State Secretary Van Ark, Commissioner Wilson launch pilot project

State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labor Tamara van Ark and Commissioner of Social Affairs Rolando Wilson on Wednesday launched the pilot project to increase cooperation between the Public Entity Saba and the Social Affairs and Labor SZW unit of the National Government Department RCN.

The agreement entails that for a few days per week, the SZW unit will work at the Community Development Department of the Public Entity, providing a one-stop shop window for residents who need social assistance. Residents will then no longer have to go to separate offices for assistance. State Secretary Van Ark and Commissioner Wilson unveiled a poster to confirm the front office cooperation.

The unveiling of the poster in front of the Community Development Department. From left: Island Governor Jonathan Johnson, State Secretary Tamara van Ark and Commissioner Rolando Wilson.

State Secretary Van Ark in her short address spoke of a strengthened cooperation. “Today, we are symbolically confirming the cooperation between SZW and the Public Entity Saba. She said that it was good to combine forces because the social assistance and poverty related issues are almost always multi-faceted.

Prior to the unveiling, Commissioner Wilson informed the State Secretary and her delegation about the start-up of the Community Development Department, which is housed in the former day care building. “The opening of this department was a dream come true,” said Wilson. “I am grateful and happy to see that SZW will be in this building so our senior citizens can come here. It is better accessible and they have more privacy,” he said.

House visits

The State Secretary, who has stated on earlier occasions that she is commited to help eradicate poverty, visited the home of an elderly couple, Mr. Whitcliff Rawlings and his wife Mrs. Mary Rawlings, at the Under the Hill social housing project, and she also went to the home of Mrs. German Nicholson.

State Secretary Tamara van Ark and Commissioner Rolando Wilson on a visit to Whitcliff and Mary Rawlings.
Mrs. German Nicholson (left) was most happy to receive State Secretary Tamara van Ark at her home. In the center is Commissioner Rolando Wilson.

Mr. Rawlings explained that his income barely covered the rent, the cost of utilities and food. “The house rent is too high for us. The cost of living is very high on Saba,” he said. Commissioner Wilson said that the rent prices should go down once the rent subsidy goes in to effect possibly per January 1, 2020. “Assistance is needed, because things are very tight for many people, especially for the elderly and single mothers,” he said. Mrs. Nicholson, who has her handicapped son living with her, said she needed “help all around.” She and her son go to the senior citizens program of Life Plus.

Cost of living

The State Secretary told the two families that she visited that together with other ministries, she was working on ways to bring the cost of living down. On the income side, the Ministry of SZW has raised the social allowances, the elderly pension AOV and the minimum wage per January 1, 2019.

At both house visits, Van Ark asked many questions about their daily lives and the challenges that they are facing. Commissioner Wilson said it was good to see Van Ark’s involvement. “She obviously cares and she is willing to listen.”

The State Secretary also visited the construction site of the phase 2 Under the Hill housing project where 18 apartments are being built. Govert van Noort of construction company Van Boekel gave an explanation of the project which should be ready early 2021.

Sacred Heart School

Van Ark started her working visit on Wednesday morning at the Sacred Heart Primary School where she joined a group of pupils and teacher Jarmila Wilson-Berkel to hear about the benefits of the Opportunities for All Children (“Kansen voor Alle Kinderen”) program.

Through this program, children receive a healthy breakfast at school, and those pupils that need it, get supplied with a laptop for their school work, a school uniform, shoes and clothing, and a package with food for the summer vacation. Pupils from different classes were present in the class room to share their stories with the State Secretary, who was clearly very interested. Van Ark was very attentive to the pupils’ stories, the explanation by teacher Jarmila and she asked several questions. The State Secretary said that the information was very helpful in the discussions about programs such as Kansen voor Alle Kinderen and the BES(t)4Kids which focuses on the strengthening of the local day care and after school care facilities.

State Secretary Tamara van Ark and Commissioner Rolando Wilson visited the Sacred Heart School on Wednesday morning.

School breakfast

Teacher Jarmila said that the school breakfast helps the children to be more alert and more focused in class, and it enhances their participation. And, to make sure that no child feels left out, the school, through the Kansen voor Alle Kinderen program helps to provide clothing, a school uniform and shoes for those that need it.

Just before leaving for St. Eustatius early Wednesday afternoon, the State Secretary said that during her visit to Saba in January this year, the people made a “big impression” on her. “People struggle with the high cost of living. I thank them for sharing their stories with me.” She said she had a good meeting with the Executive Council about work permits. She acknowledged the troublesome procedure to get a work permit for a person from the outside. “We have made an agreement to work things out and to meet again on this issue in two months.”

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