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National Launching Speach

Speech given by Gregory Ch´oc, Chairman, Q´eqchi´ Council of Belize
Co-Presenter, National Launching Event
July 25, 2001

Purpose of the Documentary
There is one clear purpose for this documentary to exist - one reason that we are all here today. We, The Maya Leaders of Southern Belize, believe that cultural understanding is critical to the success of cooperative efforts between the many ethnicities of Belize. When we move forward with acceptance and tolerance, we move forward in unity.

The Living Maya is being offered today as an opportunity for others to learn about our traditional and contemporary ways. Through this documentary Belizeans can better understand:

our philosophy of life
our connection to nature
our cultural events
our daily practices and
our biggest challenges

They can hear these things from our sages - our village elders - through life histories and traditional stories.

They can also hear our languages - Mopan and Q´eqchi´

They can meet the people we respect and see places we cherish.

This documentary is being donated for use in Belize schools as a means to reach the youth of today - as they are the builders of tomorrow's Belize.

We offer non-Mayan youth a travel adventure:

through the miles to the Toledo District -
and through the years -
from 1930 to the present.

For the Maya student, this documentary will also be beneficial. It provides a portal to their grandparents' and parents' life paradigm, and holds within it the cultural practices that we ask them to respect and preserve.

The capacity for this documentary to be used as a learning tool is great.

To quote Dr. Angel Cal, President of the University of Belize and author of the forward for this documentary. . .

"The sounds, pictures, and words of the presentation represent a good glimpse of the life of children, women, and men whose ancestral roots hark back through the millennia…
As a learning tool, the present work provides material for teachers and students to view the Southern Maya from several angles. The work covers the major dimensions of life in rural communities. The work also provides a methodology that can be used to record life as it currently exists among ethnic groups, particularly those for whom there is little written information.
It allows us to note, for example, the increasing importance of the actions that the Maya have taken in helping shape their own lives and the communities in which they live. In between, we note the pressing impact of the forces of the outside world coming from within Belize and beyond and the ways that the Maya have learned to cope with these agents of change.
More importantly, the record herein represents the closest example of we have of a collective voice of the Maya at any given point in time. It is a good record for the Maya themselves"
Uses for the documentary
The use of The Living Maya is not limited to the youth of Belize. The employees and volunteers who work with us - the scholars who write about us - will all benefit from hearing our voice throughout this work.

But the objective of sharing this work clear - we not only consider ourselves a vital part of Belizean society, but would like others to understand our worth as well.

We are an indigenous culture. We ask not to be stereotyped, but to be understood. We believe that with understanding, others will not see our traditional ways as primitive, but rather as a cherished part of our multicultural Belize.

We look forward to learning about other ethnicities as well. We hope that this donation will begin a wave of materials made available for the purpose of creating multicultural unity in our country.

I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who have shared our desire to bring the Toledo Maya to the rest of Belize. All volunteers, they have opened up their hearts to this project; and with much enthusiasm, they have made The Living Maya become a reality.

Anne-Michelle Marsden, Professor at Rutgers University in the United States,
served as Project Director and is author of all of the text.

Eric Leupold, professional photographer and computer programmer,
served as Project Assistant and key photographer during the information gathering phase. He is also responsible for all of the computer programming aspects of the CD ROMs development.

Both Anne-Michelle and Eric took leave from their jobs in the United States to make this project come to fruition. They personally contributed the majority of the funding for the project. The Maya Leaders of Southern Belize thank them for continuously chasing a vision of excellence as they worked, now for nearly two years, to produce a documentary for which we would be proud.

Every project has its leaders, but there are others, equally as valuable, to acknowledge. Over 90 Maya of the Toledo District volunteered their time and knowledge to make this documentary. Some of those individuals are with us today. The Maya Leaders of Southern Belize appreciate all of the assistance that our fellow brothers and sisters gave. Because of their efforts, this documentary is a complete and honest accounting of our lives throughout most of the 20th century.

Finally, there are government entities and organizations to acknowledge.
The Ministry of Rural Development as well as the CARD project provided both guidance and assistance to project developers.

United States organizations were also involved in the project. The Indian Law Resource Center provided research-based background information to project developers when necessary. And, the Garden State Rotary Club of Cherry Hill in New Jersey, who's president has made the trip to Belize City today to witness the event, supported the project through a $5,000 sponsorship. This local Rotary group also provided the funds for today's launching. We thank this group for all of its support, and welcome Mr. Veevers to Belize.

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