ROTTERDAM--Some 150 St. Maarteners, the majority students and young professionals, came together in Rotterdam Saturday evening for the third Unified St. Maarten Connection (USC) Christmas Gala.
All dressed-up, they listened to the speeches, shared a lovely dinner and, very important, caught up with each other on the developments back home and what has been happening in their personal lives.
The Christmas Gala was also a momentous occasion, because USC is celebrating its fifth anniversary with the installation of three new executive board members: Edwina Hodge, Nikita Udhwani and Duane Meade, all young professionals who were well-prepared for their new task through their hard work at USC.
Executive board members Melissa Hodge and Cyriel Pfennings, USC’s founding members, or “the parents” as Master of Ceremonies Donellis Browne referred to them, have stepped down to make room for the younger generation.
“We are not moving on because we don’t want to be involved anymore, but because the time has come to give others the opportunity to step into the light and show St. Maarten that the future is not coming, for it is here,” said Pfennings in a joint speech with Gumbs.
“Someone once said that in life, the most important thing is to know when to walk away, when to get off the wave because bigger things are ahead,” said Pfennings.
“Those who fail to do so, hang on for too long and end up crashing out or worse, becoming a second banana at their own party, unable or unwilling to step back and make way for the future,” said Gumbs.
“Tonight we pass on the torch to three energetic, bright, dedicated young professionals,” said Pfennings.
Gumbs and Pfennings looked back at the past five years which they termed a “crazy ride.” The “great insurance debacle of 2011” marked the beginning of USC, which has grown into the largest organisation for St. Maarteners in the Netherlands.
It started as a small Facebook group with a single mission: to address students’ insurance woes. The Facebook group quickly got the attention of St. Maarteners in the Netherlands and back home.
“We realised it could be so much more. It could serve as a platform for building a community, connecting St. Maarteners throughout their journey in the Netherlands, and in the long term, as a springboard for effecting real change on the island we love so much,” said Pfennings.
Since its official date of establishment in September 2012, USC has organised many activities such as Eats ’n Treats, the St. Maarten Day Forum, the sports day, workshops, countless informal gatherings that fostered philosophical discussions about St. Maarten’s future, and the Christmas Gala.
When Hurricane Irma struck, several USC members immediately sprang into action to coordinate donations of relief supplies and to keep people abreast via social media.
Over the years, USC has also helped many St. Maarten students who came to the Netherlands to get settled in their new country of residence. The organisation did this job so well that this past summer it was awarded the tremendous task to coach the newcomers on behalf of the St. Maarten Government.
Caretaker Minister Plenipotentiary Henrietta Doran-York specifically praised the USC for taking on the responsibility for the entire welcoming and guiding of the new St. Maarten students. “You did an excellent job and I commend you for that.”
Doran-York also lauded the USC for pursuing its mission with dedication, commitment and a singular purpose. “I applaud the USC for its focus on professionalism and change that will transform our island nation into a progressive and prosperous country. It is my firm belief that you are the future that St. Maarten has been waiting for a long time. And so now you are here.”
USC actions rest on three important principles: integrity, respect and responsibility, of which the first one has become a “buzz word” in St. Maarten, said Doran-York. USC has a vital role to play in the island’s rebuilding, together with others, uniting to make St. Maarten stronger, better and smarter, she added.
“This is a role that you have already been fulfilling through assisting and guiding our young St. Maarten students, while also offering professional trainings and workshops to your peers in areas such as self-development, financial literacy and sporting activities,” she said.
One of the special guests was USC Chapter Director St. Maarten Carmencita Lammar. Lammar and the board members in St. Maarten, together with a few volunteers, were instrumental in preparing the new students for their journey to the Netherlands last summer. The organisation, which is also there to assist the young professionals who are coming home after their studies, is in dire need of volunteers, Lammar said.
Melissa Gumbs, who returned home last year, looked back at five successful years. “We have set up an organisation for the long term. We have grown and we have achieved our goal to be there for the St. Maarten community in the Netherlands,” she told The Daily Herald.
Saturday evening was not just about speeches, good food and pleasant company. The festive details of the USC volunteers made it a complete experience. More than 100 guests had their pictures taken by event photographer Thomassio Kelly and many were interviewed by Vallen Cangieter during the live feed on the USC Facebook page.
Cangieter, host of the online talk show Drinking Tea with V broadcast live on Facebook every Sunday, had the guests introduce themselves and, with the gala’s theme “Choosing Growth” in mind, she asked them about their aspirations and experience of living in the Netherlands. She said she was struck by the guests’ positivity, even though at times they did miss home.
The dance performances by Clifford Henry and Fernando van der Kraats, and the singing performance by Chanty Richardson and Patrick Graham thrilled the audience. After dinner and a group photo, the guests enjoyed good music by DJs Mr. Mentally and Fiber.