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NAGICO’s Little Stars Part 2 Officially Launched

PHILIPSBURG - NAGICO Insurances officially launched its second annual back to school campaign at the MAC Rev. A. Gumbs Campus on Thursday evening, in their quest to afford the children of St. Maarten a fair chance to an education which they deserve.

The MAC Rev. A. Gumbs Campus was randomly selected as the second school in this campaign which will run from August 2015/ June 2016 school year. The program was very welcomed by the Management, staff and parents of the school during their first Parent Teacher assembly at the school's campus on Thursday night, where representatives from NAGICO Insurances attended the meeting and gave a brief introduction of the NAGICO Little Stars program.

The objective of this program is to encourage our students to stay in school and excel in their studies. At the end of the school year; the top student who displayed excellence in their attendance, behavior and academics will be awarded a scholarship in the amount of NAF900.00 to be used towards the child's tuition, the purchasing school supplies and or uniforms.

The NAGICO Little Stars Program is an annual event which we hope to continue and introduce to various schools throughout the island.

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Nature Foundation Assesses Effects of Droughts on Sint Maarten Wetlands

COLE BAY -The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation has been researching the effects of the on-going drought conditions the island has been experiencing for the past few months. The Foundation researched water level, the amount and state of animals and the level of pollution recorded in specifically wetlands affected by the dry weather.

“What we have been experiencing is really quite unprecedented in terms of how the dry weather has been affecting especially the wetlands of the country. Anecdotally there have been no times in recent memory that we have seen this type of drought. We thought it important to research the effects the drought has been having on our ponds,” commented Tadzio Bervoets of the Nature Foundation.

The Foundation recorded a drop of about 40 centimetres in certain sections of the Belair and Fresh Ponds and a 60-centimeter drop in the Great Salt Pond.  Numerous birds, fish and turtle carcasses were also observed in sections of the Great Salt Pond.

“Although seasonal fluctuations are normal, with certain times of year being dryer than others, the recent dry-spell has been causing some concern; When we look at climate models and events such as the current El-Nino Phase, which is when the Pacific experiences warmer water temperatures affecting global weather, we are concerned about the coming months. We have seen an increase in rain recently and hopefully in the coming days with the approach of a tropical system we can get some much needed relief,” commented Bervoets.

The Nature Foundation was able to monitor areas of the Fresh, Belair and Great Salt Ponds that usually lie underwater and collected samples of fish, crabs and shellfish in order to gauge the impacts both the drought and pollution are having on the country’s wetlands.

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Tzu Chi volunteers spruce up ACE school for new academic year

CUL DE SAC - All Children’s Education (ACE) Foundation teachers and pupils returned to school on Monday in a repaired, freshly painted, cleaned and decorated premises thanks to the efforts by Tzu Chi volunteers who worked over the vacation to spruce up the school just in time for the start of the new academic year.

The clean-up efforts covered several days during the summer break in early August and focussed on bringing the school back up to par for teachers and pupils to educate and be educated in comfort.

The clean-up efforts started on Saturday August 1 and continued until Thursday, August 6.  A total of 48 volunteers participated in the exercise. Volunteers included a professional tradesman, Tzu Chi recipients and Key to Freedom clients.

Volunteers started by cleaning the entrance of the school to remove dirt from the walls, cleaned the windows, the hallways and classrooms and continued with the more professional work that required the expertise of the professional tradesman. Volunteers repaired damaged walls in the school, repaired all the windows, painted the premises, repaired the bathroom, replaced a toilet bowl and cleaned up the floors. When it was all done the volunteers with an artistic eye, decorated the various classrooms with educational posters/lessons/art work and teaching material to brighten the premises.

Although it was tough work as many things needed to be done, the group of volunteers were more than happy to have participated in the exercise. One of the volunteers, a past recipient, had just been laid off from his job, but still assisted and through his act of kindness, for a moment his sadness was replaced with joyful giving.

Tzu Chi Commissioner Sandra Cheung is grateful to all the volunteers who took time out of their busy schedules to assist in the clean-up and sprucing up exercise and help bring a smile to the face of teachers and pupils when they started school on Monday.

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“Breaking the Silence: Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect” Information Sessions

PHILIPSBURG – An information session is being organized for the general public on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 at the Belvedere Community Center in Belvedere from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The information session is entitled, “Breaking the Silence: Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect” and is one of four sessions that will take place in various districts.

“Neglect and abuse against children happen all over the world and St. Maarten is no exception. Child safety and protection is a collective community responsibility. The information session is being presented to the general public to provide valuable information on child abuse, neglect and reporting.

By attending the information session, the general public will learn about child abuse and neglect, risk factors and indicators of child abuse, and the impact of child abuse. Additional topics include laws on child abuse and neglect, responding to suspicion or disclosure of child abuse, common concerns when deciding to report child abuse, and the central reporting agency for child abuse for St. Maarten,” the organizers said.

These sessions are being organized by the National Protocol for the Reporting of Child Abuse Workgroup, which includes members from the Court of Guardianship of the Ministry of Justice, Collective Prevention Services of the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, the Student Support Services Division and the Youth Affairs Department of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs.

Information sessions will also be held on:

  • September 2nd, 2015 at The University of St. Martin in Philipsburg from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • September 9th, 2015 at the Rupert I Maynard Youth Community Center in St. Peters from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • September 16th, 2015 at the Cole Bay Methodist Church John Hall from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

The general public is encouraged to be on time. The public is also encouraged to contact the Student Support Services Division at 543-1235 and/or the Department of Youth Affairs at 542-3718 for more information.

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St. Martin poet Rochelle Ward guest at Dominica’s literary festival 2015

GREAT BAY -Rochelle Ward continues to spread her poetic wings by reciting her poetry abroad, most recently at Dominica’s Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair 2015, said Lasana M. Sekou of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).  

The St. Martin poet started off her visit as a featured reader at the festival’s opening on August 6. “I’m honored to have shared the stage at the opening ceremony with novelist and keynote speaker Oonya Kempadoo, engaged with the people of Dominica and other creative and iconic persons from the neighboring islands,” said Ward, who also publishes her work under the name Faizah Tabasamu.

In addition to reading her poetry at the opening ceremony and at Purple Turtle Beach, Ward conducted the creative non-fiction workshop at the UWI Open Campus.

According to festival chairperson Dr. Schuyler Esprit, the featured presenters that read their work, conducted workshops, and took part in panel discussions at the 8th edition of the lit fest also included: award-winning poet Vladimir Lucien (St. Lucia); marine researcher and poet Jean “Baba” Barfleur (Guadeloupe); short story writer Alick Lazare (Dominica); and playwright Christopher DeRiggs (Grenada).

Dominica is called the nature island of the Caribbean, and “the Nature Isle festival is a well-organized festival of great integrity and robust as the mornes of the island itself,” said Lucien this week.

The festival focused on nature in 2015, and “based on the theme, ‘Beyond the Green,’ I’m convinced that environmentalists are not the only ones who can advocate sustainability on our islands for future generations. Poets, playwrights, and novelists can do it too. It is up to all of us to preserve what we have, whether it is our island’s natural resources, culture or history,” said Ward.

Since her poems were published by HNP in Where I See The Sun – Contemporary Poetry in St. Martin (2013), and the subsequent posting of her poetry videos online, Ward has been a featured guest poet and workshop leader at the St. Martin Book Fair and the Anguilla Literary Festival.

Rochelle Ward (Faizah Tabasamu) is a language and literature teacher at St. Maarten Academy and may be better known in St. Martin for her mega-workshops on hair and organic beauty care products for Don’t Break The Comb foundation.

“Faizah’s invitation to participate in literary festivals is a sure sign that others are taking note of her steady development as poet, and as a blogger at rochelleward.com and saltfishandlace.com, where she regularly writes about hair and beauty care, Caribbean lifestyle and fashion, St. Martin's environment, and reviews books. Her writings have appeared in The Daily HeraldToday Newspaper,trulycaribbean.netmnialive.comsxminfo.frbajanreporter.com, and repeatingislands.com,” said Sekou. 

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DP MP Wescott: Comments on First Council of Ministers Press Briefing with focus on the Prime Minister

PHILIPSBURG – Leader of the Democratic Party (DP) Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams on Friday commented about the first press briefing of the Gumbs Cabinet on August 12, 2015, “…has left me with the thought, pinch me, this can't be for real."

“Let me get straight to the point. It can be at least expected of our government members that they display a fair amount of emotional intelligence (EI).

The Prime Minister, I can only conclude, with nothing concrete to share with the people of St. Maarten, but due to public pressure for openness, came out shooting from the hip in the first press briefing of the Gumbs cabinet. Sad!

“The Prime Minister sits between two of his colleague ministers, also of the previous cabinet, and publicly throws them under the bus for according to him, neglecting their duty.  Better yet, the Prime Minister throws under the bus, the very same politicians/leaders responsible for him holding the office of prime minister today.

“Did these leaders not inform the Prime Minister what to expect when they proposed him for the post? But what is downright disgusting, is the lack of empathy from one of the highest office holders of this country for the mental stress that so many of our citizens go burdened under for numerous and varied reasons.

“This is why I mentioned the lack of emotional intelligence, and that is the inability "to recognize one's own and other people's emotions and the inability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways..."

“The government needs to lead by example and when emotions run high, the emotional intelligence of our leaders is paramount.  To suggest that persons "commit suicide" and even explain graphically how to do so, is outright wrong, insensitive and unbecoming of any leader, let alone the Prime Minister of this country. Maybe this particular press briefing gave the prime minister bragging rights in other circles and "public houses".

“But I, for one, condemn this flagrant disregard for people's emotions in these stressful times and call on the Prime Minister to do as he preaches. The "look in the mirror" call, the tolerance call, the unity call, the bravery call etc. etc.

“And lastly, the prime minister should stop to think how he is able to shine in the areas of European funding and Caribbean leadership, the Public Service Center concept, the OP with St. Martin, the VKS,  English legislation etc. etc. Prime Minister, bravado does not equal bravery,” DP Leader MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said in a statement on Friday to the media.

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Prime Minister Gumbs: Officer Benjamin know that your legacy will remain as a beacon for a country that needs one

PHILIPSBURG – Prime Minister Hon. Marcel Gumbs delivered the following speech on Thursday, 13 August at the funeral of Police Officer G. Benjamin.

“Good afternoon family, in the past week, we as a country have felt anger, despair, sorrow and confusion over the untimely and tragic death of Officer Gamali Benjamin. Law enforcement, much like the fire brigade or the military, comes with the willingness to risk one's life each and every day, in the pursuit of doing the right thing.

“Today, as we lay him to rest and begin the healing process, I am hopeful that we remember to reflect on Officer Benjamin's character and conduct, and that we do our utmost to always do the right thing. We must do right by our children, by our partners, by our fellow countrymen and women, and by ourselves...only then do things get better. Only then will we have served Officer Benjamin as faithfully as he served us.

“I knew Officer Benjamin through brief encounters only, but in this last week I have learned about him from his family, his colleagues and even from my own daughters, who each briefly worked with him when he first decided to begin the training to become a police officer. This was not a young man who changed himself to match his circumstances; he worked, tirelessly, to change his circumstances in a manner that meant he did right by himself, his loved ones and his community, in a manner that meant he did not selfishly take from others.

“THIS is the spirit, the influence we now owe it to Officer Benjamin to embody and carry within ourselves as we move forward from today. Because we do owe it to him. I owe it to him. My wife owes it to him. My children owe it to him. Your children owe it to him. You owe it to him. Government owes it to him. Our business owners owe it to him. Our hoteliers owe it to him. Our school teachers owe it to him.

“We all owe our lives, livelihood and peace of mind to Officer Benjamin and those like him within the KPSM. As Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, pioneer of another island nation once said, “This is not a country that belongs to any single community; it belongs to all of us.” Officer Gamali Benjamin lived and breathed this sentiment; he protected, without discrimination, what belongs to all of us, and we will have failed him if we do not come together and act, now that he no longer can. I want us to remember that once we leave here today.

“To the Benjamin family…thank you, for your son. Thank you for providing the foundations for his character, his commitment, and his kindness. Thank you for sharing him with this country, and thank you for allowing us to grieve alongside you as you face this deeply personal tragedy. You too have made a sacrifice over these last days, and I promise you, it will never be forgotten or in vain.

“Officer Benjamin as we lay you to rest, know that your legacy will remain as a beacon for a country that needs one. Know that we take that beacon and hold it in our hearts, as you did, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the path of peace.  Thank you for your service, sir, and may you rest peacefully in the arms of our Lord.”

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Housing Foundation appeals and reminds tenants to be prepared for the hurricane season

BELVEDERE – Today, the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) urges its residents to prepare for the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season, which began June 1 and runs through November 30. 

Hurricanes and tropical systems can cause serious damage on both coastal and inland areas. To prepare for these powerful storms, SMHDF is encouraging families, to be aware of their risks; know your sources of reliable information; prepare your home and workplace; and be familiar with evacuation routes.

“One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to significantly disrupt your life and make for a very bad hurricane season,” said Management. “Every person has a role to play in being prepared, it is precisely why SMHDF’s team is hard at work with maintenance and repairs and encourages all tenants to file their maintenance reports on time.

Some tips and resources to assist you during this time are:

  • Learn how to prepare for hurricane season, by having Non-perishable food, First AID kits, Batteries, Radio etc.
  • Talk with your family today about how you will communicate with each other during a significant weather event when you may not be together or during an evacuation order.
  • Consider how you will care for pets during an evacuation
  • Know location of nearest shelters

SMHDF's mission is to support our tenants to ensure that as a community we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and alleviate all hazards. We have our tenants at heart and would like to be proactive during this hurricane season.

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International Youth Day Message: August 12, 2015 – Youth & Civic Engagement

PHILIPSBURG - The International Youth Day was first designated on 12th August 1999 by the United Nations General Assembly, and is observed every year with the aim to celebrate the contribution that youth make to the society.

This day also provides opportunities to raise awareness on the challenges and difficulties faced by the world’s youth. The theme for the International Youth Day 2015 is Youth Civic Engagement.

This theme serves as the main goal of the United Nations System - Wide Action Plan on Youth (Youth-SWAP) and seeks to promote young people’s effective inclusive civic engagement at all levels. In fact, there has been recent increasing attention, policy and programming focus on youth civic engagement by governments, UN entities, regional and multilateral organisations, CSOs, youth and researchers.

The commitment and participation of youth is essential in order to achieve sustainable human development. Nevertheless the opportunities for youth to engage economically and socially are low or non-existent.

Additional efforts are needed to raise awareness about the importance of youth civic engagement and its benefits to the individual and to society, including for sustainable development as well as resilience and wellbeing.

This Day campaign aims to promote civic engagement and participation of youth in politics and public life, so that young people can be empowered and bring a full contribution to society, development and peace. 

The St. Maarten Youth Council Association, aims to support young people's life choices and their sense of responsibility, as well as to increase their participation in humanitarian or other fruitful activities in achieving better tomorrow.

We believe in establishing an environment that encourages and stimulates moral values and personal growth through volunteering in order to facilitate their skills, motivations and experiences and undertake responsibilities for young people's social risks and place in society.

Through the work of the Sint Maarten Youth Parliament, we strive to bring youth issues to the attention of the wider community while celebrating the potential of youth as partners of constructive change in today’s global society.

We believe that effective youth participation is about creating opportunities for all youth to be involved in influencing, shaping, designing and contributing to policy and the development of services and programmes.

As our country goes through a difficult period of mourning and reflection, let us grasp the necessity of our youth to be actively engaged on all fronts in the growth and development of our nation.

Let us not only give lip service to programmes and initiatives, but actively support the efforts of our youth and youth organizations as they strive to shape young hearts and minds to be productive members of our community.

Let us encourage those who disenfranchised and/or standing on the sidelines to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them.

Together We Can! Together We Must! Youth voice matters! Happy International Youth Day! (St. Maarten Youth Council Association)

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MP Wescot: Something is not right with St. Maarten Tourism Authority

PHILIPSBURG - The matter of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA) has been one of ongoing concern for the faction of the Democratic Party (DP), wrote DP Leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams in a press statement on Monday.

“This has been so, because there is no tourism plan currently in place and the lack of such a plan has been always put as due to the incomplete progress to come to a STA.

This process has been ongoing for at least 10 years, some even say 15 years.

From ‘commissioners' time to consecutive ministers, there have been constant differing visions for this authority, with as result that nothing happened.

“Agree with the current proposed organization or not, it did bring the establishment of this badly needed ‘authority’ a step closer to realization.  It was therefore noted with much concern, that not yet one month in office, the Minister of TEATT (Ed Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications), Claret Conner's tongue slipped it appeared, and he divulged that he intended to (re)evaluate the STA.

“This prompted several questions from the DP faction, verbally and subsequently in writing.  Finally, on June 22, I received below answers. One can only but have concluded from these answers that everything is/was well on track.

“We must understand that this foundation, which was incorporated on government's initiative was to bridge the period, until the incorporation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority. Bridging this period included a wide range of responsibilities related to tourism in general and tourism promotion and marketing in particular.

“Now I read that the STA Foundation ‘has been declared obsolete’ and that the STA will ‘be established without the intermediary foundation’, a decision seemingly made by the Minister. Are we to assume that the Minister will formally dissolve the foundation? Are we serious?

“Not wanting to get into the fracas between the Minister and the Foundation's supervisory board members and the effectiveness or not of another committee, I am extremely troubled by the following:

  1. Was the letter of June 22nd, from the Minister to Parliament a sham to placate Parliament?
  2. But more importantly, if in the Minister's opinion according to his letter, the permanent STA will become a reality only by the 4th quarter of 2016, what happens in the meantime with our tourism industry?
  3. Who is responsible for what of this all-important industry?
  4. And then to read in the governing program of the current coalition that government will ‘...review...and study the possibility of expanding the objectives and purpose of the STA’ (and they have to be referring to the foundation), then I must conclude that the government truly believes that they can fool all of the people, all of the time.

“This is unacceptable and we must speak up, because the writing is already on the wall and we are slipping, regardless to what the numbers say,” DP Faction Leader MP Sarah Wescot-Williams concluded in her press release on Monday morning.

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