Impact on the Maya

Many Maya in the western part of the Toledo District live a subsistence lifestyle. They rise before daybreak and go to sleep an hour or so after night fall. They grow, hunt, or raise the food they eat. They live in structures and use tools that are made out of rainforest material.

Their families live communally with other Mayan villagers. Young children attend village schools. The whole family is involved in Catholic or Protestant Church activities. They participate in cultural ceremonies and events.

Many village women give birth at home. The Maya die at home as well.

While they are fairly self-sufficient, currency is still needed. To send a child to high school is a great financial burden that many strive to afford. They must also purchase text books and other school supplies for their primary school children. They need

Courtesy of Becky Zarger (left) and Plenty Belize (right).

money to travel to Punta Gorda, the administrative center of the Toledo District. For those who are fortunate enough to live in electrified villages or ones where water pipes are placed next to their home - they also need an income to pay utility bills or the village's water cooperative. So how do the Maya earn money?

The Maya farm rice and cacao beans to export out of the area. They
grow fruits and vegetables to sell in Punta Gorda. Some are involved in the small tourist industry in Toledo. They may make handcrafts to sell or offer tours into their exquisite jungle that surrounds them.

During the evening of October 8th into the early morning hours of October 9th. Everything changed. Not one part of their silent dreams and their daily lives was left untouched.

Use the links below to access information about the impact Hurricane Iris had on their lives.

Basic Welfare
The following text was developed by the Country Coordinator for Plenty Belize, Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District.
Entire villages, mostly traditional Mayan farming hamlets, are reporting up to 95% of their structures have been damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction is complicated by the fact that the common palm trees which normally provide the roofing material for houses have been equally damaged by the storm's fury, and can no longer be used.

The Maya construct their homes from natural materials.

Cahune palm is usually plentiful in the rainforest.
Men cut palm leaves and then spilt them. Leaves are then skillfully arranged and secured to a pole roof structure.
It takes up to a dozen male villagers to thatch a roof.

Cahune palms are now destroyed.

Photo courtesy of Becky Zarger

Primary school in San Pedro Columbia
Photo courtesy of Philip Miller

Thirteen rural schools in the district are confirmed as completely destroyed, many others have suffered serious damage. It will be some time before the children in the affected areas will be able to resume their education.

Even after the cleanup, they will be without textbooks, since all their household belongings were lost, and the schools will be without basic furnishings and supplies.

Miraculously, no loss of life amongst the local population has been reported, but minor injuries and diseases due to unsanitary conditions are already filling the local hospital, particularly affecting babies and young children.

Immediate and urgent needs are for emergency shelter, food, and water.

Right: Water being served to villagers.
Photo courtesy of Plenty Belize

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Food and Agriculture

The Maya are severely marginalized in this area. What they harvest to eat -- corn, fruit, etc. - is destroyed - and most livestock are dead or missing. They will be unable to harvest a corn crop for several months, even if they plant today. The crops they raise to sell - rice and cacao will also take time to produce. Cacao groves are severely damaged. It takes three to four years to produce cacao beans from seedlings.
Rice that is cultivated for sale outside the district is destroy by Iris.
Courtesy of CARD

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Rainforest trees are broken in two. Where there was once
jungle - it is a nearly flattened mass of bush. One observer
noted that it looked like a bomb had been dropped in the area.

Photos courtesy of Becky Zarger.


In this largely undeveloped area of Belize, even the few sources of income that were available before the hurricane, such as ecotourism, have been rendered virtually impossible. The rainforest, once the pride of Toledo and a significant draw for nature-loving tourists, has been stripped bare, broken, and robbed of its natural beauty for the next 10 years at least.

The Toledo Ecotourism Association is now faced with huge challenges in trying to salvage its modest tourism operation, which introduced guests to life in the Mayan and Garifuna villages via a low-key nature-oriented program. The revenue once generated by this program, 85% of which stayed in the hands of villagers, was an important supplement to the income of families.

Click here to learn what the Toledo Ecotourism Association is doing to assist the Maya and how you can help.

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