5K Run for preservation of Garifuna Language

Managing Director of the Yurumein Project – Belize Dr. Jeremy Cayetano, Managing Director of the Yurumein Project – SVG Mr. James Cordice and Operations Director of the Yurumein Project – Dr. Gwen Nunez Gonzalez.
Yurumein Project/Jeremy Cayetano

On June 11, James Cordice, the Vincentian-born founder and coordinator of Vincentian and Belizean athletes participating in the prestigious Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, attended the 2nd Annual Run for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Belize.

Cordice told Caribbean Life on Sunday that while last year’s run was centered around the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, this year’s event was focused on bringing awareness to the need to preserve the Garifuna language.

“All other languages that are currently spoken and written in the Caribbean today have been given to us or forced on us, but the Garifuna language was born in Yurumein, now called St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.

“People who know not from whence they came are a lost people. So, it is now, more than ever, necessary to teach our children who they are and what our fathers stood for,” Cordice added.

He said he was “extremely pleased and proud to see the amalgamation of the Garinagu — especially to see six districts coming together to pull off this spectacular run.”

Anthony Audinett first place medal along with trophy, PG 5K Fun Run. Yurumein Project/Jeremy Cayetano

Cordice lauded the Yurumein Project Run Committee, the run coordinator in each district, the police, fire and rescue, sponsors, volunteers and participants.

Cordice’s trip to Belize also included participating and addressing the run in Dangrega; meeting with Principal Lawrence, The Yurumein Project team, past and current members of the Ecumenical Penn Relays Squad and Belize’s Minister of Sports; and delivering a message at the 2nd Annual Honoring of the Elders.

Additionally, Cordice said he facilitated meetings about the need for a running-track in Southern Belize.

Dr. Jeremy Cayetano, one of the managing directors of the Yurumein Project — Cordice is another — expressed gratitude to “Ebu” James Cordice.

“This entire Yurumein Project would not be in existence if it was not for Mr. Cordice,” she told Caribbean Life. “It brings to mind a song by the late Andy Palacio called ‘Watina’, which in English means ‘I call’.

“Ebu James has been calling out to sound the alarm that our language is in a state of emergency,” she added. “We have the music, the dancing, the drumming, the food, but, if we lose the language, then it’s all lost.

First place female, Orange Walk. Yurumein Project/Jeremy Cayetano

“All of the programs we run in the Yurumein Project are for the furtherance of our culture, especially our language,” Dr. Cayetano continued. “Because we heard the call, the Yurumein Project teaches the Garifuna language. It is our intention that the language will one day be prevalent and widely spoken in all Garifuna communities. This is our language. We cannot afford to lose it. We must pass it on.

“Our annual Run is a fundraiser to support our endeavors in language,” she said. “It does more than that though. It brings our people together from all over the country.”

Over the weekend event, the Yurumein Project also paid a “Tribute to our Elders.”

Dr. Cayetano said the tribute is also a brain child of Ebu James “that the Yurumein Project has embraced wholeheartedly.

“We stand on the shoulders of our elders,” she said. “We must show gratitude for the distance they have brought us, and honor their efforts by learning from them and passing this learning to the next generation.”

Maureen Melendez Arzu, Yurumein Project member, said what struck her with the tribute was the reaction of the recipients of the award.

“They were so happy to receive the award,” she said. “It made me realize the impact of the ceremony on our elders. People who usually looked serious all the time were genuinely happy, and I was happy about that.

“I feel proud to be a member of an organization that honors ordinary people for their extraordinary contributions to our community,” she added. “We honor the unsung heroes of our communities, and that makes me feel proud.”

Dr. Gwen Nunez Gonzalez, who served as Mistress of Ceremonies, said that “the committees mobilized and the weekend of June 11th and 12th brought magical-spiritual-rootedness across Belize and in beautiful Dangriga.

“Young people from across the country enthusiastically gathered to walk, run, and entertain to support The Yurumein Project 5k Marathon on Saturday (June 11th),” she said. “This event was a unification of great talents, leaders and activists to ensure that funds are obtained for the Garifuna Language Program.

“The ability of all the coordinators to mobilize their community is a testament of the power of God’s hands in this movement,” Dr. Nunez Gonzalez added. “Our ancestors have sacrificed to have us alive; and so, as caretakers, we were able to showcase our motto of ‘Au Bun Amürü Nun’ – ‘I For You and You For Me’. Appreciation is expressed to all those who participated.”

Hallie D. Diego, another Yurumein Project member, all honorees from last year were in attendance and “received a booklet, which they could keep as a memento of the occasion.

“Another beautiful addition to this year’s tribute was that of our posthumous honourees – two which had recently pasted, Mr. Felix Melendrez and Mr. Gilbert Rosa,” Diego said. “Let us not forget that what we do today can and will affect someone else tomorrow. Be conscious of the mark you make on the world in which you live in today.”

First place female, Saida Roches of Belize City. Yurumein Project/Jeremy Cayetano

Maria Roches, Run Leader from Punta Gorda, said The 5K Fun Run was “an excellent marketing activity to bring awareness related to the objective of the project.

“It brought communities and   families together in a meaningful and fun-filled environment, which I thought was wonderful,” she said.

Joshua Arana, Run Leader from Belmopan and master at the Garifuna drums, said the Belmopan Run was “small but purposeful.

“The ‘why’ for the Run connected the ‘why’ for their very existence,” he said. “Building an activity with which a community could identify and build relationships furthers Garifunaduaü, which is even greater than the run itself.”

Canon Jerris Valentine – an Anglican priest, educator, community leader and Garifuna activist – said his reflections on the work of the Yurumein Project goes back to his first experience in visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Yurumein.

“I got off the plane and kissed the ground. I was with a fellow seminarian who asked if I was the Pope,” he said. “He would never understand. I was in tears because I was on the ground on which my ancestors walked. I was touching the ground they touched.

“Once I settled into that realization, the next thought was that the British has done an excellent job eradicating all signs of our existence from Yurumein,” he added. “It was like we were never there.

“The work of the Yurumein Project is critical to the life of everything Garifuna,” Canon Valentine continued. “It is necessary work. Retrieving a language is no small feat. I listen to the songs of our youth and you can hear the Garifuna rhythm and sound, but the words are not our words. Our youngsters do not know our words.

“I wish I could help the Yurumein Project,” he said. “With all my heart I wish I could help, but I am an old man now. I can only encourage you. You may not feel like you are making a difference but you are. You may not even live to see the fruits of your labor, but I assure you the fruits will be there.”

Marsha Mejia, who described herself as “a proud Garifuna/Belizean from beautiful Dangriga,”,participated in “The Yurumein Project 2nd Annual 5K Fun Run for St. Vincent and the Grenadines: A race to preserve the Garifuna


“I must say that I’ve been supporting the event since 2021, and I love the experience,” said Mejia, who is currently a teacher at Gulisi Community Primary School, president of National Garifuna Council Dangriga Branch and the founder of Ugudarigi Cultural Group.

“This year, I got over 20 students from my school to participate, and they really had fun,” she added. “I also got some of my friends and family members to participate, and they, too, had fun. We are all looking forward to next year with intentions of inviting others.

“While the 5k Fun Run was a race to preserve the Garifuna Language, it was also an awesome way to bring out the people in the community to partake in an event that also promotes healthy practices (run/walk),” Mejia continued. “Some people were able to run the entire route, some ran and walked, and others walked all the way. Though tired when they got in, everyone still managed to put a smile on their faces for having started and finished the run/walk.”

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