The historic contributions of Windwardside, the many positive developments happening on Saba and being a proud and resilient people were some of the themes that came up during the official 43rd Saba Day celebration on Friday, December 7.
Held at Windwardside this year, Sabans first gathered at the St. Paul Conversion Church for an early ecumenical service with Pastor Liburd and Father Zibi, followed by the official program with the raising of the flag, speeches, performances, music and dance on the grounds of the Harry L. Johnson Museum.
Commissioner Bruce Zagers in his speech addressed the positive things that have happened since Saba became a Public Entity in 2010 and looked back at the hardships before that when the island was still part of the Netherlands Antilles. “Back then a budget was basically a wish list and it was a struggle from day to day trying to find creative ways to keep the government and the basic services operational. Struggling to pay bills, salaries, organizing medical evacuations, ensuring that the hospital pharmacy was stocked and that our teachers and schools were equipped with the tools to educate our children.”
Today, said Zagers, Saba didn’t face any of these problems and positive advancements have been made in almost every sector, not only in government but also in the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the community. Things are not perfect as yet and there is certainly room for improvement, said Zagers, who mentioned the need to reduce the cost of living and to tackle poverty, both of which are a responsibility of the Dutch Government. Zagers said that Commissioner Rolando Wilson and he would be traveling to the Netherlands next week for meetings with the Dutch ministries.
“I am confident that Saba is moving in the right direction and the future is bright. Saba can boast of having stability within government and strong financial management. The results of these two fundamental principles have allowed for Saba to receive considerable project funding which is managed by the local government,” said Zagers.
Because of this funding, Zagers said, Saba has been able to truly develop and transform the island. “From a new runway and a renovated terminal building, to a completely renovated hospital, to planned new school buildings and renovated classrooms, to new playgrounds in our villages, to an expanded harbor which will start next year, progress is being made all over in areas that are vital for our people and for the future growth of our island.” Also, a new social domain department to support the community has been established, and government is actively involved in support programs that improve the wellbeing of the youth.
Zagers said that people from abroad are continuously impressed with Saba’s cleanliness, beauty and hardworking, friendly people. “We are a proud and resilient people. The foundation for an even stronger and more resilient Saba continues to be built. Together as a society we will continue to rise above and be an example for good governance, supported by a strong, hardworking united community. Saba is our unspoiled queen, and all of us, government and the people, play a very important role to ensure that our cultural and social values are maintained so that future generations can know and appreciate what it means to be Saban!”
Commissioner Wilson elaborated on the history of Windwardside and its people. “The history of the Windwardside settlement actually began with the area known as Booby Hill. What we know today as Windwardside was also known as The Pasture, land that was reserved for the people of Booby Hill to rear their cattle. Windwardside is where the Roman Catholic Church started in 1860, built with stones from the sugar cane boiling house at Spring Bay Flat.”
Wilson also told the story of the Harry L. Johnson Museum grounds, the location of the official program of Saba Day. The ground belonged to Captain Jo-siah Peterson, while the museum was named in honor of the late Harry Luke Johnson, a police officer and painter who collected historic items which he kept in a house next to his home.
“Windwardside can also boast of well-known captains. One of them was Captain Ben, or William Benjamin Hassell, who had over 20 large schooners. He and many others moved to Barbados when Dutch was introduced as the official language on the island around 1907.”
Then there was Captain Freddy Johnson who rescued an American submarine and Thomas Holm whose family hailed from St. Eustatius and originally from Denmark, who was both Acting Governor and local doctor. The famous scientist Dr. Moses Crossley, who worked with Alexander Fleming on the development of penicillin, was also from this village.
“We cannot speak of the history of Windwardside without acknowledging Josephus Lambert Hassell, the self-taught engineer who built the road between The Bottom and the rest of the island, nor can we forget Errol Hassell who as local councilor secured the money on the budget to build the road from Fort Bay to The Bottom,” said Wilson, who also mentioned Gertrude Johnson-Hassell, the teacher who introduced Spanish Work to Saba which became a full industry known as Saba Lace and kept many families alive with its sales.
Island Governor Jonathan Johnson spoke at the church. He said that even though Saba was spared from any hurricanes this year, it was important to always remain vigilant and prepared as the threat remained real. “With that reality in mind it is imperative that we continue to take pride in what we have and what we do. Pride must start from within and come out in the things we do and say.”
Johnson acknowledged the role of those persons who organized Saba Day, the Saba Day Committee and the many other organisations and volunteers. “They don’t do it for the government, they do it as a sense of pride for their island. Our island is made up of many, but we come together as one. We will not always agree with each other and that is fine. Being critical keeps us sharp, but it must be in the spirit of constructiveness and not destructiveness.”
Towards the end at the official program on the museum grounds, there was an award ceremony with plaques whereby different persons and organizations were recognized and honored for their contribution to Saba. Cletus Johnson was recognized for his 43 years dedicated service as immigration officer. Libscomb University was recognized for the volunteer work with the Saba youth and community, Johnson Travel Service for 55 years of dedicated service, the Dutch housing corporation Woonlinie for their pioneering contributions to social housing, and Accessible Ventures for their outstanding service transporting the sick and elderly. Saba Day continued with various activities on Friday afternoon and throughout the weekend.