SMSPA hosts seminar on rights of seniors

POSTED: 10/27/14 4:44 PM

St. Maarten / By Justin Simmons – “Our ambition is to build a future we want,” said St. Maarten Seniors and Pensioners Association (SMSPA) President Patricia Flanders in her welcome speech on Thursday at the Rights of the Seniors seminar at the Belair Community Center in Cay Hill. The seminar was held to inform the elders within the community about the developments being made in country St. Maarten with regards to their rights. In addition, the seminar served as a platform to foster dialogue between community elders and the island’s government and the United Nations (UN), which are the two bodies involved in St. Maarten’s National Development Plan (NDP). The government of St. Maarten has contributed $898,870 to the development of this plan.

Flanders called upon government officials and island representatives to improve the living conditions of senior citizens by increasing pensions, providing those in need of aid with caregivers and reducing poverty among the elderly in general. She stressed that St. Maarten needs policies in place for its seniors– something she believes is currently lacking. Furthermore, she implored the senior citizen community to collectively raise their voices to encourage the government to help them. “Use your voice,” she urged.

In her opening speech, Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams took time to reflect on the rights of the island’s citizens in the overall context of the constitution as adopted per October 10, 2010, as well as the development of the NDP of country St. Maarten since its new status. Wescot-Williams said that following 10-10-10, one of the lacking ingredients was a collective plan for the island. She added that in 2012, after looking at future plans, government came up with the idea to create a NDP for country St. Maarten with the help of the UN, an intergovernmental organization established in 1945 to promote international cooperation. The organization assists countries in developing such plans.

“Our focus for St. Maarten is about how we are faring as a nation,” said Wescot-Williams. “Building nation St. Maarten is a process, and it is never really over,” she added. To underscore the importance of planning when building a nation, she employed the words of Benjamin Franklin’s, saying, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Franklin is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. Development of the NDP began in 2012 and is expected to be finalized and in place by 2015. “This process is critical to the growth of country St. Maarten.”

A critical component of the plan, Wescot-Williams explained, was to get the community involved. “We needed people to understand that everyone needed to work together when creating the NDP.” When creating the NDP, it was imperative that the stakeholders take into consideration the needs and concerns of the community and incorporate all that information into a future plan. In the past, during the initial stages of developing the plan, Wescot-Williams was quoted as saying, “There will be no national development plan without bush tea,” The drink, which is made by boiling the leaves of local plants in water, is steeped in tradition, history and culture.

During her speech, she provided context to her earlier statement, saying, “If we do not incorporate the grass roots of our community, we would not have a national development plan for the people of St. Maarten.” She ended her speech by encouraging the senior citizens of St. Maarten, as well as the island community at large, to continue to put pressure on the government and island representatives to pay special attention to those in need of special attention.

“Elders have never been part of a development agenda. It’s critical now that elders become involved in the development process,” said Tom Woods, United Nations volunteer and project manager for the department of the interior and Kingdom relations of the government of St. Maarten in his keynote address. “The role of elders in development has been underestimated greatly internationally,” he added. One of the tenants of a NDP is focused on nation building – this component is a people component. Only since 2000 has development become an activity of “the people.”

St. Maarten is still developing in its maturity, separate from The Hague, said Woods. Despite its newly-achieved constitutional status, the island is still under the cloak of The Hague, which, as Woods pointed out, presents its own challenges. When declarations are signed in The Hague, the ramifications of these declarations reverberate throughout the Kingdom. One such declaration was the Millennium Declaration, which was established “to free all women, men, girls and boys from the abject dehumanizing conditions of poverty.” Unfortunately, there was no target that recognized the elderly: “The elderly were at the bottom of the list when it came to planning.” As a result of this, not long after, other declarations were signed for the protection of the elderly.

People over 60 are the fastest growing group in the world; in 2012, people over 60 represented 11% of the world’s population; by 2030, it is expected that people over 60 will represent 16% of the world’s population. “Human rights are at the center of the development agenda… Everyone is to be included in this new development. The message is to leave no one behind,” explained Woods.

One of the outcomes of the seminar, Woods said, was to invite 15 community elders to join the stakeholders involved in this endeavor in dialogue. “We want people to talk freely about a vision. How do you envision St. Maarten in 30 years from now? That is up to you.”


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