GB-3 partners press for more structural solutions, pledge cooperation

POSTED: 02/27/11 9:21 PM

St. Maarten – Potential partners in the “Get off the block, get on the bus, get busy” project initiated by Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Rhoda Arrindell have pressed for the nation’s young people to be presented structural solutions. All of those who spoke also pledged their support for the program, with some already identifying ways they could partner with the project and yet more accepting the partnership agreements that state they’ll work along. The forms must be returned by next Friday.
Dubbed GB-3 the three month pilot project seeks to get young men and women who spend their days on neighborhood street corners, called blocks, to complete their education and/or find work so they can become productive citizens. The project will be a partnership between the public and private sector that “pools resources to create an impact.” The four focus areas are spirituality, physical fitness, social skills and education.

The specific objectives of the project are reducing violence, alleviating poverty, providing second chance education and rehabilitating young inmates. The two target groups are teenage boys and teenage girls between 13 and 17 who are out school or unemployed and young adults between 18 and 25 who are unemployed. The committee pulling the project is preparing to cater to 40 young people, but they’re clear they’ll accept any and all who sign up to be part of it.

In order to get the project rolling a core group, which includes psychiatrists or psychologists, will visit a variety of districts “under and over the hill” on March 14 and March 16 to inform young people “on the block” about the program and invite them to pre-register. If they do a bus will go from district to district to pick them up on March 19. While on the bus they’ll talk to trained mentors who will be trying to determine their needs using a brief questionnaire. They’ll then go to a yet to be announced location and be able to get information from the various organizations that provide support to young people and work out a care plan that will be kept in an individual file. They’ll also bear witness and/or participate in an exhibition basketball match against the And 1 team. There will also be motivational speeches by a two man delegation from Fifty Large, which runs a similar project in Florida.

Elmead Allen, who sits on the board of the St. Maarten United Ministerial Foundation and runs the Ahead Centre for Excellence in Sucker Garden, said the committee should consider working with churches and community councils as they move forward. Astright Hermilijn, who represented the St. Maarten/St. Martin Christian Council, pressed for clear guidelines and for the project to give attention to the emotional needs of the young people who would participate.
Building on that Pastor Wycliffe Smith said, “The churches want to partner and we also to see the community feeling return to our neighborhoods.”

Acting Secretary General in the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Jorien Wuite said she saw potential for concrete cooperation between her Ministry and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, because of this particular project. The four areas are two yet to be finalized project s under the Socio-Economic Initiative – From Welfare to Employment and Community Help Desk-, the alternative program to Girl Power which is being crafted by the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation and the project on Nutrition and Physical Education. An advice on the latter program is already on its way to the Council of Ministers for decision making. Wuite believes the link on this program is that her ministry wants to train volunteer coaches to be physical education teachers, and in this regard young people who are currently unemployed could gain a skill and a job.

The Director of the Small Business Development Foundation (SBDF) Ludwig Ouenniche said they can “chip in” by offering courses as well, but stressed there needs to be commitment beyond the training.
“We can help with what’s in between like teaching social skills and giving courses on how to work in the marine sector and the restaurant sector where there is a need for young people. We also can help to build a bridge between what the young people want and what the businesses want. But it is important that we, the business community, commit to taking them when they’re finished,” Ounnecihe said.

Susan Heller, who is on the St. Maarten Timeshare Association, stressed a need for places in the neighborhoods for young people to go and spend time and President of the Indian Merchants Association Damu Rawtani asserted that this project must be used to stimulate the development of community councils.
In reply the chair of the project committee Shermina Powell-Richardson said, “Part of this is filtering the young people who register in existing programs so the project team does not have to re-invent the wheel and create costs so definitely that collaboration will be necessary.”

Acting Secretary General in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Claudette Forsythe-Labega stressed that this project is also part of the wider community development approach that leads to each area taking ownership of what happens there and brings people together. She used the Community School project as an example pointing that is meant to create activities that will benefit students and communities even after the official school day is over.

Chair of Parliament’s Permanent Committee on Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Sylvia Meyers said, “I am very fired up about the concept and have seen the heat in the people who attended today and that they really want to be part of the project. I am thinking positively and I believe we will get more than 50 percent off the block. This can only done with the help of our entire society.”

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