PHILIPSBURG, SINT MAARTEN – July 15, 2018 – The Rotary Club of Sint Maarten hosted a “Pop-Up” dinner party in support of Sister Marie Laurence Primary School on July 8, 2018.  A first of it’s kind on St. Maarten, a Pop Up Dinner is when a chef, but in this case, 5 top chef’s prepare a meal in a setting where you usually would not think to host a dinner party.

The Rotary Club of Sint Maarten adopted the Sister Marie Laurence Primary School after the passing of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which was severely damaged after the storm and then completely looted. The school served as the venue for the “Pop Up Dinner Party”.  The Rotary Club of Sint Maarten is in the doorstep of approval of a Global Grant of close to $400,000 with the partnership of 11 International Rotary Club’s which will provide vocational support and training to the faculty, as well as providing the school with the latest in teaching and learning materials, a computer lab, C-Touch digital learning boards, a playground, a gardening center and much more.

St. Maarten’s top chefs representing Emilio’s, Topper’s, Avantika, Lazy Lizard, and L’Isola Authentic Italian, donated their time to the cause and prepared their signatures dishes on the spot for more than 150 attendees on the evening of July 8th.  There were rave reviews about the food and it was easy to see why these chefs are considered amongst St. Maarten’s finest.  Dessert was ice cream scooped on location by the Carousel. CC1 and Prime Distributers set up and provided a full bar and kept the drinks flowing all evening, while the Guavaberry Emporium offered all attendees a welcome drink.

Soundmasters, Artemia and Ti Punch Party Services transformed the school yard into an oasis and certainly exceeded the objective of the evening of bringing Rotarians, stakeholders, friends, school staff and supporters together to create a festive atmosphere in a setting that you would not think possible. Being in such a well-decorated and lit setting, in such a damaged school, brought out many emotions that played well into the evening and to the spirit of helping.

Tanja Frederiks-Vliegen, on behalf of Foundation Catholic Education St. Maarten, made a short presentation outlining the future vision and plans for the school which was met with much applause as the well thought out plan included building back the school to be future proof and the centerpiece of the Middle Region community. Since this school has low parental participation, it was decided to include a parent resource center where they can use a computer, internet, printer, etc. and a community room where the Middle Region Community Council can hold their meetings.  Completely redoing the sporting court is also essential as it gives the youth of the region an area a safe and positive place to gather.

“The plan for the SML School is one that proves that government, private sector, insurance, Dutch/World Bank funding, service clubs, individuals and the community as a whole CAN work together for a common goal of building St. Maarten and in particular, this school back better.  I can not think of a more well rounded and meaningful project to be a part of for the betterment of the island I love”, said John Caputo, the President of The Rotary Club of Sint Maarten.

Many tears were shed when young Valedictorian Chailon Ruan told his amazing story of living through hardships and how through perseverance and much help from the dedicated Care Team of the school, he was still able to graduate at the top of his class and be accepted to St. Dominic High School.  While still facing financial challenges, a donor pledged to sponsor his school and book fees, and that led to many offers of support to the “Tree of Giving” where dozens of attendees sponsored a school uniform set, school supplies, laptops, etc. for children in need.  Anil Sabnani from Carrefour Market pledged 10 laptops to students in need.

Laura and Roland Richardson donated a painting, which fetched over $3,500 in an auction held and displayed on location and online, with the winning bid from Randy and Dany Acree from the United States. The funds raised by the auction will be applied to a district grant application and be used for art supplies and the proposed art room of the school.   Continuing with the fundraising effort, a 50/50 raffle was won Donna-Maria de Roche’ of Nagico Insurances.  She graciously donated her winnings back to the cause.

DJ Sheff opened the dance floor where those in attendance continued to dance the night away, and since the dress code for the evening was “Dress for School” or “Caribbean Elegant”, many took the opportunity to go back to school and the outfits were very creative and fun. Nisha Khatnani won in the best-dressed female category, while David Antrobus won the best-dressed male category.

Much to her surprise, Tanja Frederiks-Vliegen was awarded a Paul Harris Fellow from the Rotary Club of Sint Maarten, for her tireless efforts towards this project and those in other schools as well.  Minister of Education, the Honorable Wycliffe Smith and the Rotary Club of Sint Maarten President John Caputo presented her with this prestigious recognition just before she gave her presentation on the future plans for the school.

“This award means so much to me, I am very grateful to have received this recognition. As a Foundation we are very blessed to have the Rotary Club of Sint Maarten as a partner. The plans to transform this school from a “regular” school into an Exceptional School are extremely important, as this school caters to a lot of students who need that extra positive focus and attention. The Foundation has submitted the project plan via the Government of St. Maarten to the World Bank/Recovery Funds and is currently awaiting their response. The plan is to completely rebuild the school, which would allow for the school to provide a true holistic development program in order to cater to all the diverse needs of the students, but also – very importantly – to be able to tap into their abilities, talents and dreams. The vast majority of these students face many hardships and are confronted with impossibilities every single day. As a school, as a community, and as a government it time that we start focusing on this at-risk group of students, not only at the Sister Marie Laurence, but at all schools. With the funding and input from the Rotary Clubs, this project promises to have an enormous long-term impact on the well-being of our students”, said Tanja Frederiks-Vliegen.

The Pop Up Dinner event had a series of other thought out economically and environmentally impactful ideas. Dow Music Foundation was hired to play steel pan and 9 students from the Hospitality and Culinary section of The Sundial School were hired to ensure attendees were served with professionalism and they also given the opportunity to work alongside these inspirational chefs.  Commemorative wine glasses were issued to minimize waste and only biodegradable cups were used as was minimal plastics.

Windward Roads provided security lighting for the parking area for the evening.  Jump Up Casino and Caribbean Lottery had also donated a sizeable amount late last year to help the school and Rotary achieve its goals.

“Hearing the Valedictorian’s speech is exactly why I joined Rotary. Knowing we can help not only him, but all of the Students of this school through our efforts is truly heartwarming.   Rotarians of our Club, the students and faculty of the school are extremely thankful for the support of the chefs and all others who made this Pop Up Dinner a night to remember.  We were truly honored that so many, including the Minister of Education, the Honorable Wycliffe Smith came out to support such a worthy cause,” President Caputo concluded.

For more information about the Rotary Club of St. Maarten or joining Rotary, please contact the Rotary Club of St. Maarten Press Officer at: or visit the website