Genevieve de Weever School pupils could not wait to use their new sports items.
By Suzanne Koelega
EINDHOVEN/PHILIPSBURG--Surely enough, the more than 4,000 items of sports equipment and school materials were well-received at the public schools, playschools and sports organisations.
Broad smiles, loud cheers, clapping and “thank you” banners awaited the RebuildSXM team when they arrived at the different schools and organisations around the island in the week of March 12.
RebuildSXM is a foundation based in the Netherlands comprising young professionals, all of whom were raised in St. Maarten, who set out to help their islands by assisting with the rebuilding of lives. Since Hurricane Irma, the organisation has been collecting funds to help St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, where it all started through the connection of RebuildSXM with gym teacher Jason Lindo.
The 40-foot container filled with sports items, gymnasium equipment and educational material arrived just in time to be unloaded by members of the RebuildSXM team John Sandiford, Cyriel Pfennings-Richardson and Jisk Goslinga. The full seven days were needed from the time that enthusiastic team members picked up the container to making the last donation.
Right after their arrival, the three men, joined by five local volunteers, went to the container’s location to unpack and sort the material, and to get everything ready for the next morning, Wednesday, March 14, when eight playschools would be visited.
The focus was on the playschools that needed the most help, such as in Dutch Quarter and Cay Bay, where help was very welcome. “The playschools are often forgotten, especially those in the poorer districts, so we decided to focus on them as well during our trip,” said Pfennings-Richardson.
The RebuildSXM team was especially struck by the stories they heard at the playschools – not only stories of physical damage to the buildings, but also of psychological trauma and of extreme financial troubles.
“We were told that many parents could no longer afford the school fees. But the children were not sent away, because these playschools feel very responsible for these kids. The playschools were very happy with our visit, which also enabled the staff members to tell us their stories,” said Sandiford.
The playschools mostly received educational and play material. The choice of material was made with the input of the umbrella organisation of the more than 30 playschools on the island, SECDA Foundation. A careful assessment of the wishes of the schools and organisations in the early stages was part of RebuildSXM’s modus operandi, making sure that every donation complied with the actual needs of the schools and organisations.
At the end of every day throughout that week, the RebuildSXM team would return to the container to get everything ready for the next day. On Thursday and Friday, March 15 and 16, the team visited nine public schools for the donation of sports materials.
In particular the reception at Sundial School stood out. A volleyball game of students versus teachers was organised. Some of the RebuildSXM members decided to join the game. Also, the entire school had gathered in Sundial’s sports hall which no longer has a roof since the hurricane.
The students and teachers at the schools were elated with the educational and sports materials. They were especially happy with the tennis and badminton material, which will give the students an opportunity to learn different kinds of sports.
The visit to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Dutch Quarter was extra-special because of gym teacher Jason Lindo, a former classmate of Pfennings-Richardson. “Lindo had precisely indicated which materials were needed at the school. He provided the basis for us to put together the donation package for all public schools,” said Sandiford.
These packages included hundreds of items such as volleyballs, basketballs, soccer and tennis balls, tennis and badminton rackets, table tennis tables, nets, soccer goals, ball pumps and trampolines. The different sizes of basketball enabled the younger children to play with a ball more suitable to their age.
“The kids were so happy and that made us happy too. They are our goal,” said Pfennings-Richardson. Children often were so enthusiastic that they would speed towards the truck of RebuildSXM to help unload. At the Super Splash swim team in Belair, the children showed their appreciation by giving RebuildSXM a medal in the form of a St. Maarten flag and by displaying the words “thank you” in the water, using their bodies.
The donation to National Institute of Arts (NIA) on Saturday, March 17, was of a special nature. It was not only a large donation, but it came from the Sports for Children organisation in the Netherlands which had collected second-hand gymnastics material, all still in very good shape. Among the donated items were a vaulting box, balance beam, trampolines and thick mats – in total, two truckloads.
“The NIA students could barely believe their eyes when they saw what came out of the truck. Now they have their own equipment,” said Pfennings-Richardson.
NIA uses the sports hall of Hillside Christian Schools Asha Stevens campus in Cay Hill. All NIA students and the staff were standing outside when the RebuildSXM team arrived. Donations were also dropped off at the Carib Swim Team and BJJ Martial Arts School that same day.
The Flag Football Team and the Island Hoops basketball organisation were presented with new material, including a large number of balls, on Sunday, March 18. Island Hoops players, in particular coach Paul Bell, were especially happy with the portable basketball goals. A number of balls were presented to Bell for further distribution in the districts as soon as the community basketball courts are repaired.
The container was empty at the end of the week. However, RebuildSXM found a good purpose even for the container itself: Player Development at the St. Maarten Little League Ballpark. “Coach Tom Burnett and the children were so happy. They use the container as their clubhouse to, amongst other things, do their homework,” said Sandiford.
Goslinga noted that sports are very important, especially after a hurricane. “Playing sports is an excellent way to help in the process of getting over such a severe hurricane. We were children when Hurricane Luis hit in 1995 and we remember how important it was to unwind as a child,” he said.
Sandiford said the entire exercise of arranging the donations gave him an “awesome” feeling.
“It took a long time to prepare this donation because we wanted to do it the right way. We wanted to know for sure that everything that we brought was exactly what was needed. We wanted our donation to be lasting and sustainable. In the first period after the hurricane, there was a lot of help. Then donations began to settle down. But it doesn’t mean that there were no more needs,” he said.
“This week confirms why we set out on this journey. We were able to contribute to our island and the young generation. Seeing all the happy faces is the main reason why we put countless hours into this organisation,” said Pfennings-Richardson.
RebuildSXM will not be sitting back after this first large donation. The team used the opportunity of its visit to St. Maarten to check what more is needed. This turned out to be school uniforms for the next school year. The collection of funds continues and everyone who wants to donate can get in touch with RebuildSXM through its website
www.rebuildsxm.com or by sending an e-mail to
The preparations for the large donation took several months. Instrumental were the members of the core team which, besides Pfennings-Richardson, Sandiford and Goslinga, consisted of: Shurendy Martina, Andy Samuel, Joseph Williams, Michel Williams, Lancelot Thompson and Shannakka Cannegieter.
Sandiford and Pfennings-Richardson thanked everyone who donated and volunteers who assisted in any way. Special appreciation went to Giovanni Services, New Generation and JoJo Construction for the heavy equipment transportation.
Kristen Leigh of Pixel8 Productions, together with Theodore de Weever and Andrei Rochester, offered their services to film and photograph the entire week of distributing the donations. Leigh will be putting together a video which will be posted on social media in the near future.
The Dutch Basketball Federation donated two basketball rims to Island Hoops Foundation. RebuildSXM helped transport this equipment, along with two mobile basketball goals that are adjustable based on the children’s height, and basketballs.