Ahead Centre of Excellence struggles without Amfo funds

POSTED: 05/23/12 1:15 PM

St. Maarten / By Torana Granston – “We knew they were going but we were always hoping that we could put the things in place that would enable us to get funding again. With them leaving it means that hope is gone.” At least one local non-governmental organization (NGO) knows how devastating the stoppage of Amfo funding, without an adequate alternative, can be for a social organization’s growth. The Ahead Centre of Excellence was not granted funding over the last two school years from the former Antillean co-financing agency. Since then the school for autistic children and slow learners has struggled to maintain premier services. “We haven’t received funding from Amfo for two years but when we compare that to the years when we did receive funding, there was a lot more that we were able to achieve. We were able to get our teachers on specialized training, we also able to secure qualified and specialized teachers trained in sign language for the various impairments some of our students have. We were able to offer scholarships,” the school’s program director Aster Allen said.
The lack of adequate funding resulted in the institution having to turn away children who were unable to pay school fees and finally, leave their Sucker Garden facility because they could not afford to pay the rent. “We were forced to move from our Sucker Garden location. We could not afford the rent there. We are using the afternoon school hall for the Belvedere Community Centre, it is still quite expensive for us but we are looking at alternatives, something that is cheaper. Now we have about 47 children and they need the right environment to function in, they can and do learn,” Allen said.
Classrooms that were once supervised by two teachers have now been cut by half. Annual recertification for teachers appears to be a thing of the past. Children who required the right learning environment because of their disabilities can no longer readily access the facility. But even on a shoe string budget the school has no intention of closing down, Allen declares. “We are now on a skeleton staff and based on the fees coming in we are trying to cover our basic costs. We also depend on the goodwill of organizations that would sponsor us for materials etc. But we will try to provide the best service that we possibly can.”
Thus far the school has been able to secure some class room furniture for the new school year but director Allen is currently looking for leased land “at a decent price” upon which she would be able to build a permanent structure to house students.
In response to the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that St.Maarten will implement a funding agency for NGOs, Allen said that, “we don’t know what the current administration of these funds will be and when it will come into effect and how it will operate.”
In the meantime the Ahead Centre of Excellence has requested support and funding from the government. In February, the institution submitted a proposal to the Minster of Education in which it identified the type of children it works with and the necessity of such a service to the nation. Allen said that after the proposal was passed to the ministry’s secretary general, they were then invited to a meeting and asked to resubmit their proposal by May 1. The school is still to receive an official response to the document submitted but Allen admits that the current situation can be very discouraging. “We were told that we would not get any funding from the government this year and even if our school is given a ministerial decree it is unlikely that we will get funding next year. They are not giving you any incentive to carry on, it is very discouraging. When you think on the challenges you face, then you ask yourself the question: what will happen to these children if you don’t provide the service?”

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