Lions Club to address youth alcohol abuse

POSTED: 11/30/14 10:58 PM

St. Maarten – In an effort to bring awareness to and curb the use, and abuse, of alcohol amongst St. Maarten’s young people, the St. Maarten Lions Club launched its Youth Alcohol Awareness Campaign on Wednesday at the Lions Den in Sucker Garden. “We as lions and community-minded people are concerned about alcohol abuse amongst our young people here on St. Maarten,” said Lions Club past district governor Walther ‘Wally’ Havertong. He went on to say that when people think of drug abuse, they, more often than not, overlook the insidiousness and prevalence of alcohol abuse, especially in young people. This year-long project, he pointed, falls under the jurisdiction of the Lions Club’s Youth, Health and Education committee.

“This is a very important campaign,” said incumbent Lions Club President Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khatnani, who came up with the idea for the campaign and presented it to his fellow club members in July of this year. While out at a local nightclub, some months ago, Khatnani was disconcerted by the number of young and underage people he saw consuming alcohol “out on the open, as if it was normal.” Parents, he said, are not paying the attention they should to their children and, as a result of this, young people are being affected. He went on to say that what is even more unsettling is the fact that most people are unaware of the legal drinking age on the island of St. Maarten. It’s 16. Most young people, he disclosed, did not even know this fact, neither did many of the adults he questioned about the matter.

The Youth Alcohol Awareness Campaign has 4 main goals. Its first goal, Khatnani explained, is to create awareness about alcohol abuse amongst the young people of St. Maarten. The second goal is to target the St. Maarten community at large, which includes parents, raising their awareness to this societal problem. The third goal is to raise the drinking age from 16 to 21 years of age. And lastly, its fourth goal is to get involved all the necessary stakeholders, such as social services, the court of guardianship, the Police Force of St. Maarten to enforce the law and the stores, nightclubs and bars that sell alcohol to these minors.

In order to reach the youths of St. Maarten, the Lions Club will be bringing its campaign to 8 different high schools on the island. “We will bring it to their doorstep,” said Lions Club Committee Chairperson Chantal Schaminee-Ringeling. In December, a psychotherapist will deliver several presentations to high school students about the repercussions of alcohol use and abuse and debunk any myths that may prevail about alcohol consumption. “We hope that this will start a dialogue,” said Schaminee-Ringeling. Students will also take part in an essay contest. She went on to explain that the club will be bringing its campaign to primary schools as well. Children will learn about the dangers of alcohol and tobacco abuse through a series of age-appropriate booklets.

The Lions Club feels that the St. Maarten community has been “desensitized” over time to this issue. In an effort to reach out to the community, the club will launch an information campaign through newspaper articles and images, which will appear on billboards throughout the island by the end of this week. “We want to shock parents…. There will be shocking images with facts,” said Lions Club President Khatnani. He pointed out that there were 50 alcohol-related accidents alone this year. “We want the public and parents to know this,” he said.

“Changing the legal drinking age is not going to be an easy task… changing the law takes time, but with the support of the stakeholders, we know we will get there,” said Khatnani. The Lions Club is calling on the support of all the businesses in the St. Maarten business community. The club intends to ask business owners to sign an agreement, wherein signs are posted in clear view of shoppers, outlining the consequences of selling alcohol to minors. Without the support of these local businesses, Khatnani explained, they will continue to sell alcohol to minors, as they do not ask for any forms of identification when young people purchase alcohol. The current law states that anyone caught selling alcohol to a minor be receive a fine of NAF 5,000 and can face up to 5 months imprisonment. Khatnani would like to see that doubled in the future.

Past District Governor Havertong pointed out that in order to change the law, the St. Maarten government needs to get on board as well. He went on to say that some 2 to 3 months ago, the Lions Club presented the government with a letter, wherein the objectives of the Youth Alcohol Awareness Campaign were clearly outlined. However, due to the recent developments, or lack thereof, in government, the Lions Club is still waiting on a response.

“We have to be concerned about our youth and their parents,” said Havertong. He went on to relay stories coming out of the St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), where young people are having their stomachs pumped as a result of excessive alcohol consumption and due to the potency of the mixed alcoholic beverages that they are consuming. “This is really happening!” exclaimed Havertong.

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