The Home Repair project designed to assist the most vulnerable in our community to live in decent homes was launched Monday June 12th. The Department of Community Development, Family & Humanitarian Affairs (CDFHA), Youth Affairs, contractors and students have all come together in a win, win, win project to benefit the community. The students will gain valuable work experience that will equip them with valuable experience to enter the labor market as a skilled worker. In anticipation of the launch, the contractors and participating students met last week Thursday for an introductory meeting before repairs on the first 12 homes commenced.
Minister Lee’s opening remarks began with a short story that helped paint a picture of the objective of the project. “When I came in as a Minister, there was a gentleman that used to come to our office on a regular basis seeking assistance, and one day he came to request some help to have his house repaired. To get an idea of what kind of repairs the gentleman was referring to, we took a trip to see his living conditions. He lived in a small room, you could see the zinc sheets from his roof pealed back, and the bathroom was deplorable. When it rained he had to put a plastic sheet over his bed so his bed wouldn’t get wet. It was heart wrenching to see elderly that contributed to building this island, living in socially substandard conditions. Certainly, thereafter I came back to the Ministry, and said look, here is clearly a person who has a social problem. We need to find a way to help him immediately. But when you looked into it, our system didn’t allow us to help him. So in the end, according to our governmental rules there was nothing we could do to improve his living environment. But sure enough, come election time somebody fixed his roof and the guy had on a t-shirt from a particular party. So what happened? He had to sell his vote, his dignity, for a roof over his head.”
The point Minister Lee echoed was “something is fundamentally wrong, if that is what our people need to do to live with pride and dignity.” With that in mind he tasked Aida Holaman, Head of CDFHA with figuring out how to solve this problem. Minister Lee stated that he couldn’t be more proud of how has developed and whoe heartedly thanked everyone for their contribution to our nation.
“Aida has brought her charm, her charisma, her commitment to the community, and her dedicated team to do this project. And in a sense, the fact that I had so little involvement, is really just a testament to everyone’s commitment to the project. I had nothing to do with choosing the contractors or nothing to do with selecting the people who are going to receive the help that they so desperately need. These are simply the people in our community who based on an assessment by the the Ministry of VSA has been identified as eligible for the assistance, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your political allegiance is, but simply these are the people that need the most help in our community.”
In addition, guest speaker, Mr. Mason gave a motivational speech directed to the students and emphasized the need to always be persistent no matter what obstacles or challenges they encounter while working in the field. Also addressing the gathering was member of MPC management team Mr. Richard Garrin who expressed enthusiasm in collaborating with this program that was a direct link to the vision MPC vocational section has outlined and shared this with Aida Holaman during her many visits at the school. Vocational students can now be connected to relevant internship programs such as this one:
“For this MPC is extremely grateful.”
After all the formal speeches, Department Heads Aida Holaman and Shermina Powell, as they phrased it ‘got real’ with the students. Aida Holaman emphasized that the students present are setting the trend for the next generations to follow – ‘what you do and how you embrace this opportunity will pave the way for your younger brother, sister, or cousin’. Another important message to the students was to remember that the people they will meet in our community are opening their homes to them, and they must remember to treat them as if they were their mother, grandmother, uncle, or neighbor. The students were reminded that this is an opportunity for their future, and the team at CDFHA and Youth Affairs will be there to support them through it.
She also gave special recognition to the three (3) young ladies who are part of the project regarding women in the technical field. In closing Aida was also the voice of the seniors and physically challenged and thanked all collaborators, on behalf of these two target groups for this great initiative, as they were extremely grateful to benefit from such an initiative as they so often expressed feelings of being forgotten by members of the St. Maarten community.
In an invited comment Minister Silveria Jacobs stated, “Opportunities for education to meet the labor needs are always promoted and appreciated. This is truly a great example of Education on the Move initiated by the Ministry VSA. I encourage the students to make great use of this opportunity, as it connects the youth to community involvement. The students will gain the experience of giving back to a greater cause to those who are in much need of the help. Much thanks and gratitude to the business community and contractors for giving back to the community and promoting education through work experience! Inter-ministerial collaboration creates tangible results. I’d also like to thank the management, faculty and staff of the various schools and staff of the Department of Youth for assisting in this year’s BOPP program and safeguarding opportunities for all students”.
After this pilot, the Ministry of VSA hopes to be able to showcase what can be done with limited resources and a lot of good will. Minister Lee stated that he had one regret, which was he wished there was more money so we could help more people, however he re-emphasized his commitment to continue to seek support from within Government and from the business community in terms of construction material, discounts, etc. to make sure this project may continue and more people can be helped.