Windward Islands Teachers Union turns 40

POSTED: 06/24/13 12:03 PM

St. Maarten – Veteran teachers, retirees, young professionals and their counterparts from neighboring islands converged over the weekend for the 40th anniversary celebration of the Windward Islands Teachers Union (Witu). Via a simple ceremony at its Amsterdam Shopping Center at the Madame Estate headquarters on Saturday, the Witu commemorated achievements thus far in the struggle for teachers’ rights, developments in education and the face of the union on the regional and international stage.

Well-wishers visited the union’s location to show support for its efforts and those who couldn’t attend in person, sent congratulatory messages. Apart from an open house that was being hosted at the same time, the day also marked the launch of the union’s Status of Women Committee, a requirement of the Caribbean Union of Teachers (Cut). All of the activities were held under the theme ‘Unity in Solidarity’.

Witu received several congratulatory messages from its counterparts in the region and the Caribbean Union of Teachers.

Elshot took the opportunity to read messages from Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU).

“Achieving this milestone of 40 years is not to be regarded as a simple achievement. We know that you have encountered many challenges and roadblocks on the journey. But today you stand tall and proud to know that you have overcome most of the difficulties. Witu in joining the Cut has not shirked from taking a stand for its members and to adequately represent their interest in various meetings in the region. May the next 40 years be more successful than the years past,” an excerpt from JTA general secretary Adolph Cameron read.

“Both of these events signal significant milestones, no doubt a reflection of your dedication and untiring commitment to promoting and ensuring the rights of teachers in your country,” the general secretary of the BSTU wrote.

Various union leaders were in attendance including Anguilla Teachers Union president Emma Ferguson, Wifol president Theophilus Thompson and president of the Windward Islands Healthcare Association, Julian Lynch.

In a spirited message, Ferguson remarked that “40 years speaks of the end of your wilderness. Take it not lightly that God has allowed you to come together. One of the greatest gifts that I have gotten from St. Maarten is the relationship with the Witu. The Anguilla Teachers Union stands with you, behind you and beside you, we just stand. Take no thought for your reward on this side of eternity for your labor is not in vain. 40 years was just an appetizer, you are now getting to the table.”

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia and Dominica also extended their congratulations.

Elshot herself will be celebrating 20 years at the helm of the organization come January. She indicated that when she first assumed the leadership position it was difficult to access information on the history of the union.

“It was very difficult to really find the history documented and it was Stanley Hodge that brought it to our attention that the first president of Witu was a Dutch teacher by the name of Mr. Verbroot affectionately known as Deher. In our research, we would try to see if we can locate him in the other part of the Kingdom. I would like to thank him for his great step in establishing this union and I have vowed from the onset not to allow this union to go into dormancy again,” Elshot pledged.

The union leader praised Patricia Pantophlet and Theophilus Thompson for molding her in trade unionism and also extended gratitude to the ATU for introducing St. Maarten to the Cut.

Lynch once served as the first vice president of the Witu.  In extending congratulations, he encouraged the union executive and membership to continue their support of Elshot.

“I hope that you will continue to give her the necessary support as she has always gotten. I am quite sure that she is capable of guiding the union in whatever direction.”

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said that St. Maarten’s education system has come a long way with Witu playing an important role.

“You are celebrating a very momentous occasion; 40 years of your teachers union. You have come quite a long way. Things have been changing all around us rapidly and in unionism it is no different. We have gone through many changes in education and it has been a challenge for so many teachers as you sought to keep up with the changes.”

“The challenges are not yet over. Often time the union and government have had differences and I think it is all part of our own responsibility; the union towards teachers and government towards all people. I look forward to fruitful discussions, continued dialogue with the unions on St. Maarten and in particular the Witu. I wish you much strength as you as teachers continue to labor in our education system and as a union for the teachers, our children and by extension, the wider St. Maarten community,” the Prime Minister said.

Elshot lauded the efforts of the organizing committee for the anniversary celebrations who she said functioned well, in her absence, as she attended the International Labor Organization (Ilo) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We know where we came from but at a given moment we also have to be able to mark them that we know where we are going,” she added.

Witu distributed flash drives with its logo emblazoned on them as a keepsake for all attendees.

In the year ahead, the union will focus much of its activities on the development of the Status of Women Committee (see related story on page 3) and also host, along with Anguilla, a Cut executive meeting here in December.

Minister of Education Patricia Lourens-Philip, while at the ceremony, committed to hosting a conference jointly with Witu to highlight the rights and responsibilities of teachers. (See related story also on page 3)

Witu will be sending a delegation to the 35th Biennial Meeting of the Cut, to be held in Guyana from August 4 to August 10.

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