St. Maarten Youth Council Welcomes Caribbean Lottery Support in Rebuilding New Computer Lab Post-Irma.

PHILIPSBURG:— The opening of a new computer lab at the Youth Community Centre in St. Peters recently, held special significance for the St. Maarten Youth Council Association (SMYCA), an umbrella organization with more than 30 years’ experience in empowering the island’s young people and promoting cooperation and unity among youth and youth organizations. Under the theme “Nurturing a Growth Mindset: Fostering Resiliency,” the long-anticipated event was postponed last year, after the passage of Hurricane Irma – St. Maarten’s worst storm in over a century – on September 7.

“We have been looking forward to this day for so long,” said Connie Francis-Gumbs, Director of the SMYCA. She added that the computer lab, which was made possible through a donation by the Caribbean Lottery and its parent company International Game Technology (IGT), would make a great difference to the students at the Centre. IGT’s After School Advantage Programme is a corporate philanthropic initiative designed to address the needs of children during the critical after-school hours. The programme strives to close the “Digital Divide” for at-risk children who are left behind because they do not have the means to access computers at home in today’s increasingly digital society.

While the Youth Community Centre itself remained operational after Hurricane Irma, the computer lab was damaged. “The window blew in. The roof was intact but all the fixtures and furnishings were damaged by the wind and rain”, said Ms. Francis-Gumbs. “Caribbean Lottery funded the rebuilding of the computer work stations and chairs, for which the Centre was very grateful. Thankfully, the 11 computers and two printers were not yet installed when the hurricane struck.”

Ms. Marcellia Henry, Secretary General for UNESCO in St. Maarten based at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth & Sports, was keynote speaker at the opening ceremony. She praised SMYCA as “the epitome of a resilient organization that is known for nurturing a growth mindset in the youth on St. Maarten.” She emphasized: “Today’s generous donation by Caribbean Lottery will enable other programmes such as KIDS IT to provide the youth participants with computer, viewing, digital, and technological skills and knowledge needed for the 21st century.”

SMYCA’s Rupert I. Maynard Youth Community Centre is home to the organization’s successful STAR After School Programme, which provides academic support, life skills training and extracurricular activities for elementary and high school students. Now, thanks to Caribbean Lottery’s donation, SMYCA’s KIDS IT programme is set for a relaunch. A popular programme with the students, it was put on hold four years ago. The weekend programme reached out to a wider group of students, allowing them to learn, share and explore their IT skills outside the regular after-school homework-based programme. “We are so glad that we are now able to take the KIDS IT programme off ‘pause,’” said Ms. Francis-Gumbs.

The SMYCA Director explained that there is a push in St. Maarten to increase the level of technology in elementary schools. However, many of the children the organization serves face challenges – especially the younger ones. The SMYCA Director added: “Some of the children lost everything in the storm.”

“Most of the students we serve, who are at the elementary level, do not have access to Internet at home. Their parents are busy and working. They are not able to go to the library to study on their own. They are at more of a disadvantage than the older ones. So, the use of the computers will really help this age group,” Ms. Francis-Gumbs pointed out. The Centre hosts an average of 45 elementary students per year on their current after school programme, in addition to a smaller group of high school students.

Since Hurricane Irma, the Centre has demonstrated its resilience by keeping to its regular schedule. The younger students start at around 1 p.m., as school ends earlier for them. They have lunch, do their homework and then they go on to their tutored and extra-curricular activities. Tutoring is provided in English, Dutch and Math for all grade levels. SMYCA recognizes that teaching IT skills – an important tool for life – is a critical element of any after-school programme, at both elementary and high school levels.

Ms. Francis-Gumbs pointed out that not all students are academically gifted and their self-esteem declines as a result. However, the aim of the IGT After School Advantage programme, which SMYCA fully supports, is to help all the region’s young people succeed to the best of their abilities.

“We at Caribbean Lottery are interested in empowering children, who might otherwise feel they are being left behind,” said Brendan Hames, IGT Regional Director – Caribbean. “Whatever their talents and ability, we believe that providing a programme such as this will enable them to work on their strengths and that this will lead to a fulfilling life in the future.”

As an example, Ms. Francis-Gumbs pointed to one young man who was exceptionally gifted with his hands. The tutors encouraged his natural gifts, and he is now a successful and sought-after mechanic.

She added: “We’ve seen over the years a number of students who were demotivated. Their parents had almost given up on them. Now, most of them have graduated from high school and gone on to University or to pursue a career. They are doing well. We see a lot of small success stories. They really add up. With the new computer lab, we expect to see those stories multiply.”

“I would really like to express our appreciation to Caribbean Lottery for their support,” said Ms. Francis-Gumbs. “The staff have worked with us diligently to make this happen. They have provided support after the storm. The computer lab will help us to achieve so much more for the children. Those attending our summer school right now will benefit from it.”

“Even after a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma, the SMYCA still has not lost its bounce or step,” said Ms. Marcellia Henry. “In other words, it continues to uphold and execute the core value and objective of the organization, which is to promote the interests of the youth of St. Maarten.”

Source: St. Martin News Network