Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow
Today, the Belizean community and the world best know Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow as the spouse of the former Prime Minister of Belize, the Right Honorable Dean O. Barrow; as the mother of their daughter, Salima Barrow, her only child; and as a woman who wears many hats: activist, advocate, convener, fundraiser and visionary. As her nation’s former Special Envoy for Women and Children, she has defended the human rights of all people in Belize and the inclusion of those marginalized because of their poverty, gender, youth or disability.
Her views on gender, equality and justice were largely shaped by her childhood experiences. Her hard-working parents and her strong family network gave her unconditional love and support that imbued her with empathy and respect for others, an awareness of all people’s dignity and a sense of community. From an early age she knew that she wanted to help others and that when the time came she would do what she could to give back to her community and her country.
Her beginnings were humble. Kim Simplis grew up in a modest home on High Street in Santa Elena, a small town in the Cayo District of western Belize where everyone knew everyone else and looked out for one another. She played with her five siblings, cousins and other children her own age and spent time with her family. She gained insights from the adults with whom she interacted, particularly older persons in her community who shared their wisdom with her.
Her parents both worked to provide for the family. They prioritized education, for both girls and boys. Kim and her sisters and brothers shared equally in the chores and were taught to help inside and outside the house.
The mothers of most of Kim’s friends were homemakers, but Kim’s own mother, Juventina Fernández, worked outside the home, in jobs considered non-traditional for women at that time, including harvesting oranges in an orchard and managing a gas station. Kim came to understand at an early age that women were powerful in their own right and could achieve great things if they chose to harness that power. She learned that gender stereotypes could be shattered by determined women.
Mrs. Simplis Barrow completed her formal education at Santa Elena Primary School and at Sacred Heart College, in nearby San Ignacio. She received her bachelor’s degree in Hospitality with a minor in Spanish from the Instituto Technológico de Morelia, in Mexico City, and earned two master’s degrees, in International Business and Hospitality Management, from Florida International University in the United States.
Early in her professional career, Mrs. Simplis Barrow served as marketing director for Fiesta Inn hotel properties in Mexico and Belize. As executive director for the Belize Tourism Industry Association, she made numerous important contributions in areas of strategic development and the implementation of a long-term ‘roadmap’ for Belizean tourism. She built valuable partnerships that have benefited the industry enormously, and with the launch of a magazine called Tourism Voice for the first time brought together various stakeholders in the industry – businesses, services, associations and investors – as part of a national communication initiative.
The Lifeline Foundation
Mrs. Simplis Barrow transitioned from a distinguished career in the tourism industry to the not-for-profit sector when she established the Lifeline Foundation, a charity for under-served children, in 2004. To date, the foundation has raised more than US $1.4 million, all of which has gone directly to schools and organizations working to improve the lives of the children of Belize.
Recipients of the foundation’s assistance have included the Dorothy Menzies Child Care Center, the Liberty Children’s Home, Hand in Hand Ministries, the Alliance Against AIDS, the Belize Red Cross Society, the Belize Cancer Society, Friends of Pediatrics-Belize, Special Olympics and Rotary’s Gift of Life programme, which provides heart surgery for children with congenital defects. Donations have been used across the country in support of primary-school nutrition programmes, school renovations and improvements, school equipment purchases and programmes for children living in institutional care settings.
Under Mrs. Simplis Barrow’s steadfast leadership, the Lifeline Foundation today remains committed to its mission and continues to raise tens of thousands of dollars annually to make a real difference in children’s lives.
The Call to National Service
In 2008, the Government of Belize appointed Mrs. Simplis Barrow as Special Envoy for Women and Children in recognition of her work on behalf of children through the Lifeline Foundation. She willingly accepted the appointment, seeing it as an opportunity to extend the reach of ongoing efforts for children and to work more directly with women and on their behalf.
As Special Envoy, Mrs. Simplis Barrow worked to advance the human rights and well-being of the women and children of Belize by building partnerships to undertake projects large and small. In so doing, she collaborated primarily with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Human Development, the National Committee for Families and Children, the National Women’s Commission, United Nations organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. She describes her years as Special Envoy, not without challenges, but as a rewarding and humbling experience overall.