such Drake student taking part in the mission is senior women’s soccer captain, Bailey Dorrington.
“They (the students in Belize) are so grateful for everything already, and they literally have nothing,” Dorrington said. “They don’t complain about their situation and are enthusiastic about learning and dream big.”
Dorrington will travel to Belize this summer to offer soccer workshops and serve as a positive role model for the children and girls.
Albert differentiated the foundation’s efforts with other national non-profit organizations. He commends student organizations, like Dance Marathon, for the service they give to important causes. The independent focus of this project makes the effort unique.
“If we stop raising money, there’s no one else to raise money for these Mayan children,” Albert said.
“Let Drake stand out among all the rest of the universities,” Albert said. “Let the students lead with their hearts and fight for these people. That’s the real mission here.
“We are the only university fighting for these children in this area. Drake University students will change these people’s lives and it’s a beautiful story.”
The Belize Dance Marathon
When: April 16, 2011
Where: Drake University