Friday, November 13, 2009, 6:18
Although one of the more recent villages of Belize, Hattieville has certainly seen a transformation over its short life since the village’s inception in 1961 following the devastating hurricane and subsequent storm surge that all but flattened Belize City.
Hattieville was initially conceived as a short-term refugee camp in the aftermath of Hurricane Hattie which wrought fatalities and injuries across the city. The location of appropriately named ‘Hattieville’ was chosen due to its strategic location just 14 miles from Belize City, but slightly inland in order to protect its residents from the harshest consequences of future hurricanes and tsunamis.
However, even though the hurricane hit on October 31st and the Hattieville camp was intended to be an immediate refuge for victims of the natural disaster, it wasn’t until December of that year that families were able to properly move into Hattieville Barracks. Thousands of former city residents, made homeless and destitute during the hurricane, were offered accommodation in the camp, divided into alphabetically listed barracks, A-D on the northern side of the road, and J-M on the southern side, alongside the Red Cross Hospital which was established to provide much needed medical care and attention to the vulnerable arrivals.
Elderly residents of Hattieville remember that, prior to Hattie, the area was entirely uninhabited, and was made up of thick bushland with a mere narrow road leading through the vicinity. Once the bushland was cleared and the camp boundaries constructed, long wooden buildings were erected to house the new arrivals. Residents were divided into familial groups, and rooms in each structure were provided for each group, separated from their neighbours simply by roll-up canvas partitions. In the early days, a gentleman on the outskirts of the camp was responsible for providing food for the residents, although relatively quickly a communal fire-heart was created which was long enough to accommodate several women cooking for their families at any one time.
A group of North American Mennonites also resided in the area, and helped with the distribution of rations and schooling for the children. Christmas of that year (and several years to come) was made bearable because of these Mennonites, who donated present parcels to the children of Hattieville. Although Hattieville had been designed as an emergency short-term solution to the destruction of Belize City, the barrack-style camp remained inhabited (unbelievably) for almost a decade, before most people were able to acquire their own parcel of land and construct their houses, or were able to rebuild from the wreckage of Belize City and return to their former neighbourhoods. During these years of habitation, Hattieville grew to provide just about every service required by its residents, and in the mid-1960s Hattievile was considered by many as the place to party! However, by the 1970s, as people dispersed and returned to their City homes, Hattieville began to lose some of its former glory and became a quiet commuter village, servicing the City with an oversized village labour force.
Today, it seems many of the long-standing residents of Hattieville wish for a return of the ‘good old days’, when construction jobs were in full supply and Hattieville was a lively village. Now, villagers see that despite the UDP pre-election campaign promising new employment opportunities (including a fruit processing plant in the village), the reality is a little more bleak. There are very few local job opportunities for Hattieville residents, and even the companies located there (such as BWEL) are allegedly more likely to employ outsiders than village residents. It is a similar story with the Hattieville High School, which was promised as an incentive to encourage more primary school graduates to continue their education, but the reality is that high school students are still forced to commute to Belize City or elsewhere in order to acquire their tuition.
However, such problems have not discouraged people moving to Hattieville in more recent years, as crime spirals out of control in Belize City. This new influx is largely housed within the new housing site further along the Western Highway (right up until about Mile 17), which is compared to other affluent outer suburbs of Belize City. ‘Old Hattieville’, however, remains somewhat run-down and poorly serviced, but it is this area (closest to the Boom roundabout) which truly maintains the essence of the village.
Both areas, however, have suffered a serious lack of refuse removal services for over a year, and only households with private vehicles are able to collect their rubbish and dump it outside the village boundaries (which is gradually encroaching on village land, and making the entrance roads to Hattieville appear dishevelled and uncared for). Several villages put this down to the neglect of the current UDP administration, and most residents are left to dispose of their garbage within makeshift holes in their own back yards. This pollution, it is thought, is affecting ground water supplies, and villagers are vocal in their complaints of this, since over the decades the Hattieville creek has deteriorated from providing an ample supply of fish (such as tuba, crawna, mus-mus and base snook) to containing negligible quantities of anything. Residents are also complaining of decreasing yields from fruit trees throughout the village, which used to provide plentiful crops such as golden plum and mango, and which now only provide on a very basic subsistence level. Iguanas are one of the few species which continue to be plentiful during the breeding months of June to August, and it is no surprise that many villages are forced to illegally catch and sell iguana on the road side to supplement their dwindling incomes.
Another source of revenue has been discovered in the sale of herbs and natural remedies, although the sale of marijuana continues to be the most widespread ‘herb’ sold throughout the village. And although Hattieville has a reputation for its weed-smokers, there are only rare cases of serious problems with harder drugs, such as crack and cocaine. Fortunately, the small scale of the drug-using population ensures that crime remains at a low rate, and people in the older areas of the village still claim to feel secure to sleep with their doors open and their possessions unsecured at night.
Hattieville is a tranquil haven compared to the chaos, confusion and crime in Belize City, but any village so close to the urban hubbub is unlikely to remain immune to concurrent urban problems without a unified and wide-reaching program involving all sectors of village residents. And as economic strain is increasing throughout Belize, Hattieville continues to suffer poor employment rates and an increasing perception of destitution. Villagers are increasingly feeling desperate for governmental support (such as last month, when a spokesperson for the village called a radio morning show to claim that if dirt trucks would simply be provided for the villager’s use, the community would rally together to organise a refuse disposal service using the trucks provided). And while the village’s council used to receive support from the former government, the UDP has provided no such assistance to the village council since taking over the government last year (could it still be holding a grudge for a PUP chairlady being voted in place of her UDP counterpart?).
Hattieville has proved itself as a vibrant village, able to survive even the most enduring hardships. But, despite the first impressions of a progressive village, with excellent community services (including a relatively recently opened Chinese-owned supermarket), it must not be forgotten that original Hattieville residents are united in one factor: they experienced the very worst effects of Hurricane Hattie almost 50 years ago. They were the Belize City residents who were so catastrophically affected by the hurricane that they daringly embraced an entirely new way of rural life, and worked together to transform Hattieville from a refugee camp into a viable village. These people are certainly not afraid of change and hard work, and they certainly cannot be labelled as demanding; all they ask is that the government help the village with its most basic services to ensure that community life continues progressing forwards, instead of slipping backwards. Which is, after all, surely the essence of development for any community, in any country, that any decent government should be willing to provide.
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