FORT WILLEM–King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima’s visit to St. Maarten may have only lasted for several hours on Saturday, but their appreciation for the work of frontline recovery workers and volunteers and their encouragement to keep strong to children and adults alike have left a lasting impression.
The royal couple had a private moment with a Hurricane Irma-displaced woman in the Festival Village booth she now calls her home. The woman greeted them outside her door with her two boys. After curtsying to both, she led them inside to see what’s left of her life’s possessions.
Though surrounded by a barrage of press, the royal couple was firm that the privacy of the jobless and virtually homeless woman be protected. They followed her indoors and the door was firmly shut. No photo or video captured the scene within, but the immense impression those brief moments made were very evident on the faces of the king and queen afterward.
The woman told The Daily Herald of her royal audience: “Just seeing her does me good. … It makes me feel positive.” She preferred to host such esteemed visitors under better circumstances and in her own home. This way though, “at least she sees in what kind of need we are,” the woman said of the queen.
In true Caribbean-style, the royals had a chat on the porch with Fort Willem resident Nilva St. Jago. There, they experienced first-hand how those with damaged, but still liveable homes were coping. The porch and part of the roof are protected by the ubiquitous blue tarpaulin and, as if for emphasis, a heavy shower of rain came down bringing with it the leaks.
The work of the White and Yellow Cross Foundation, the Dutch military and K1 Britannia covering house and roof repairs, food distribution and other assistance was shared on the porch with the royals.
This makeshift home visit and the chat on the porch were a far cry from the bubble of conversation, smiles and bout of shyness the royal couple encountered when they met Sister Regina Primary School pupils to get their critical review of the Red Cross’ school breakfast and lunch programme. They learned that the pasta was a hit!
The king and queen spent time chatting with the children about their breakfast habits and their meal routines pre-Irma. The queen, mother of three girls, made a strong case for vegetables, but her audience of tiny people was very vocal about these not being their referred food group.
Prior to meeting the children, in the courtyard of Sundial School where the meals are prepared, the royal couple reviewed the kitchen where the meals are prepared and chatted with volunteers about challenges and successes.
Education challenges before and after the hurricane was passionately shared by Charlotte Brookson Academy Director Claudette Forsythe-Labega in the tent school set up by the Dutch military on the ring road. Her story was of the determination of students, teachers and management in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
Her most telling line was, “On a daily basis we are shown that we are unwanted guests by the university’s staff.” The school was housed in five classrooms in University of St. Martin since Irma. The keys to the tent school, though set-up in mid-October, were only received by the Academy on Friday.
The royals left knowing not only the challenges of the school, but the talents of its students in song, poetry and dance.
When the sound system failed because the generator gave out, leaving a row of young singers without a background melody, the King stepped in and encouraged them to just sing. He told them to think of it as their “final exam. If you pass this, you get top grades,” he said jovially.
The clean-up of Simpson Bay Lagoon and environmental issues were the focus of a chat with Nature Foundation representatives. The tackling of the dump and scrap metal was discussed when they met with Environment Minister Christophe Emmanuel later in the day. They talked at various intervals with Prime Minister Rafael Boasman, Education Minister Silveria Jacobs, Tourism and Economic Affair Minister Mellissa Doncher and Social Affairs Minister Emil Lee.
Entrepreneurs working to (re)build businesses with financing from Qredits, a microfinancing agency from the Netherlands, shared their ideas and plans with royals when they stopped by the office in Ms. Lalie Commercial Centre. The offering of coaching for small businesses as a vehicle to growth was of interest to the royals.
The osmosis plant outside of Festival Village was a stop the royals made. They were met there by utilities company GEBE Chief Executive Officer Kenrick Chittick. The plant was shipped in from the Netherlands to bridge the gap until all water tanks are repaired and operational.
A steel pan lesson for the king and queen conducted by Isidore “Mighty Dow” York at his musical school in Festival Village was also on the royal to-do list. The queen showed her musical side by picking up the note quickly. The king joked that she must have been practising with his old steelpans. Coincidently, those were given to him by York’s father Chester when he was a boy.
The whirlwind day ended with the king and queen lending their unique steelpan playing to that of the music school students in a lively rendition of St. Maarten Rumba.
The royal couple was accompanied on their trip to St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba by Dutch State Secretary for Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops. St. Maarten was the last stop on their three-island tour. They flew in from Saba where they were part of Saba Day celebrations. Governor Holiday, First Lady Marie Louise Holiday, Boasman and Airport acting Chief Executive Officer Michel Hyman greeted them at Princess Juliana International Airport SXM.
The royal visitors left on one of the last flights of the day, which in itself was a milestone as it marked the first day post-Irma the Airport resumed its normal operation hours – 6:00am to 9:00pm.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/71515-royal-couple-makes-morale-boosting-trip