The Power of Project Belize
The Power of Project Belize
Christine Lattanzio is a Tax partner in PwC’s New York office. She leads the New York Metro Real Estate Tax Practice and the National Real Estate Tax Practice. Christine has volunteered for youth education efforts for many years, working as a tutor for high school students and serving on the board of Streetwise Partners, a workforce development nonprofit. This summer, her passion for youth education took her to Belize City as a volunteer for PwC’s Project Belize youth financial literacy program. In this guest post, she shares how that experience impacted her.
I recently had the privilege of joining 200 of my PwC colleagues in Belize City to deliver our Earn Your Future financial literacy curriculum to hundreds of Belizean children from schools around the city. And yes, privilege is the right word. The bonding among PwC volunteers and students, as well as between PwC volunteers and the Belizean teachers and administrators, was something to see, particularly considering we were only together for four days. What I think united everyone so quickly was our common desire that all people be happy and successful, and the recognition that becoming financially literate is an important step toward personal success.
On the first day, 87 children ages 9-15 arrived at our school, St. Mary’s Anglican Primary School. Some of the students were tentative, not knowing what to expect. Others were excited, because they attended the Project Belize program the year before, or heard from a friend or neighbor that it was fun. A few of the older students arrived in “too cool for school” mode; their parents had sent them and these kids made sure we knew they weren’t present voluntarily. (One 12 year-old boy proudly announced he wouldn’t be back on Day 2, and ended up being one of the first to arrive the next morning!) In Belize, tuition is required for students to attend public high school. For that reason, children and their parents must be particularly motivated to continue education beyond elementary school. Part of our job as volunteers was to help them understand why continuing education is important. We had a challenging task ahead: inspire children to learn during their school break while sitting inside classrooms with no air conditioning during the hot, humid Belizean summer.
Prior to arriving in Belize, we familiarized ourselves with PwC’s Project Belize financial literacy lessons. While some of the material overlaps with the Earn Your Future curriculum that we deliver in the US, such as lessons on saving versus spending and how to create a budget, other topics are Belize-specific, such as what is required to open a savings account at a bank in the country. We also guided the students in identifying what they enjoy doing, and helped them set career goals and plans. Each day, we came to the classroom ready to improvise based upon the attentiveness and energy level of the class. Sometimes the students entered the room bursting with energy and were not ready to focus, such as right after lunch and recess. And much like any classroom, at times we had the attention of only some of the students. We quickly learned we could re-engage students through group activities, so we got creative, incorporating games like Hangman using financial terms, and made it competitive and fun, with students versus teachers. Other times students were totally absorbed in their work, when they began working on their final projects, for example. Their final project was to create a business plan for a product or service for which there is demand in Belize, and to prepare themselves to promote their businesses to potential customers. One by one the students opened up and it was rewarding to see their faces light up when they answered a question correctly or were commended for their work.
By the final day of the camp, we had 110 students participating at our school. The ranks had swelled as children and parents heard about the program. Our finale event was a business fair where students set up booths to promote their businesses and answered questions from the volunteers and parents. Children who had been reserved and didn’t make eye contact on Day 1 were explaining with confidence what kinds of deals they could offer us in their ice cream store, nail salon or music lesson business. Others who had decided to form not-for-profit ventures articulated their organization’s mission. One 15-year-old girl’s idea stood out: she would create an after-school program for kids to keep them out of the streets and encourage them to continue their education through high school and possibly on to college. She identified her competitors as gangs and drugs, and her sources of funding as donations from the public and income from a second job she would take to help finance the non-profit. She epitomized leadership and inspired all of us.
I left Belize City knowing that we had made a true impact on many children there, but I think my fellow volunteers would agree that the experience had an even bigger impact on us. We took knowledge that we use daily in our professional and personal lives (and that we probably take for granted) and helped children who don’t otherwise have access to these resources to start building a foundation for a solid future. Their expressions of gratitude – from hugs to homemade cards – were more than we could have asked for in return for our time. They made me want to do more.