The commonwealth of Dominica is a small island in the Caribbean Sea with less than 70,000 people. For Stevenson Bellot, it’s a project he hopes to improve upon little by little.
Bellot was born in Dominica to a poor family and lived the hardships some of his countrymen now face.
“I remember my mom used to carry me on her back, walking a mile to go to church at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Bellot said.
The island is divided into various states named after saints, such as the Parish of Saint Mark, where Bellot was raised. About 61 percent of the island’s population is Catholic.
He attended Soufriere School, a public primary school located at the southern tip of the island.
“All the primary schools in Dominica they’re actually called government schools,” he said. “The only schools that are not owned by the government are the Catholic schools.”
After graduating, he passed his entrance exam for acceptance into high school but finances kept him from attending. Instead he attended the Youth Development Division and graduated from the leadership skills training program.
“When I graduated from that, people were like, ‘Wow this guy is going to be a great leader,’” Bellot said.
Despite the financial difficulties in his life, he was elected chairman of the council for the Parish of Saint Mark.
“It’s equivalent to mayor of a city,” Bellot explained. “I was the youngest person ever elected on the
council (at 18 years old).”
Bellot quickly became popular and was approached to be chairman of several organizations. One group, the Scotts Head Youth Group, offered him a chance to be a member. At the time, the population of young Catholics was declining in the area, and Bellot used this as an opportunity to reverse that.
He said he would become a member of the group on the condition that its members would participate in church activities at least once a month. They agreed.
“I said that because I realized that all the young people sway away from the church, and to get them back in the youth group, we organized all the exciting activities,” Bellot said.
The groups planned trips to the beach and camping.
“My own goal was to get (the kids) back in the church,” Bellot said.
He remained active in the community, helping to organize a celebration for the feast of St. Peter, a popular celebration.
Eventually he left the life of a politician and took a job with Royal Caribbean International on a cruise ship where he met his wife, Marianne, a Wisconsin resident. Since 2002, the couple has been in Wisconsin raising their three children, Meydine, 7; Jeff, 5; and Jacques, 2, and working for an agricultural company. But issues in his home country kept calling — literally.
“People have been calling me and asking me to come back to Dominica to work because nobody has since I left,” Bellot said. “I realized things are dying out. Somebody needs to step up.”
He and Marianne did just that after they took their then-9-month old daughter to the hospital on the island and discovered the hospital didn’t have any digital thermometers. They returned to Dominica with a donation of several digital thermometers for the hospitals.
“When that happened it made the national news (in Domenica) and people were very supportive,” Bellot said. “We didn’t stop there.”
They provided clocks for churches and hospitals, paid for by donations from members of Mother of Good Counsel Parish, Milwaukee.
“My goal is to really protect young people, to make them realize there’s more to life,” Bellot said.
In January 2012, he had a conversation that would inspire him to address another issue.
“I was talking to a teacher (who) said they didn’t have a library,” Bellot said. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
Bellot’s wife suggested starting a library and, after praying about it, they agreed to pursue it.
Through donations from parishioners at Mother of Good Counsel and families from Wauwatosa Catholic School, they collected more than 600 books.
For more info
or to donate and help ship books to Dominica, contact Mother of Good Counsel Parish
The books, however, have only gotten as far as the Bellots’ garage because of the Dominica government.
“This is definitely by far the most difficult project we have to work with,” he said. “We have to speak to so many people before we can speak to the correct person.”
The biggest problem is shipping the books. Bellot said they don’t have the funds to mail them and are trying to get the Dominica government to help them.
“What I’m trying to do is make the government realize how important this is,” Bellot said.
Based on a variety of estimates, he said shipping the books can cost between $600 to $1,000. He’s hoping to get the books to Dominica before the end of the year.
Bellot said he gets involved to show people, especially children, how one person can make a difference.
“I believe if parents can get the kids to church and talk to them to get involved with the church and get involved in all the activities, I think we can help put an end to some of these problems we are having now,” Bellot said.
Even though the books haven’t left yet, he’s already planning the next project –– garbage cans –– he hopes to start at the beginning of 2013.
“I contacted the local mayor here in Wauwatosa,” Bellot said, explaining that he and Marianne wondered whether the old garbage carts from Wauwatosa could be sent to Dominica.
“Because people don’t have those garbage cans at their homes, people have to keep the garbage at their home in plastic bags all over the place and then bring them to the side of the street for pick up,” he said, describing garbage pick-up in Dominica.
Bellot admits there are days when he feels exhausted from all of this work.
“I kind of get to the end of the day and say, ‘I have almost nothing left,’” he said. “But then I say to myself, this is exactly what the devil wants, for you to be tired for you to give up … you have to keep going.”
Bellot said he believes in helping whenever he can.
“I strongly believe that nothing is impossible,” he said. “I’m not afraid of taking on any challenge.”