Just look at the numbers.
Three years. Twenty-seven organizations. One hundred and twenty-one coaches, teachers and youth workers trained – 13 of them traveling to the United States for that preparation, partly delivered by three NIU students. Fifteen hundred youth enrolled in summer programs. Three thousand youth in school programs.
“I have been amazed and so grateful to the people who have contributed to making this project a success,” says Wright, a professor in the NIU Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. “It’s been about collaboration and teamwork, and the talent, commitment and complementary skills of the U.S. team was matched by our Belizean partners.”
Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited program, the BYSC aimed to promote youth development and social change through sport.
And it’s already working.
Several member organizations have changed curriculum, collaborated with each other, altered mission statements and advocated for changes to national sports policy.
Nine Belizeans who were certified as BYSC coach trainers reported transformative learning experiences and significant growth in their self-efficacy for teaching personal and social skills.
In January and November 2014, BYSC delegations came to DeKalb for a week-long training sessions as well as workshops on how to promote personal and social responsibility through their coaching. The delegates also led a panel discussion on their experiences as athletes, coaches and teachers and how those relate to Belize’s needs for youth sports.
Last year, the BYSC was contracted to provide technical support for the Youth Community transformation project in Belize, funded by the Caribbean Bank.
“A massive key to our success was developing this program and training curriculum in partnership with our Belizean partners. They are experts on their context, and without their input and ownership, the impact of the program would have been limited,” Wright says.
“Our immediate hope is that the BYSC can carry on as a self-regulating entity now that the initial grant funding has ended,” he adds. “To set them up for success in this regard, we trained several of the coaches, who were nominated by their peers as a leadership team, to carry on the training program we developed with them.”
NIU will remain engaged through support of strategic planning, evaluation efforts and promotion of the program.
Three NIU students who were included on the training team also served on the evaluation team, writing and presenting on the project.
Wright and his NIU colleagues – the roster included KNPE faculty Jim Ressler, Steven Howell, Jenn Jacobs and Jinhong Jung, as well as Bill Pitney, associate dean of the College of Education and a professor of athletic training – also will make occasional return trips to Belize to deliver presentations for workshops and coaching.
“Beyond the direct benefits of this project in Belize, we are actively disseminating lessons learned,” he says. “We believe many aspects of this project constitute best practices in the field of sport for development and peace. We hope our findings and this example will inform future projects in developing nations and underserved communities around the globe.”
Meanwhile, he expects the project will vault the umbrella PALS Group – Physical Activity and Life Skills Group – to a national and international reputation. To that end, Wright has had a series of meetings with UNESCO’s Youth and Sports Section, as well with other international organizations, to share this program concept.
“Our greatest strength is our demonstrated capacity to develop programs in partnership with local stakeholders,” Wright says.
“Our approach involves empowerment-oriented pedagogy, capacity building and transformative learning that is co-created with community partners,” he adds. “While we look forward to our next major project, we are already cultivating existing opportunities as far away as Central and South America and as nearby as the inner-city of Chicago.”