Queen Máxima paid a virtual visit to Saba’s Expertise Centre Education Care EC2 on Thursday. Officials of EC2 and the Oranje Fund, parents and students participated in an animated, open talk with the Queen.
EC2 won an Orange Apple (“Appeltje van Oranje”) of the Oranje Fund last year for its Ways to Wellbeing project, which offers comprehensive support to vulnerable students to improve their mental well-being.
Ways to Wellbeing was initiated after Hurricane Irma in 2017 to boost the resilience of Saba students, and during the current COVID-19 pandemic it has shown many benefits for children and youngsters in need of special care. EC2 has about 50 participants and plays a cardinal role in Saba’s educational system since there is no special needs school.
Thursday’s visit by Queen Máxima, the patron of the Oranje Fund together with her husband King Willem-Alexander, took place digitally due to the pandemic. Oranje Fund Director Sandra Jetten opened the digital gathering after which EC2 Director Henriëtte “Jet” van Heijnsbergen explained a bit about what EC2 does and how Ways to Wellbeing works.
“Without well-being, there is no learning,” said Van Heijnsbergen, explaining that EC2 and its staff invested in how children learn best with their challenge. Sitting next to Van Heijnsbergen during the online session was Trisha Gumbs of the Centre for Youth and Family and the Sacred Heart School Board.
Gumbs explained that many parents did not have it easy in Saba with issues such as poverty, domestic violence, single parenthood and multiple problems facing families. Madelyn Johnson of Saba Reach Foundation and the Saba Comprehensive School Board confirmed this. “EC2 helps to take away stigmatisation and helps the children cope with their situation,” said Johnson.
“We always say there is no taboo at EC2. We are very open and we look for the strength in a student. We look at the child from every angle. And we include the parents in the process,” said Van Heijnsbergen.
With EC2 located right in the centre between the primary and secondary school, EC2 staff is never far from the classrooms for a talk with teachers, and to observe and assist students. For the students, it is easy that EC2 is so close by for individual activities. “You find us in the classroom, in meetings with stakeholders and teachers, [and – Ed.] in one-on-one sessions with students,” said former EC2 psychologist Rayann Ramdin, who helped to develop Ways to Wellbeing.
Queen Máxima was interested in the work of EC2 and the well-being of the Saba children, and asked many questions about, for example, the kind of help that the EC2 participants get, and what more was needed to ensure that the children were receiving the maximum care.
The Queen further enquired about the use of arts and creativity after Van Heijnsbergen told her that this was one of the methods used to help the children develop and also to become more resilient.
Volunteer Claire Mandolado, who started at EC2 six years ago after her nephew was diagnosed with autism, explained about the three-box system for autistic children which includes pictograms of the activities that aid in giving more structure and clarity for the student.
The pandemic has added to the unpredictability for Saba students, explained Ramdin. Queen Máxima asked what the effect of the pandemic had been on the students’ mental health. Ramdin confirmed that this has added stress and anxiety for the students, and that more students were being referred to EC2 since the pandemic.
Queen Máxima was eager to hear about the students and parents themselves. Student Amanda Clarke and her mother Natalee Clarke, and student Ysora Smith and her mother Verianica Smith, with EC2 psychologist Stacey Gomez next to them, spoke with the Queen about their challenges and how EC2 was helping them. Amanda explained how she learned to cope with her anxiety, and Ysora with her dyslexia.
Queen Máxima asked the students about the specific assistance they received and how it helped to improve their grades and become more resilient. She encouraged the students to keep working on their talents, and she complimented the mothers for being so dedicated and for being an inspiration. Before the closing of the digital visit, the Queen thanked everyone for their openness, and said she hoped to see everyone the next time she was in Saba.
The Daily Herald.