Panel of the Third Caribbean Ministerial Forum on School Safety.
MAHO–The Third Caribbean Ministerial Forum on School Safety was officially opened with a ceremony held at Sonesta Maho on Tuesday, June 28.
The ceremony was opened by welcoming remarks by Minister of Education, National Reconciliation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and outgoing Chair of the Caribbean Safe School Initiative (CSSI) Curtis King.
In his remarks King reminded the audience that the Ministerial Forum presented all present with the opportunity to bring the many stakeholders, development partners, Ministers of Education, focal points and the youth and their voices to address issues of school safety.
He expressed his eagerness for the update on the Caribbean Regional Road Map to highlight the forum’s progress since the last forum held in St. Vincent in 2019.
King also noted that this was an opportunity for all ministers and stakeholders present to strengthen their commitment to Caribbean Safe School Initiative and pledge to take action going forward.
In closing King said, “To our esteemed sister island, St. Maarten, I would like to thank Minister [Rodolphe – Ed.] Samuel for a graciously hosting. I trust that will we have fruitful interactions and we will leave this forum armed with new items … to further advance Caribbean School Safety Initiative. I hope that we will also forge stronger relationships and new partnerships.”
Jean-Paul Ngome Abiaga, Programme Coordinator for the Natural Sciences and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the UNESCO Cluster Office for the Caribbean, reminded the audience of the natural disasters and risks Caribbean schools have faced and continue to face every year and the importance of learning from these past events.
Ruth Custode, Education Specialist, UNICEF Latin American and Caribbean Regional Office, spoke about the effects natural disasters and emergencies have had on the children in the Caribbean, especially where it relates to the continuation of their education.
Raul Salazar, Chief of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean, highlighted the importance of all ministries collaborating and standing strong in their commitment to school safety.
Dennis Zulu, Acting United Nations Resident Coordinator in Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and Suriname, said the United Nations systems remain committed towards working with governments “so that our children can benefit from uninterrupted education.”
Andria Grosvenor, Acting Deputy Executive Director, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) said, “The world as we know it is changing, and we need to prepare our children.” Grosvenor said exogenous and environmental threats will not alter development aspirations, but are rather providing opportunity for transforming the educational systems to address new realities and uncertainties.
The feature address was delivered by St. Maarten’s Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel, who is also the incoming chair of the Caribbean Safe School Initiative.
Samuel said St. Maarten has been actively working on school safety initiatives since 2018 after the devastating impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
He shared how the Safety and Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) had been commissioned in 2018 to plan a comprehensive school safety framework at the national level, set plans and strategies for safety and emergency management, continual disaster preparedness and crisis management for the sectors of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.
“We have made strides on St. Maarten, but there is still a lot to be done,” said Samuel.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the urgency to address disaster risk and build resilience to improve communities’ abilities to maintain and restore vital services, including education, at multiple levels and across different sectors ranging from the school curriculum, school staff training up to the local departments and ministries of education.
In closing, Samuel said his vision for this ministerial forum is that it cements the commitment of all ministers of education and their representatives to gather all of their knowledge and wisdom of needs and realities, and reflect that in priority setting for school safety at the national level in the next three years.
“As chair of the CSSI, St. Maarten plans to take an active role especially as it pertains to championing for the development of youth, and we look forward to your contributions to this process of doing the youth dialogue session,” Samuel concluded.
The objective of the forum’s agenda is to create an occasion for discussion, contemplation and decisions on school safety among Ministers of Education, School Safety Focal Points and key stakeholders; update the Caribbean regional roadmap on school safety; and reassert commitment to Caribbean Safe School Initiative by nations from the region.
The Caribbean Ministerial Forum on School Safety takes place June 28-30.