About 100 old desks and 200 chairs salvaged from Amherst’s soon-to-be-demolished elementary schools are headed for a new home.
They’re headed nearly 3,000 miles away to Belize, the small Central American nation bordering Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea.
Vern Byrd is director of operations at the Andrews University Center for Youth Evanglism in Berrien Springs, Mich.
When the Amherst Schools held an auction in May to sell off its unused equipment and furniture from Harris and Shupe elementaries, Byrd made a bid on some desks.
“When I found out they were going to a school they’re building in Belize, I decided we could donate some more stuff to the effort,” said Chuck Grimmett, buildings and grounds supervisor for the district.
The auction did very well. It grossed a little more than $17,000, netting about $13,000 after auction fees.
Grimmett said that once he was able to appraise what was left over, he decided Amherst could give more to Byrd’s cause.
He found old athletic equipment that was at first going to be discarded but could be used by children in impoverished Belize.
A couple hundred unused Amherst Athletic Association T-shirts were also added to the list, and before long Byrd’s trailer was filled to the brim.
The equipment will make its way to Belize after Christmas. It will go to a private school for children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Byrd said he’s led mission trips to the area for 15 years, including an orphanage. The school was built of wood and had to be repaired so often than about three years ago he decided to build a block and mortar building.
The first phase opened in January. When finished in another two to three years, the school will house 380 to 480 students.
“The greatest needs are school supplies, just the simplest of things,” he said. Pens, pencils, paper, and coloring books are always needed.
Many of the students go to school with no breakfast or shoes, Byrd said.
The small country’s economy is based on oil exports, industrial minerals, sugar, bananas, and tourism. The wealth gap is large, leaving large portions of the country in deep poverty, especially in rural areas where agriculture is the main industry.
By 2009, in the depths of the worldwide recession, the poverty rate in Belize hit 41 percent. Since then, its economy has started to recover but on very unequal footing for the haves and have-nots — leaving the poverty rate more or less unchanged.
Unemployment is incredibly high at 24 percent. And where there is extreme economic hardship, there is violence.
Young people are among the hardest hit by poverty in Belize.
To help, contact Byrd at email@example.com or 269-208-7183.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.