MIDDLE REGION–Five top chefs served a finger-licking meal during a first-of-its-kind in St. Maarten Pop-Up Dinner Party hosted by Rotary Club of St. Maarten in support of Sister Marie Laurence Primary School on July 8.
The Rotary Club adopted the school in Middle Region after it was severely damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017 and looted. The Club is on the doorstep of approval of a global grant of close to US $400,000 with the partnership of 11 International Rotary Clubs which will provide vocational support and training to the faculty, as well as providing the school with the latest in teaching and learning materials, a computer lab, C-Touch digital learning boards, a playground, a gardening centre and more.
Top chefs representing Emilio’s, Topper’s, Avantika, Lazy Lizard, and L’Isola Authentic Italian restaurants donated their time to the cause and prepared signature dishes on the spot for more than 150 attendees.
Tanja Frederiks-Vliegen, on behalf of Foundation Catholic Education St. Maarten, made a short presentation outlining the future vision and plans for the school which were met with much applause as the well-thought-out plan included building back the school to be “future proof” and the centrepiece of Middle Region.
Since this school has low parental participation, it was decided to include a parent resource centre with computer, Internet and a printer, and a community room where the Middle Region Community Council can meet.
Completely redoing the sporting court is also deemed essential as it gives the youth of the area a safe and positive place to gather.
“The plan for the school is one that proves that government, private sector, insurance, Dutch/World Bank funding, service clubs, individuals and the community as a whole can work together for a common goal of building St. Maarten, and in particular this school, back better. I cannot think of a more well-rounded and meaningful project to be a part of for the betterment of the island I love,” said Rotary Club President John Caputo.
Tears were shed when young Valedictorian Chailon Ruan told his story of living through hardships and how through perseverance and much help from the dedicated Care Team of the school, he was still able to graduate at the top of his class and be accepted to St. Dominic High School.
While still facing financial challenges, a donor pledged to sponsor his school and book fees, and that led to many offers of support to the “Tree of Giving” where dozens of attendees sponsored a school uniform set, school supplies and laptops for children in need. Anil Sabnani of Carrefour Market pledged 10 laptops to students in need.
Laura and Roland Richardson donated a painting, which fetched over US $3,500 in an auction held and displayed on location and online, with the winning bid from Randy and Dany Acree from the United States.
The funds raised by the auction will be applied to a district grant application and be used for art supplies and the proposed school’s art room.
“Hearing the Valedictorian’s speech is exactly why I joined Rotary. Knowing we can help not only him, but all of the students of this school through our efforts is truly heart-warming. Rotarians of our Club, the students and faculty of the school are extremely thankful for the support of the chefs and all others who made this Pop Up Dinner a night to remember. We were truly honoured that so many, including the Minister of Education, the Honourable Wycliffe Smith, came out to support such a worthy cause,” Caputo concluded.
Much to her surprise, Frederiks-Vliegen was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Club for her “tireless” efforts towards this project and those in other schools. Minister of Education Wycliffe Smith and Caputo presented her with this recognition just before she gave her presentation on the school’s future plans.
“As a Foundation we are very blessed to have the Rotary Club of St. Maarten as a partner. The plans to transform this school from a ‘regular’ school into an exceptional school are extremely important, as this school caters to a lot of students who need that extra positive focus and attention. The Foundation has submitted the project plan via the government of St. Maarten to the World Bank/Recovery Funds and is currently awaiting their response.”
The plan is to completely rebuild the school, which would allow for the school to provide a holistic development programme to cater to all the diverse needs of pupils, but also to be able to tap into their abilities, talents and dreams, Frederiks-Vliegen explained.
“The vast majority of these students face many hardships and are confronted with impossibilities every single day. As a school, as a community, and as a government it is time that we start focussing on this at-risk group of students, not only at the Sister Marie Laurence, but at all schools. With the funding and input from the Rotary Clubs, this project promises to have an enormous long-term impact on the well-being of our students,” she said.