On Thursday May 31, 815 students from 13 elementary schools in the San Ignacio area graduated from the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program. Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Ms. Debbie Lingwood and local manager of Catholic Schools Ms. Lavern Martinez were the guest speakers at the ceremony at the Sacred Heart Auditorium in San Ignacio. Ms. Lingwood highlighted G.R.E.A.T.’s positive impact on the lives of children, their families, and their communities and commended the Belize Police Department and the Ministry of Education for their efforts to expand G.R.E.A.T. to as many schools as possible. Across Central America, the goal of the G.R.E.A.T. program is to improve citizen security, combat gang-related crime and violence, and prevent vulnerable youth from falling victim to gangs or engaging in gang activities. The program also seeks to assist youth to develop a positive relationship with law enforcement. Certified police officers are the instructors whose a skills-based approach to the training. The officers share with students their rich experience in identifying criminal behavior and recognizing gang members. Most importantly, the officers are positive role models for the students and help build trust between the police and the community.
Here in Belize, the G.R.E.A.T. program is supported by the U.S. Embassy’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs section. As of today, over 15,500 Belizean children have completed the G.R.E.A.T. program.