One of the founders of Ya’axché’s retires after 18 years
Community Liaison Officer Bartolo Teul retired from Ya’axché Conservation Trust on Friday, August 26th after 18 years of pioneering community development work in southern Belize. Mr. Barts’s vision of including communities in the protection of forests and natural resources has been realized through the internationally-recognized work of the Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program and the Protected Areas Management Program, which has led to increased community buy-in toward sustainable land use and conservation.
Marketing & Communications Manager Maximiliano Caal sat with Mr. Barts to reflect on his work with Ya’axché over the years.
What were you doing before Ya’axché?
Before Ya’axché I was a career soldier in the Belize Defence Force for 15 years. Then after retiring in 1996, I was elected as the Alcalde of my village, Big Falls.
How did you become involved with Ya’axché?
I became involved with Ya’axché as a consequence of being a village leader at the time in 1997. I was contacted by Philip Balderamos of the UNDP SGP to get my opinion on the establishment of a Private Protected Area along the Golden Stream River. This parcel of land, some 15,000 acres, was on sale by its owners, a US company out of Texas. Because of its rich biodiversity, Mr Balderamos along with an ecotourism entrepreneur, Kenneth Karas, thought it was best to declare this area a protected area before it was converted to shrimp, citrus or banana farms. Additionally, in establishing this area a protected area, an entity needed to be created for the administration and management of said area. I thought then, and I am convinced now, that it was a good idea. I am very pleased with the decision I made then.
Why Ya’axché and conservation?
Ya’axché because this organization is a local one that is community-oriented, respects traditional and cultural values. Conservation because I think this is key for sustainable development and everyone should be engaged in conservation efforts. Unfortunately, this is not the case. My tenure in the BDF made me realize that we are still very much rich in natural resources in the Toledo compared to other districts.
What tasks were most challenging during your time with Ya’axché?
I think the most challenging ones were the inability to attract enough funds to get the work done by qualified staff. The other is changing the mentality of farmers to adapt new farming methods.
Often overlooked, especially when working with communities, how have natural disasters affected conservation efforts of Ya’axché?
Disasters, such as hurricanes, put a lot of fuel on the ground for fires to get out of control. This makes Ya’axché’s work even more difficult to get people to burn with responsibility. As a result, more awareness, more training need to be done to get people prepared for escaped fires, especially after fuel gets dried on the ground.
Secondly, flooding have great impacts on small livestock and this leads to more hunting to replace the lost of meat for families. Then, more presence needs to be put on the ground to avoid unsustainable hunting practices that could follow.
What are the top 10 achievements of Ya’axché?
There are several and it is difficult to put them in order but let me start with:
- The purchasing of the land, 15,000 acres we now call the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve, with the help of our international partners Fauna & Flora International. This land now belongs to Ya’axché.
- The recognition of this Private Protected Area by the Government of Belize.
- Creation of jobs for local community members. When we started we only had a staff of 4 now we are at 24.
- Ability to get funding from UNDP from Small Grants Program and move on to get a Medium Size Grant, again thanks to our international partner FFI.
- The Whitley Award under the leadership of Lisel Alamilla.
- The ability to provide much needed book scholarship to students from buffer communities to attend high school.
- Attracting excellent local and foreign volunteers to assist in work of the organization.
- Linking terrestrial with marine protection.
- Focusing on human development with conservation of the environment.
- Successfully lobbying the Government of Belize to allow agroforestry activities in a protected area along with the most recent grant received from Government of Belize.
What was the most memorable occasion for you at Ya’axché?
Again there are numerous memorable occasions for me. My time at Ya’axché is a lifelong experience that will be with me for the rest of my life, but I guess witnessing our first set of Maya girls graduating from high school is one of the most memorable one for me.
From initial ideas behind the beginning of Ya’axché to what it has become, is Ya’axché on the right path?
Absolutely, what Ya’axché has become is far beyond what I envisioned in 1998. From a mere protected area manager to now, a sustainable development agency, I think Ya’axché is playing a key role in conservation and development.
What does Ya’axché’s future look like?
Ya’axché will continue to be a leading example of an organization that will maintain harmony between nature and people for the benefit of both.
What is next for Mr Bartolo Teul?
Time, take time to relax and do some exercise on the farm to maintain a good health and be able to assist where I can in empowering our local communities.
Any last words?
Of course, I would like to thank all staff and Board members of Ya’axché for their invaluable support they have given to me. In particular, Christina Gacia, Lisel Alamilla, Emma Caddy, Alfonso Cal, Valentino Shal, Adriana Dinu, Marchilio Ack, Kenny Cal, Julio Chub, Lee McLoughlin, Nathaniel Miller, Jaume Ruscalleda and Ekaterina Alexandrova.
I also want to recognize some who I consider my mentors, Wil Maheia, Greg Choc, Oswaldo Sabido, Osmany Salas, and Dylan Vernon, my professors at Coady International – David Fletcher, Maureen St.Claire and John Gaventa.
Maybe they do not know it but all these people mentioned above have impacted my work at Ya’axché positively.
Lastly my immediate family, especially my 3 daughters, Marcie, Amira and Rahyla, for the times I had to be absent on important days of your lives because of duty. Thanks for your understanding and support all these years.
At Ya’axché, Bartolo has served in the capacity of Ya’axché Program Coordinator, Community Outreach & Livelihoods Program Manager and Community Liaison Officer. From the staff, Board of Directors, and everyone involved in the work of Ya’axché: thank you Mr. Barts for your hard work and leadership and for your unwavering passion for conservation and sustainable development work in Belize.