Sister Beverly Hoffman

Giving a voice to the differently-abled in Belize

Sister Beverly Hoffman calls herself a hybrid who loves wearing many hats — Catholic sister, physiotherapist, community developer and adult educator.

“Belize is a small country with only three hundred thousand people, and there was no one looking out for the interests of adults with diverse abilities. So we helped to create their first national organization,” she explained in a recent interview in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she received her Masters in Adult Education from St. Francis Xavier University. It was familiar territory.

“I was here on campus in 2009 when I took the Diploma in Development Leadership program at the Coady International Institute. And I came back a year later for a Coady certificate in facilitation and training, which was a huge benefit to my work in Belize.”

As part of her StFX Masters degree requirements, Hoffman created PhotoVoice, an Internet project that helps differently-abled adults merge photography with narrative to share their stories. It was an idea she borrowed from educator Deborah Barndt, who was later selected to be the inaugural (2012) Coady Chair in Social Justice at StFX.

“Sister Hoffman’s excellent work had a level of complexity that required skills which are rare among first-time researchers,” said Carole Roy, associate professor and chair in the Department of Adult Education. “She demonstrated an ability to conceptualize a project that resulted in the empowerment of individuals, building and strengthening of a community, and greater visibility for people with disabilities in Belize.”

In recognition of her commitment to adult education and international community development, Hoffman received the John Dobson award at her graduation ceremony.

“Coady facilitator Olga Gladkikh was also very generous in providing background files on disability issues and on Deborah’s PhotoStory tool,” adds Hoffman, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who has lived in Belize since 2002. The first two adults with diverse abilities to use the online forum were a 39-year old man and a 44-year old woman. They collaborated with Hoffman to create a photo exhibit that was launched last year at the Institute of Mexico in Belize City.

The American-born social activist will use her rare trip to North America to spend time with family and friends in Ohio before returning to her busy schedule in Belize.

“Coming here to StFX to receive my degree has been a wonderful experience,” she added. “Being able to reconnect with my Coady friends has been the icing on the cake.”