Diana Shaw, a lawyer originally from Jamaica, began her journey to become a leader in the fight against human trafficking and child sexual abuse and exploitation by volunteering to work at a church in Belize City in 1999. She had moved to Belize to gain experience as a litigator and soon noticed a troubling pattern: many children had experienced child abuse or domestic violence, and there was no policy or strategy in place to help them. Furthermore, many people denied that the problem even existed — sentiments such as “This happens only in foreign countries” were the norm.
Nine years later, Shaw decided that a systematic and structured approach was needed, so in 2008 she founded the Child Development Foundation (CDF). CDF provides counseling for women and children who have experienced domestic violence, sexual abuse or human trafficking. It also offers training, capacity building and support groups for teachers and parents, and provides support to victims as they navigate the legal system. Additionally, Shaw has leveraged her experience as a lawyer to advocate for stronger policies and has even drafted national legislation. In 2013, Shaw helped pass legislation to prohibit child sexual exploitation that is now used to successfully prosecute human traffickers.
By 2013, CDF could no longer keep pace with the demand for its services, and Shaw determined that she needed to get more experience in public policy work if she wanted to maximize CDF’s impact. She enrolled in the Master’s in Public Policy program at Walden University because it offered her the flexibility to stay in Belize to work with her organization, while also receiving applicable instruction.
In 2015, Shaw completed her master’s degree, and it has paid huge dividends. Using resources, knowledge and confidence gained from her studies, Shaw was able to secure funding from UNICEF to expand an after-school program in Southside Belize City, develop other partnerships and research opportunities with UNICEF and the government of Belize, and expand the services and reach of CDF. Today, Shaw has reached more than 5,000 children in Belize, and over 500 parents and 600 teachers have been trained on how to handle cases of abuse.
Although Shaw does not not have any plans to leave Belize, she dreams of someday returning to Jamaica to bring CDF to her native country. Until then, she remains committed to her work in Belize, and humble about the success she has had.
“I do not think that what I am doing is extraordinary. I feel that it is a duty that everyone has. I only hope that my story will influence someone else. I want to give others the courage to stand up for what they believe in and work hard to make a difference in the world.”