THE HAGUE, Netherlands:--- On Friday November 10th 2017, the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten, was the venue of the annual Sint Maarten Day Celebration, hosted by Minister Henrietta Doran-York.
The theme this year, was centered around Unity. This was evident in the turnout as Sint Maarteners of all age groups, traveled from the various major cities to The Hague to join in commemorating this special day.
Among the many guests were the Minister Plenipotentiary of Curacao, His Excellency, Mr. A. Begina, former Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten and chairman of the Soualiga Foundation in the Netherlands, Mr. Mathias Voges. Representatives of Rebuild Sint Maarten and the Qualichi Faces, students and friends of Sint Maarten. The guests were welcomed by Minister Doran-York, Deputy Minister Hasani Ellis, Cabinet Director Irene Simmons and the staff at the Cabinet, who all worked diligently to ensure that the event would be a successful one.
Minister Doran-York addressed the crowd, whereby she stressed the need for unity among the government and the people of Sint Maarten. She also requested a moment of silence, in memory of those that lost their lives during the hurricane.
The Minister’s address:
Fellow Sint Maarteners, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
When two sons of the soil - the late Dr. Michel Petit, then mayor of French St. Martin and the late Dr. Claude Wathey, the legendary political leader of Dutch St. Maarten – came together, almost 60 years ago, to begin the joint celebration of November 11 as St. Martin Day, their intention was to focus on the unity among the people of the island, in spite of its administrative and political division.
The date of November 11 was chosen, because it happens to be a public holiday, on both sides of the island. It is also the day on which Columbus is said to have sighted the island, giving it the name of the patron saint of the day, St. Martin. The idea of one island, one people, with one destiny was at the back of the minds of those two St. Martin patriots. That is what St. Maarten Day is all about: the oneness of the people. The way that they unite. Each year, the official celebration rotates between the two sides of the island. This year, these celebrations are being held on the Dutch side.
Certainly, the celebrations this year will have a different tone, because as you all already know, a little over two months ago, Hurricane Irma, the most powerful storm to ever hit the Caribbean, almost totally destroyed St. Maarten, turning our beautiful island paradise into what His Majesty King Willem Alexander described as resembling a “war zone”, after his visit to our island after the hurricane.
If Irma did anything however, she reminded all of us on St. Maarten that the gale doesn’t stop at the frontier, as the late Felix Choisy said, in referring to what binds the people of both halves of the island together. Indeed, Irma did not ask who was French or who was Dutch.This super-storm, which is referred to by some, as a Cate 7 hurricane, because it surpassed by far the official category 5, did not ask which was French Quarter or which was Dutch Quarter, before it began its seven-hour long rampage on September 6.
It did not care whether you were Black or white, whether you were rich or poor, male or female, young or old; it did not stop to see who was Christian or Moslem, who lived in a shack or in a mansion. It destroyed the multi-million dollar property which is owned by the President of the United States, Donald Trump in the Lowlands as well as the humble wooden structure of a gardener in the Garden of Eden for instance.
But amid the destruction, amid the rubble, and images of roofless homes, and damaged buildings that Irma left behind, one may ask: what exactly are we celebrating this St. Maarten Day? Is there in fact, any reason to celebrate, given the gigantic work we have ahead of us? I will answer the second question first, and hopefully, that answer will take care of the first one. In the aftermath of the hurricanes, the typical response to the question: “how are you doing after Irma?” was: Thank God for life! We are grateful that we are alive. That is what was most important to our people.
Indeed, we are grateful to the Most High, for sparing our lives and those of our loved ones. Being alive is, therefore what we are celebrating this St. Maarten Day. Anyone who has seen the videos of the calamity that befell St. Maarten, in the form of Irma, would probably think that the entire island population, has been wiped out. But to date, the confirmed casualties on both sides of the island thank God, are less than 20!
You can imagine though, the broken hearts of our people who lost their loved ones. One lost, is one too many. And so therefore, as we celebrate St. Maarten Day, we remember each and every soul we lost in the hurricane and pray for the families and friends they left behind.
Let us pause for a moment to invite you to stand for a moment of silence, in memory of the lives we lost during the passing of hurricane Irma.
Today, we are also celebrating that never-say-die spirit, of the St. Maarten people, which has made getting back up from the blows of Irma fast, and some would even say, miraculous. The hurricane caused material damage estimated at US$1.8 billion on the Dutch half of the island alone, according to the interim report of the Work group National Recovery Plan.
About 90% of the infrastructure suffered damages, while some 80% of our hotel room inventory was also damaged. The Princess Juliana International Airport, the pride of the Caribbean, suffered severe damages estimated at US$100 million! Some forecasters say that it may take us two to three years, to bounce back to where we were before Irma. However, while a gloomy picture is being painted in some areas, St. Maarten (both sides of the island), is roaring back into life again. Hurricane Irma may have knocked us down, but it couldn’t knock us out. As has become popular to say on the island now, “We are, St. Maarten strong.”
Some, are of the opinion, that when persons visit the island in one year after Irma, although at that time, much work will still have to be done, they will be amazed to see how far the island has come since then. This is not a boastful claim. We have demonstrated time and time again that we are a very resilient people who see opportunity in adversity; who realize that in times of crisis especially, we are all one family. That is what St. Maarten Day is all about, isn’t it? The whole island uniting together as one big, proud and happy family. We are not just survivors; we are overcomers.
The day after Irma, St. Maarteners came together, and began picking up the pieces. Young and not-so-young, men and women were cleaning up the massive debris caused by the storms and started the rebuilding process. They are the true heroes of this incredible tragedy. But again, throughout history, our people have always risen above adversity by depending first and foremost on themselves, while gratefully welcoming genuine help whenever this was offered, by well-meaning friends. Despite this though, I must say St. Maarteners are not beggars, never have been, and by the grace of God, never will be.
St. Maarten wants to welcome the whole world back to the island, in the very near future. Friends and visitors, will once again grace the shores of our portion of Paradise. Of course, we are in the process of rebirth, and we remain convinced, that visitors will understand, that this will take some time. Meanwhile, Nature has taken the lead in bouncing back. The hills are green again; people are flocking the beaches, and even the flamboyant trees, which we commonly call the July Tree or Emancipation Tree, are in full bloom again. We are marching forward to the beat of Nature.
Our strength is in our unity of purpose, and our belief that in times of adversity, in times of terrible destruction like we have just experienced, God never turns his back on His people. He sends help in various forms which we are deeply grateful for and appreciate very much. The Kingdom Government, Holland, Curacao and Aruba, has been quick to send much needed humanitarian and emergency relief aid. Everyone on the island say, Thank You. St. Maarteners are grateful people.
We have expressed and continue to express our profound gratitude to all those who have given us much-needed assistance. All the Foundations and organizations here in The Netherlands, consisting of St Maarteners, and our sisters and brothers from other parts of the Kingdom. It is when you are down that you know who your true friends are. But St. Maarteners always believed that Heaven helps those who help themselves. Therefore they swung into action right after hurricane Irma passed, cleaning their neighborhoods, taking in family and friends. That is called Unity. That is called Love.
Two months after Irma, electricity and water has been restored to most of the districts, schools have reopened, our airport has also reopened for commercial flights –KLM is expected to resume regular flights, banks, supermarkets, restaurants and other businesses have opened back their doors, and life is quickly getting back to normal. That is why this St. Maarten Day has a special flavor to it. We are alive and kicking.
There is ofcourse, still a whole lot of work to be done; a lot of rebuilding to do. But we are pumped up to rebuild our island paradise better, stronger and smarter.
I close this address, by saying to all of you here today, and also to all our brothers and sisters on Sint Maarten, or other parts of the world, that although this Sint Maarten day, have met us in situations, that none of us could have imagined ourselves to be in, before September 6th, let us find ways and means to unite, in all sense of the word.
Let us find solutions for the problems plaguing our Paradise even as we speak. Without that unity, bond and love for each other, I can assure you, that it will be a very difficult road ahead. Once again I say, let us unite and embrace one another in and effort to save our wonderful paradise, sweet St. Maarten Land.
Happy St. Maarten Day!