A Magnificent Celebration on International Disability Day

News from Jamal and Sharon...

Joy and excitement rang through the air recently at The Belize Zoo, as we held a special celebration to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities.   

BAPDA at The Belize Zoo
The Belize Assembly for Persons with Diverse Abilities, BAPDA,  had inquired about celebrating this important day at the Zoo.  BAPDA manager, Eva Middleton, organized the early December visit.  She had been following the Zoo’s progress over the past year, as we have diligently been working to see that this superb facility become accessible to all Belizeans.  Rose-coloured pathways, which are wheelchair and stroller friendly, wind their way past jaguars and tapirs, toucans and monkeys.  The Best Little Zoo in the World can be enjoyed by everyone now in Belizean society.

Ms. Middleton said that the Zoo was perfectly aligned with the theme for 2013:  “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”   It had been over twenty-five years since Eva Middleton last passed through the zoo.  She was joyfully astounded.  “Before I lost my leg, I could go into the rain forest.  Today, I felt like I was back in the forest again.” 

A group of about fifty guests from BAPDA and Stella Maris School joined educators Jamal Andrewin and Johanna Pacheco on an exciting Zoo highlights tour. “Lucky Boy” the black jaguar and jaguar ambassador “Junior Buddy” seemed to know that this was a special day.  They wasted no time coming up to greet their guests, and their guests were visibly thrilled.  Everyone had the opportunity to enjoy close up meetings with our national animal, the Central American tapir, and our beautiful national bird, the keel-billed toucan!

BAPDA Guests Meeting Rose the Croc
The excitement did not end with a zoo tour.  As the group gathered at the front of the Zoo for refreshments, Zoo Director Sharon Matola joined Jamal Andrewin to make a special presentation for the group.  A new colouring book, THE ABC’S OF WILD AND WONDERFUL BELIZE, was given to all of our special guests.  Having received support from the State University of New York  at Cortland (SUNY Cortland), SUNY Cortland’s, Inclusive Recreation Resource Center, this activity oriented colouring book, dedicated to children with disabilities, is the Zoo’s newest and proud resource.  Students and professors from SUNY Cortland will be assisting the Zoo in raising much-needed funds to fully finish the accessible walkway.  We are currently 80 percent complete, and look forward to seeing the entire Zoo accessible!

Being so special, the colouring book deserved a special intro! Providing that moment of exciting introduction was a job for a zoo ambassador.  “Rose” the crocodile took on the task with reptilian delight.  As the books were passed out, “Rose” assisted with photo and petting opportunities, adding an element of learning and surprise which was unexpected by all.

Past president of BAPDA, Jerome Flores, who was the Zoo’s expert consultant on the accessible walkway, joined current BAPDA president, Marshall Nunez and manager Eva Middleton, as kind and heartfelt thanks were given.  No one wanted to leave!  The Belize Zoo looks forward to more visits from BAPDA folks, Stella Maris children, and to all with disabilities.  Transforming our beautiful animal sanctuary into an accessible destination, has added a big and shining star to the profile of The Best Little Zoo in the World. 

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