Belizean Youth Gets a New Lease on Life

Roger Bowen grew up in Belize, a small Central American nation that consistently ranks among the top 10 countries in the world for homicide. He lives on the south side of Belize City, where gang violence is rampant.

He dropped out of high school freshman year and began doing drugs on the neighborhood basketball court. He started getting involved in robberies and was in and out of jail. He had trouble keeping a job. Roger and his three-month-old daughter moved in with his parents to cut costs, but family members were doing drugs at the house, he says.

Bowen displays the refrigeration equipment he was able to purchase with a grant from the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

Bowen displays the refrigeration equipment he was able to purchase with a grant from the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

“It's hard to try to improve yourself in this neighborhood,” Roger says. "When people see me dress nice they think I'm a snob. I feel like a crab in a bucket." No way out.

"If I don't try to do something with myself and just hang out all day, I'll probably get shot," he says.

Roger enrolled in a program at the Institute for Technical and Vocational Education and Training to learn air conditioning and refrigeration repair, a trade he's been helping his father with since he was a boy. He passed the course, but couldn’t pay for the certificate. Roger's goal of starting his own business and making something of himself seemed out of reach.

Then he joined PADF’s Youth Engagement Services program, where he learned vital skills in bookkeeping, managing a business, and how to act professionally. Funded by the U.S. Embassy in Belize and implemented by PADF, the program gives young people like Roger the confidence and life skills to pursue their dreams.  

"I thank God for the program," Bowen says. "I learned a lot. You learn how to deal with people, how to carry yourself.” Roger came up with a business plan to start his refrigeration repair business and was granted a $1,000 loan. He’s using the funds to get professionally certified and purchase equipment for his shop.

"I have something positive to do with myself,” he said. “I [now] have daughters to look after. Now I have a trade. I'm ready to do the right thing."