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Wil Maheia has directed the Toledo Institute of Development and Environment TIDE since its inception in 1997 and has eight years experience in project management. He holds an MSc from the University of Idaho in Natural Resources, Recreation, and Tourism. Before founding TIDE, Mr. Maheia was a volunteer for its predecessor organization, the Belize Center for Environmental Studies, and he has also worked in various positions in community development since 1984.
Wil Maheia Please tell us where and in what year were you born? What was it like as a child growing up in your hometown? How has the town/district changed since your youth?

Wil Maheia: I was born in the village of Forest Home and attended Forest Home Methodist School and then moved to Punta Gorda Town, where I finished my primary schooling at Punta Gorda Methodist School. Both Forest Home and Punta Gorda Town have changed much since the time I grew up there. Forest Home now has running water, lights, and even cable TV. In the old days, we used to go to the creek to bathe but now we can do that in the comfort of our homes, not that the creek was not a comfort as well. I actually liked going there for a swim before school. How did you personally become an environmental activist protecting the concerns of Belize on the world stage?

Wil Maheia: I really do not consider myself an environmental activist. I consider myself a concerned Belizean and want to do whatever I can to make Belize and the world a better place to live. I do this by promoting sustainable development and helping to conserve the rich biodiversity of our area. How do you address accusations that NGO's protect the lands but do not protect the concerns of Belizeans who no longer have access to vast tracts of their own country for commercial development?

Wil Maheia: You will see my answer to your previous question. But I believe the proof is in the pudding as we have generated thousands of dollars for people in the district through our programs for sustainable development. And almost one hundred percent of our employees are born and bred in the Toledo District. Besides, there are many others who generate and earn an income because of the work we do. So really, I do not know where that accusation originates and I know of no land tract that has been taken away from the people by the NGO's. What is TIDE doing to educate the youth of Belize to prepare them and their country for the future conflicts that will await them between balancing commercial and ecological preservation and conservation?

Wil Maheia: TIDE has a very successful summer camp for youths. This program helps educate and bring awareness of our environment and resources to the kids. The kids learn about the local ecosystems and visit these areas firsthand. Anyone who would like to donate to this project can contact us to make a donation and help fund this worthy cause. Every year, we take hundreds of students and teachers out in the field to see our areas of work. It's a learning experience for everyone that comes with us. We also sponsor a scholarship program by helping to cover school expenses for a youth's education, in exchange for a more sustainable method of fishing by his/her family. How will the current governmental fiscal restraints challenge the mission of TIDE and other in-country NGO's?

Wil Maheia: It's going to be hard but we've got to stay positive and hope others will help us. Can you tell us a highlight to date of your life as the executive director, Toledo Institute of Development and the Environment (TIDE) in Belize?

Wil Maheia: There are many highlights. One is to see the kids that we send to school graduate. For the most part, these are first generation highschoolers and so they are the first ones in their families to make it that far in school. That to me is job satisfaction. Other highlights would include the day the Debt for Nature Swap Agreement was signed and the declaration of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. Both of those achievements took lots of work. Also, I would like to see the day when fishers and hunters turn into conservationists and at the same time, increase their economic standings by tenfold. People are better off economically, socially, and environmentally as a result of our work. That's a rewarding highlight. Can you tell us a highlight of your personal life?

Wil Maheia: Of course, the birth of my kids ranks as the most important personal highlight. But I have a highlight everyday when I wake up and look forward to going to work in the best darn area of the world. Yesterday I was on the boat and the weather was perfect and as far as my eyes can see in all directions, there was not a single person to be seen but the beauty of the world as the world should be. I am lucky! Having an occupation working outdoors is obviously demanding, both mentally and physically. What do you do to keep in shape? What is your favourite past-time occupation?

Wil Maheia: Two days ago, I hiked about 20 miles. It's good therapy for me and it was all through very nice forest. I saw lots of animal tracks and not too long ago, I saw a jaguar. What is the greatest outdoor adventure you ever experienced in Belize?

Wil Maheia: Wow, that's hard to say. I'd have to mention the time I was swimming within inches of a whale shark's mouth or being within meters of a jaguar in the wild. It's difficult to single out a particular event. I am a lucky guy. What is your most favourite Belizean food dish? What is your most favourite locally grown fruit and the most favourite vegetable?

Wil Maheia: I love food, especially the East Indian delights and I have many favorite fruits. Vegetables…I always say that my mom made me eat all my vegetables between the age of 1-10 so now I do not have to eat any. But if I have to pick a favorite, I'd have to say the calaloo. It's a greens and it goes well with rice. Have you ever had the luck to see and of Belize's exotic wildlife such as a jaguar, tapir or the like? Have you ever been bitten by a scorpion, snake or spider?

Wil Maheia: I am very lucky. I have seen them all and escaped them all. Just a lucky guy as I've come close to danger at times. Which of the Belize Maya archaeological sites have you visited? Which site was the most fascinating for you?

Wil Maheia: I believe that I have visited every excavated site, from Cerros in the North to Uxbenca in the South. And I must say that Caracol has got to be the most outstanding Maya site, followed by Xunantunich. What would you consider to be the greatest asset of Belize?

Wil Maheia: Without a doubt, its people and natural resources. What are the top three books we should all read in our lifetime?

Wil Maheia: Malcolm X, Silent Springs by Rachel Carson, and any works by John Muir. Also Fire from the Mountain, written by a Sandinista out of Nicaragua. Who would be on your list of favourite Belizean artists, writers or musicians? Who would be on your list of favourite non-Belizean artists, writers or musicians? What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Wil Maheia: To everyone's surprise, the arts is not one of my specialty fields. But I do enjoy good music and I like the local Paul Nabor who lives in my town and the Umalali Drummers. Anyone visiting Belize should hear them. They are awesome. I also like Bob Marley and Johnny Cash. Since I'm out in the fields a lot, I don't get to listen to much music, unless there's good reception from the radio tower. How would you answer the question "What is Belizean Culture?"

Wil Maheia: It's a combination and mix of almost everything. Belize is so ecologically diverse with natural beauty abundant. What do you consider the most beautiful spot in all of Belize?

Wil Maheia: How about my office? I consider the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor as my office. It's close to a million acres of land and a thousand square miles of sea. Other than that, that's a hard question because there are so many beautiful areas here in this little piece of mother earth. What is your favourite vacation spot outside of Belize?

Wil Maheia: I never take a vacation because my work is a vacation. What do you consider the biggest challenge for Belize and Belizeans in the 21st century?

Wil Maheia: We have to educate the public. And that must be done because I believe the only way to get rid of poverty is to get rid of ignorance. What would you most want someone reading this article to remember about what Wil Maheia has to say?

Wil Maheia: Wil Maheia loves Belize so much that no job in the world can take him out of Belize, especially out of the Toledo District.



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