Juan Bol (’17, Belize) The MasterCard Foundation Scholar is a 21-year old student from Toledo, a sunny southern district home to mostly rural Mayan farmers like his own family, who grow cacao. The rich natural resources of the area contrast sharply with the quality of life of its residents, who live in what Juan calls “one of the forgotten districts of Belize.” He explains, “Many people don’t have access to water, electricity, health services or quality education. Our first language is Mopán and we learn English at school, but only 10% of students in my village graduate high school, which creates a language barrier that isolates us further.”
According to Juan, “The opportunity to study abroad has given me a whole new mind set and perspective; I am able to better identify the deficiencies of my country. As someone who grew up in Toledo and also has worked in direct contact with children, parents, teachers and villagers, it became clear to me that lack of education is the main cause of poverty in my region.”
Last year, Juan applied for the One Young World Summit in Bangkok, Thailand and won sponsorship to attend the event, which brings together young leaders aged 18-30 from 196 countries to debate, formulate and share innovative solutions for the world’s pressing environmental issues. At the November 2015 conference, Juan found out that his PODER proposal had been selected to receive a fellowship by The Resolution Project, an NGO dedicated to supporting young social entrepreneurs with funding, mentorship, access to professional resources and networking.
In total, Juan received $3,000 of seed money to get his project up and running. Currently, he is working to select a handful of rural schools near Punta Gorda that will benefit from the project, identify 15 low-income students who will receive scholarships for books and materials and register PODER as a non-profit organization in Belize. “Our goal is to inspire transformational leadership by creating a space for positive dialogue among Belizean youth, and offering education opportunities and technical workshops that will equip them with career training and to engage through participative decision making in Belize’s development.”
“My own life-changing experience of moving from poverty to receiving an educational opportunity thanks to a good mentor and access to information could be replicated in other students just like me. Sharing and giving back can fulfill the dreams of many underprivileged youths and help them support their families, be informed citizens and stimulate constructive development within their communities.”