Young people of the Caribbean addressing the COVID-19 pandemic: The #YouthOfUNESCO Story of Irice from Belize

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend the lives of young people around the world. In the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) approximately 63 per cent of the population are under the age of 30

Young people in the Caribbean SIDS face challenges such as increasing levels of unemployment, as well as underemployment, aspects which often leads to discouragement and disillusionment. Nevertheless, despite these challenges, youth are at the forefront when it comes to stepping up and helping their communities overcome challenges amplified or caused by the pandemic.

Irice Reyes (29), a young technical lead manager from Belize is concerned about the impact on employment due to the safety measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 such as the border closure, which affected the tourism sector most. Irice is also concerned about the potential increase of poverty levels in the country as a consequence of COVID-19.

In my community in Belize many people were working in the tourism industry, which is one of the major contributors to our domestic economy. But when the country faced the lockdown due to the coronavirus, many hotels, resorts, and tourist attractions had to close, and many people lost their job and their income. Due to the lack of jobs and no income being generated, many community members were unable to provide basic needs for their family and unable to pay bills. The government is struggling to provide for the thousands of people in need.

Nevertheless, despite these challenges, she remains optimistic that her community can grow and overcome the effects of the crisis together and in creative ways.

Irice mentions that this crisis has brought changes in such a way that some sectors of society are now more productive and efficient compared to before. For example, the business sector has now taken advantage of the use of technology to provide more efficient services. Furthermore, people now think outside the box and try innovative things instead of sticking to "business as usual"

The lessons I am taking away from this crisis are that people need each other to survive no matter how independent or self-sufficient they think they were before. I also learned that life in Belize would be so much better if people continue to care for each other the way they do right now during this crisis.

Belize is home of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the country. While Belize has been successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 over the last months, due to prompt enforcement of preventive measures such as border closures and mandatory mask-wearing in public places, the government has nevertheless recently announced stricter protective measures, such as curfews. This will further impact the livelihoods of people in Belize, but Irice’s story of empathy and collaboration to overcome the impact of the crisis gives hope and inspiration to move on.