TEDxBelmopan: Inspiring Belize From the Ground Up

Everyone knows TED talks.  It all started in 1984 as a one time media conference – featuring a handful of short talks about a new trend:  the convergence of design, technology and entertainment.   The talks have grown into a global phenomenon – viral videos sparking global discussions.

You can get a feel for the topics here – the 25 most popular TED talks of all time.  18 minutes or less about topics across the spectrum.  From Cameron Russell’s “Looks Aren’t Everything…Believe Me, I’m a Model” to Elizabeth Gilbert “Your Elusive Creative Genius” to Rober Waldinger’s “What Makes a Good Life”.

It all started as one meeting for invitees only;  the experiment lost money.  33 years later and after the establishment of its TEDx program in 2009, there have been more than 20,000 TEDx events across the globe.  This weekend 18 TEDx talks were hosted around the world, one of over 15,000 such events held annually.  Just this weekend:  China to Arizona to BELIZE.

Tedx Belize in Belmopan

The second TEDx talk in our tiny country.  (TEDx is an offshoot of TED – independently held TED talks in the same format showing 25% of their content from the TED library.)

I had missed the first (my bad choice…a mistake!) and I wasn’t going to miss the second.  Scheduled from 10am to 4pm on a Saturday at the University of Belize, Belmopan, I made my way out to the capital on Friday afternoon.

And was well early for the event Saturday morning.  There as the ARMY of volunteers set up the coffee and the sign-in area, the johnny cakes and the elaborate tech needed in the presentation room, the gift baskets for the speakers and the interactive area.

A huge crew that just wanted to be part of this event.

I watched and then chatted with the invitees and attendees (there was an application process!) as we later filled the room.  Shelley Bowen from Belikin, Marleni Ceullar from Channel 5 news, Tony Rath and his family, including daughter Rebecca, Miss Belize Universe, Janelle Chanona from Oceana Belize, people arrived from all over country to hear the wide range of topics from a wide range of speakers.

You can watch all of them online and I URGE you to do it.  It’s eye opening to know what other Belizeans are doing often out of the public eye.  INCREDIBLE things.

This was an fantastic chance to hear what they had to say…what their challenges are, what solutions they are looking for and what struggles they went thru to get to where they are today.

I am not going to try to do a full summary – I’d only lessen the power of their voices.  But here are just a few things that I took away.  Maybe spark your curiosity about what is going on in your own country (or one of your favorite countries if you don’t live here).

Belize amazes in so many way.  I loved it.  (Please check out everyones’ bios here.)

Speakers Sean, Sharon and Daniel (from left to right)

Dr Elma Kay, Science Director at the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute

She spoke of the unempowered youth in Belize – she sees kids/young adults in the 4th year of university and finds that their questioning, their curiosity has been suppressed, if not killed.

We live in an unparalleled living lab – the forest, the ocean, the reef.  School is too much focused on rote learning and on memorization.  We need about our need to foster curiosity, to encourage our kids to ask question, to ask students what problems they want to solve rather than “what do you want to be when you grow up”.

Here is the link to the facebook page – to watch some of the speeches.

Tanya McNab, Entrepeneur, Marketing Director at Mahogany Bay, Businesswoman

Tanya spoke about the importance of design.  93% of communication in our word is now visual…the majority of people are visual learners.  Design is WAY more than making things look pretty – it is often the way the world sees us.  How we first form relationship.

Joshua Arana, Garifuna Drummer and Coordinator of the Stann Creek House of Culture

I find that, often, it’s the speakers whose lives differ most from mine that are the most impactful.  Joshua’s talk gave me goosebumps.  It was drums and chanting, beautiful singing and a powerful look into this life.

The title of the talk?  “Drumming Made me a Feminist”.  He told us how as a child growing up in “baka Town”, he was ashamed of being Garifuna.  Like many here and around the world, he strove to identify with “the Nike culture”.

And then he learned to embrace who he was and where he came from – to celebrate his culture.  He realized through the Garifuna culture, the women and nurturing are the foundation of all things.

I really encourage you to listen to his talk.  Really fantastic stuff.

Daniel Rath, PhD Student and Scientist

Daniel comes from an extraordinary family. His dad Tony is a brilliant photographer and activist, his gorgeous sister Rebecca was our Miss Belize Universe contestant.  Not just a  pageant winner, over the past year, Rebecca’s ups and downs have inspired a nation.

Daniel, the oldest of the three Rath children, was born and raised in Southern Belize, in Dangriga – the forests and savannas around it are some of the most beautiful and fertile land on earth.   He was interested in food…and where it comes from.   He talked about the science of soil as a living thing and how little we know about it.

About how up to 1/3 of the soil on earth is now ruined, dead to agriculture.  And, closer to home, how the Maya civilization may have collapsed as a result of man made climate change, drought and “dead soil”.

He stressed the importance of knowing how our food is produced.  Pesticides?  Non-sustainable methods?  Do you know how your tomato or potato or banana is being grown?  Literally inspiring from the ground up.

Sharon Matola, Superstar and Founder of the Belize Zoo

Sharon started the Belize Zoo when the country barely had paved roads…and animal welfare was not a huge priority.  There were many misconceptions and myths about some local animals.  Like our gentle tapir could rip a man’s skin off.  She wanted to educate.

Tapir ambassador Fuego at the Belize Zoo

She told a fantastic story of her early days at the zoo and an old Creole man came to visit at the very end of the day.  You’ve got to listen.

Kids deserve to know the magic of the incredible natural gifts that have been bestowed on Belize.  Without a bond of compassion with a sweet baby crocodile or a gorgeous jaguar, there is no future for our wild life.

And here is where  (if you are still reading) you will be mad.  I had to leave just as the last speaker was starting!

The fabulous Sean Kuylen, Chef and Creator (check out the time I went food shopping with him around Belize)

He is a huge personality and wildly creative.   And we all need to watch his talk – he is famous for focusing on Belizean food “inspired Belizean cuisine” – not just rice and beans but Maya and Garifuna food and flavors.  Elevate, celebrate it.

That’s enough of me talking but the theme for the day was CELEBRATION and that’s exactly what this was.

We need to celebrate BELIZE and all things Belize.

This awesome event, the huge team of volunteers, the excitement and even the popcorn machine made this seem a bit like a party – I hope everyone gets a chance to watch once it goes on-line.  And we can only hope it sparks a discussion…lots of discussions around the country.

And it’s got to make you think…if you were asked to give a TED talk, what would your topic be?

Some great t-shirts that were on display from the Belizean company ID Seven – one of the sponsors of the event.





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