SINT MAARTEN (POINTE BLANCHE) - “Thank you for coming and treating us like human beings and for accepting us for who we are and not coming and judging us like everyone else would… Hopefully, you inspire us to inspire our people.”
These grateful words were expressed by a Pointe Blanche Prison Inmate to volunteers of the St. Maarten Tzu Chi Foundation, who visited the prison in December to spread holiday cheer to inmates and to present them with gifts and share positive words to them.
The visit is part of an annual tradition that the foundation has been engaged in since 2003. This year’s visit was almost cancelled due to the severity of the damages to the prison during the 2017 hurricanes.
Unlike previous years, where many inmates would attend a ceremony hosted by the foundation, this year due to damages sustained to the prison church, where the program is normally held, only a few inmates were selected to accept the gifts on behalf of the rest of the inmates and be part of the program. These few were expected to pass on the information they received and learnt from Tzu Chi to their fellow inmates.
Tzu Chi’s visit to the prison is aimed at spreading seeds of love and to show inmates that giving and helping is not the privilege of rich, but the privilege of a sincere heart. It is also intended to share with inmates Buddha’s philosophy – that life is a circle and we reap what we sow. Tzu Chi provides gifts to between 145 to 175 inmates yearly and sometimes this is done twice in a year. After hurricane Irma, inmates also received gifts from the foundation.
Pointe Blanche Prison Interim Director Wilfred Williams thanked the foundation for taking time out to visit the prison and to celebrate Christmas with the inmates and said he looked forward to seeing the foundation again next year.
At the end of the ceremony, the inmates expressed their appreciation to Tzu Chi for the visit, the positive words and for the gifts. “Thank God bless you,” one inmate said on behalf of fellow inmates. “We are all ready to volunteer in the program.”
Tzu Chi Commissioner Sandra Cheung said the foundation is grateful that despite the challenges being faced by the prison post hurricane Irma, efforts were still made to accommodate volunteers. She thanked inmates for being receptive to the information shared and for accepting the gifts and thanked volunteers for taking the time out to visit the facility.