From left: Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions President Claire Elshot, USM President Antonio Carmona Baez, St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association Vice-President Raymond Jessurun and Sunfed Secretary Connie Francis-Gumbs.
POND ISLAND–University of St. Martin (USM) and the St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Friday agreeing to partner and collaborate for the study of and research on poverty and socio-economic inequality in St. Maarten.
Windward Islands Chamber of Labour Unions (WICLU) President Claire Elshot, who is a member of the Platform, said in a joint statement at the signing at USM that the institution had entered into the collaboration agreement with the Platform to provide it with information, educational resources, and research services to assist it in the realisation of “Soualiga’s right to development.”
According to the MOU, USM and the Platform agreed to conduct research on issues related to poverty and socio-economic development of the island; conduct research that will assist in establishing a poverty line; seek funding from external agencies, government, labour organisations, international organisations and governmental bodies for research in socio-economic development; and organise conferences, workshops and other informative sessions on issues of socio-economic development, poverty eradication and services for children, youth, adults and the elderly of the North and the South of the island.
Parties also agreed to facilitate the sharing of information and reflection on policies, initiatives and events that affect vulnerable sectors on the island and the community at large; organise at least three joint public events per year; and engage the community, government, labour, the business sector, non-government organisations and communities of faith in dialogue for the benefit of friendly relations, peace, equity, sustainable development and collective wellbeing.
Elshot said parties need to get data and information on the following questions:
What is the reality of the people on both sides of the island?
What is the state of health and the wellbeing of the people of the island?
How resilient is the housing situation of the people since Hurricanes Irma and Maria?
What is the income situation of the households? Is their income sufficient for them to have an adequate standard of living?
What is the cost of living on the island?
What are the human development indices of residents? What are their human development needs?
What needs to be done for residents to fully realise all their human rights to an equal level as European citizens in the mainland of France and the Netherlands?
And, what is needed for the people on both sides of the island to become one island, one people, and for them to have one common destiny?
“We will be especially interested to know what is the situation and how can we improve the situation of the children, youth and adolescents in St. Maarten, for which research we will seek collaboration with the regional office of UNICEF and other Kingdom and international agencies who want to promote the rights of the child,” Elshot told the audience at the signing ceremony.
“The workers and their families in Soualiga (the island) and back home in the region, for which research we will seek collaboration with the regional office of the ILO [International Labour Organisation – Ed.], CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency] and the PAHO [Pan American Health Organisation]. The senior citizens and their families on Soualiga or back home in the region, for which research we will seek collaboration with UN/ECLAC [United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America] and UN Aging Department.”
Elshot said USM wants to attract researchers on the socio-economic reality of St. Maarten and wants to involve its own faculty and students in the research projects to engage them more in the development issues of the people of St. Maarten.
Two research projects will start immediately based on this cooperation. With the collaboration of UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean, USM will collect information and support educational and research projects among children, youth and adolescents of St. Maarten to gather their ideas and to involve them and guide them to build back a better and stronger future for themselves.
With the collaboration of ILO and UN/ECLAC, an information, education and research project will be done among working-class families to establish their standard of living and the degree to which their labour rights and their human rights have been realised.
“We believe that in order to deal with the issues of poverty, inequality and public health, it is important to have statistics, work transparently and to develop a poverty line for the entire island,” Elshot said. “To this end, we would like to express our gratitude to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, who has heard us on these intentions, the communities of faith and the trade unions which have participated in initial meetings and activities concerning this collaboration.”
Amongst those witnessing Friday’s MOU signing were Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Secretary-General Shermina Powell-Richardson and USM’s Foundation Board of Directors President Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet.
The St. Maarten Anti-Poverty Platform is a coalition of three social organisations: WICLU, representing workers and their families; St Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association (SMSPA), representing the senior citizens; and St. Martin United NGO Federation Sunfed, the umbrella of non-governmental organisations providing services to the community.
“The people these organisations represent have a lot of achievements, but also challenges to realise their full potential in this society, Elshot said.