Sister Higinia Bol’s ministry collaborates with St. Peter Claver Parish in Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize. The Toledo District is the southern-most district of Belize, bordering Guatemala. Her ministry with the parish involves pastoral presence, including catechetical and youth ministry training to 38 villages in the Toledo District. Sister Higinia and Father Sam Wilson, SJ, minister to these mission churches.
During the months when the churches were not able to gather, Sister Higinia and Father Sam visited all 38 villages to offer pastoral support. They had communion services in the homes of the sick, elderly, and the homebound parishioners. In-home baptisms and anointings of the sick were given when requested. As a response to the food insecurity and as means of ongoing support to those most vulnerable in these villages, St. Peter Claver Parish initiated a St. Vincent de Paul food pantry program. Sister Higinia coordinates the distribution of food to the 38 communities.
In mid-March, the first case of COVID-19 registered in Belize. The country then went into a National State of Emergency and lockdown for three months, with only essential services. On July 1, the National State of Emergency was lifted with no active cases of the virus. The country reopened for business with the ongoing requirements of mask-wearing in public and social distancing. Even though the borders of Belize remain closed, a repatriation process has begun. Several people are crossing the borders illegally. With this change, the number of COVID-19 cases is rising throughout the country.
Schools were set to reopen on August 10 countrywide, and the Belize Phillip Goldson International Airport scheduled to open its doors to welcome visitors on August 15. With the announcement of the reopening of schools in August, parents across the country began readying their children for school. Without a job and means of survival, many parents were concerned about how to access textbooks and school supplies for their children. It is especially challenging as the tourism industry is hit the hardest by COVID-19.
For the people living in Southern Belize, it is undoubtedly a tough time. The women make arts and crafts to sell to tourists, while the men look for jobs in the tourism sector as a means of income generation to help provide for the family. However, people live mostly on subsistence farming.
Sister Higinia met some families with young girls that could not continue high school or elementary school because the parents could not afford to buy their textbooks, pay their school fees, and get school supplies. Often in these villages, girls’ education is not a priority, but these girls desired to go back to school. Here Sister Higinia could provide these young girls with school uniforms, shoes, textbooks, and school supplies.
Most of the homes in rural villages of Toledo do not have electricity. The students use candles to do homework and to study. At the parish office, Sister Higinia found some solar lanterns for distribution to the villages. She happily took on identifying families with school-age children who can use solar lights. So fifteen families in the rural villages were the recipient of these solar lanterns. The goal is to enhance the students’ ability to study and stay in school. Sister Higinia wishes she had more solar lanterns to distribute.
A few days before Aug. 10, COVID-19 once again changed the course of the country. Schools did not reopen as planned, and the airport will not open in August. By the middle of August, there were over 400 confirmed cases around the country, and it continues to rise.
As Sister Higinia and Father Sam continue to provide pastoral support to these rural communities, it is evident that the people’s source of inspiration and life is their deep faith and trust in God’s unconditional love. The hospitality and bread breaking they receive through simple meals are an inspiration and strength for the ministry and the ministers.