By Erin Parsons
A Caribbean-themed 5-K run to raise money for the San Mateo Empowerment Project is set for Oct. 29 at the University of Mississippi.
The San Mateo project, known as SMEP, began as a fundraising campaign initiated by a handful of students and professors in the university’s Department of Social Work. It has evolved into a community-led effort to replace miles of dangerous plank bridges with rock and sand roads in San Mateo, Belize.
Building roads removes a serious safety hazard for children and provides wider access to water, electricity and sewage systems for thousands of San Mateo’s residents. The effort has expanded to include tutoring children, teaching music, buying eyeglasses and conducting research that can influence the community’s future.
“The project is important because it is improving the living conditions of hundreds of children and their families,” said Kim Shackelford, UM associate professor of social work. “It is also important because students are learning how to work with diverse communities and how to empower people to identify and solve their own problems.”
The “Run for the Road” will raise money to pay for San Mateo community members to use their boats to retrieve rock and sand needed to build the roads. One cubic foot of road costs $1 to construct. The road is 12 feet wide and three feet deep, so each foot of roadway costs $36. But each new foot of road that is completed means one less foot of rotten, treacherous wooden planks for the San Mateo residents to walk on.
“The students are returning during Wintersession to help the community build the road,” Shackelford said. “The money we raise with the 5-K run will help us have materials to work with when we get there.
“The community of San Mateo works every Sunday on the roads. It takes about $500 a week to keep them supplied with material. The San Mateo community members can build about 15 feet on a Sunday morning. When the University of Mississippi students and faculty help, we can get about 30 feet built in one morning of work. We work several mornings when we are in Belize, so we need the financial help to provide more material before we get there and while we are there.”
Those participating in the race are encouraged to wear Caribbean-themed costumes. The race begins and ends at the Student Union. The fee is $25, which includes a “Run for the Road” T-shirt. Register for the race here.
Day-of-race registration begins at 10 a.m., with the race beginning at 11. Food and drinks will be provided after the race and a winner for the best costume will be announced.
“It is important for our institution to develop sustainable community-university partnerships locally and abroad,” said Kate August Cascio, a graduate student who works in the International Outreach Office. “Participating in this ‘Run for the Road’ 5-K fundraiser is a great way to help support one of UM’s international community-university partnerships right here in Oxford. This race is also a great way to get out and have some fun while connecting with others who care about community empowerment.”
Shackelford encourages people throughout the community to participate.
“Your $25 will count,” Shackelford said. “If everyone comes together for the 5-K run, we could really build a lot of the road. Before we began this project, two children died from falling off the bridges into the bacterial-infested water. Parents had broken bones from falling and could not take care of their children. The children have no place to play around their homes. We can’t get sewage, water or electricity until the roads are built. We need your help.”
“Run for the Road” sponsors include the departments of Health, Exercise Science and Recreation, Social Work, Legal Studies, and Nutrition and Hospitality Management, and the School of Education, Division of Outreach and Kappa Alpha Order.