Abbotsford woman takes anti-bullying message to Belize

Elizabeth Hamill is passionate when it comes to preventing bullying.

Elizabeth Hamill (centre) is an Abbotsford school district employee who uses anti-bullying techniques learned here to help children in Central America.

Elizabeth Hamill (centre) is an Abbotsford school district employee who uses anti-bullying techniques learned here to help children in Central America.

Elizabeth Hamill is passionate when it comes to preventing bullying.

She has worked in the Abbotsford school district for four years to raise awareness and education surrounding the issue.

So when she was invited by Dr. Diane Lawrence – also originally from Abbotsford – to the country of Belize to talk to a school there about bullying, she jumped at the opportunity.

“We did tie-dying of T-shirts, we talked about anti-bullying and what bullying looks like and how to stop it,” Hamill said of her two-week trip to Central America in March.

At first it was difficult to get the boys to wear the pink T-shirts, but after she explained the concepts of bullying, they warmed to the idea.

“In Belize they all dress in uniforms from Monday to Thursday. But on Friday they get to wear what they want. Well, they’ve been choosing to wear the pink T-shirt,” she said.

The pink T-shirts start conversations, which Hamill says is  key to anti-bullying. And though Belize and Canada are very different countries, she believes bullying is a universal problem with universal solutions.

If a child wears the pink T-shirt home, their parents and grandparents or aunts and uncles might ask them about it, and that gets the conversation started.

Building self-esteem in children and recognizing differences is also important to help them feel good about who they are.

“Just because someone’s different doesn’t mean they don’t have something to offer,” she said.

Hamill works for Bakerview Centre for Learning (formerly called Abbotsford Continuing Education) and the school in Belize she visited was Ambergis Caye Elementary. Both acronyms spell “ACE”.

“I kind of thought it was a bit of a sign,” she said, laughing.

Many children in Belize can’t go to school to Grade 12 because of poverty, so she had children in her class make laminated bookmarks to encourage education and positive learning. Now the Abbotsford children email the children in Belize.

“It’s been quite a project for our kids, too.”

Hamill is hoping to make this an annual trip to Belize with other interested colleagues and participants from Abbotsford.She acknowledges the help of family and colleagues in Abbotsford who offered her financial and moral support.

“This could grow into something quite exciting.”