PHILIPSBURG:--- USM 2017, Pond island. Long in the making, the University of St. Martin students did their first hike with the concrete objective of beautifying the island by replanting the fruit trees, medicinal herbs, and aloe plants in the hills of Sint Maarten & Saint Martin (St. Martin). At 7:00 AM the students gathered in front of the Kooyman hardware store to begin the hike. Led by the connoisseur of St. Martin’s hiking trails and local history, Mr. Reginald Richardson, the 15 students experienced the unseen beauty of their island. For some, this would be the first time they climbed one of the hills of the island of their birth. One of the students, Mr. Artillo Phillips remarked that he has gained a new love for the island. Another, Ms. Kedija Brooks could not stop exclaiming how beautiful she found St. Martin.
As is customary with hikes, the students had to rely upon and motivate one another when the trail got difficult. One witnessed how Mr. Kenrick Lachana motivated his co-student Ms. Junny Saint Germain to persevere as then they could go home and proudly tell it to their mother and father. This was a concrete reminder that despite their differences in lifestyle, ethnicity, and religion, they will need to show solidarity to make it on St. Martin and in their individual pursuit of happiness. Connecting the project of forging of an inclusive sense of belonging to care and respect for their island falls in line with the open Ed article “Remembering what we share in Common: a past in the Making” that was authored by Dr. Francio Guadeloupe – President of the University of St. Martin – Mrs. Lorraine Talmi – President of the SHTA – and Ms. Kiran Manglani – President of the USM Student Government Association. The piece was consigned by several members of parliament and prominent figures in the community.
Dr. Francio Guadeloupe who joined in the hike stated, “the article was published in April 2016. It took some time but these students are making it happen. I am proud of our event manager, Mrs. Valda Woodley-Hazel, for guiding and motivating the students. It’s their project now. During the hike, they scouted out the right areas and within 2 weeks they will return with machetes and seeds to begin the process of planting. Some of the girls are already talking about the aloe plants they want to plant as a beauty product. They will also be inviting the cosignatories and other members of the community to join them. This is about creating a St. Martin in which people become each other neighbors”.
Joining the hike was the Ph.D. researcher of the University of Amsterdam Jordi Halfman, who is seeking to understand the way belonging is done on St. Martin. Walking with these students, seeing the island through their eyes, hearing their memories of specific areas of the island, was very enlightening. It helped her realize how important it is to feel a sense of pride, both for the land you live on and your accomplishments while living there.