We started planning a wedding in Belize with the help of the Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA), we had contacted them via email and come into contact with Reyes Chun, the TEA chairman. It wasn’t until we got to Punta Gorda (PG) and got to speaking with Reyes that we really realised the extent of the work that the TEA do in PG and the surrounding villages. It is thanks to Reyes and his enthusiasm for the project and helping the villages that this wedding was possible at all.
I’d like to explain to you about the TEA and their goals and philisophy and I also wanted to know more so I asked Reyes a few questions and hope you don’t mind me sharing the answers with you at some point in the future. I find it humbling and inspiring to hear of such projects and the people behind them and I hope you are inspired too.
The TEA is a community-based ecotourism operator and is owned and operated by several local villages. The Mopan, Kek’chi and Garifuna villages work together as an association to plan, control, develop and profit from ecotourism. The structure of the TEA is there to ensure that the benefits and profits from tourism are shared as widely as possible. It ensures that no single village or family is favoured over another, that the tourism is evenly distributed and that the standards of the guesthouses and programmes offered are kept to a standard.
The idea came about in 1990 and with virtually no funding the Toledo villagers volunteered their labour and services to build 5 guesthouses in Maya and Garifuna villages. They gathered most of the materials from the surrounding jungle and the TEA was born. Since then with some funding (less than a good annual salary in the UK), the villagers have again volunteered their labour to help build more guesthouses, repair the old ones and create new concrete watertanks.
Once these buildings were in place the families had a way to invite tourists into their villages and show them their beautiful country, teach them the skills that their ancestors passed on and share with them an understanding of their way of life.
The list of things you can do in support of the TEA and therefore the villages is astounding. From jungle tours, cave exploration, drumming, dancing to the Marimba, jewellery making, cocoa grinding, cooking, dancing,basket making, farming…I could go on! All of these things are far more exciting (certainly to me) than going somewhere like Alton towers for the day and paying a fortune to be made to feel sick! And the beauty of it is that you do all of these things with someone who knows the caves like the back of their hand, someone who has weaved baskets their whole life or the man who has been playing Marimba since he could walk AND you are making a difference!
The people here are so very friendly and are desperate to show you the natural beauty of their land and the lives that they have here. Their hardworking lives are of simple things, very few belongings, hammocks for beds and mostly without electricity but they have so much to offer you as a tourist and you have so much to offer them too.
The TEA is run entirely by volunteers. That means every single member GIVES their time freely to keep the TEA in operation. I have to also point out from experience that these volunteers have to travel some serious miles and some pretty terrible dirt roads to get to the TEA office. Not many people drive as the petrol is so expensive (80p a liter and the average wage is £30 per month) and the roads so poor that nearly everyone travels by bus.
You can help them from the comfort of your armchair at home if you feel that you could? You could spread the word of the organisation, tell people who are considering travel to Belize of the exciting programmes available (and at such low cost…a one on one cooking/weaving class is £1.50 per hour!), if you have the time or skills to help the TEA build cyber parterships to enhance their profile, help them keep their online data upto date…again, I could go on.
I really hope that this blog will encourage just a few people to consider either visiting the TEA here in Belize, help them spread the word or even to visit an ecotourism group on your next holiday instead of piling in like sheep into the nearest all inclusive.
I know that the world over is struggling and even in the western society that we think is ‘stable’ people are still loosing their jobs everyday. I know that people get one holiday a year and they WANT to eat their own body weight in food. I know that I’ll probably get called from a pig to a dog for making you think about it, BUT I also know that I have had my eyes opened by these people, the way they live and their lack of even the things that we can’t go 10 minutes without such as electricity and running water! I have bitched and moaned about the crap roads and the cost of fuel but I have also seen the happiness on the faces of the families that invited us into their homes to lend me a wedding outfit, to come and play Marimba at our wedding, to make bread and cocoa for us and to come and bless us in the way of holding us a wedding ceremony. They have nothing but will gove you everything. How many people did you meet like that on your last holiday?
Find out what happens next on our travelling wedding adventure!