Before I came to Belize, I'd heard about how the people had built their town and then their school over a mangrove lagoon, but I could not fathom how it was done or what the before and after was like. Here is the story with pictures.
Enter Kim Shackleford (on the right), a social work professor from University of Mississippi. As part of a 3 hour class, she brought her students down to do a community assessment. The person on the left is Katy Gominger, a former student who still visits regularly with Kim. The students went door to door in San Mateo asking what people felt that they needed and what sorts of troubles they dealt with on a daily basis. Kim felt sure that they would need a medical clinic because there was so much illness, but when all of the information was gathered and examined, what they really seemed to need, and have the energy and desire to build for themselves, was dry land and roads. The whole town was built on stilts connected by narrow board planks. They even already knew how to build the roads, they just needed financial support and the encouragement to organize.
Once the money and organizational structure was in place, they went out to the edge of town and started breaking up limestone from the bottom of the lagoon and shoveling up sand. Here you can see the area where all of the limestone and sand came from.
Here is the first road once it was finished.
Once the road was finished and people had dry land under their houses, it was possible to install electricity and septic tanks. Coconut trees and other plants were planted. People no longer fell off of the plank bridges into the sewage contaminated water. Illness and injury rates dropped. Life improved.
And here is one of my favorite contrasts. "No Dumping"?!! Dumping happens everywhere to add to the roads!
The resulting roads are not as high quality as the original. The organic matter breaks down and the plastics get compacted over time resulting in enormous potholes, but at least there is dry land to walk and drive on.