SABA — ‘‘Between us, it is nice to see a woman in charge for a change’’ said Jade Every, on behalf of the Youth Council Saba. The Saba Youth Council welcomed Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen during a meet-and-greet event at Tropics on Tuesday evening, February 22.
In their welcome speech, Youth Council Members Zakiya Lake, Bernardo Baker and Jade Every shared their positive experiences so far in being included by different projects and initiatives, but also some of the challenges that they feel the youth of Saba are faced with. They also asked the State Secretary if they could meet with her when the Youth Council visits the Netherlands later this year, to which she immediately said yes.
Zakiya in her speech gave a little background on how the Saba Youth Council came into existence. The Saba Youth Council was established with the assistance of Gerald de Jong-Simmons and Lysanne Charles after working together on the UNICEF project My New World.
“Gerald coached us to participate in the lobby session with then State Secretary Raymond Knops. We also did an inter-island debate with teenagers from St. Maarten and St. Eustatius. We came up with strong points to lobby for our island with Mr. Knops and we even got to meet him in person during his last visit here on Saba. This was a very memorable experience and we were honored to do this,” said Lake.
According to Lake, there is still much inequality and there are many topics on Saba that need more love and attention from the Netherlands. “There is a lot of work to be done when it comes to equal rights. I look forward to seeing the good changes and progress that you will bring to our island. Especially regarding poverty alleviation, mental health care, sports and other recreational activities for us teens,” she told the State Secretary.
Bernardo Baker said that his time in the Youth Council has been the most beautiful experience in his life. “The group is very strong and diverse. We are like a big, twisted tree and I would not change any of its branches.” He said that things have not been easy for people on Saba in general, and especially for the youth. The COVID-19 pandemic has a lot to do with that. “We have been stuck on Saba for the past two years.”
All three Youth Council Members who spoke at the event with the State Secretary said that they would like to see more (recreational) activities for the youth. “We really want a youth center and we feel that the youth should be making the decisions about the youth center. Now that is not the case and the adults call the shots,” said Baker.
“There is not much here to do for us,” said Every. “Children are frequently bored, causing them to do things that they should not be doing. It would be nice to have a better gym, qualified coaches, nice music classes, a youth center and more things to do in our free time,” she said.
Every also remarked that there was a problem with diplomas at the secondary school. “Only this year we heard that we have to pass a higher-level Dutch exam. The new law regarding the B2 level requirement for diplomas has made things difficult. If a regulation like that is implemented, we feel it should be gradual.”
Visit to Netherlands
Baker in his speech mentioned the pending visit to the Netherlands. He explained that there was budget left from the sports project and that the Youth Council asked the government if these funds could be used to attend the youth congress on Bonaire and to get to know the different organizations there. Ultimately the group couldn’t go because Bonaire went in a lockdown.
“We have a new plan though: we want to organize a youth council trip to the Netherlands. We want to go in the summer. The youth organization Jongeren Democratie told us about the motion that is being prepared in parliament about youth participation and inclusion. We hope that you can help us with the budget for this trip. The youth of Saba deserve a stronger voice both locally and nationally,” said Baker.
Every suggested that while in the Netherlands, the Youth Council could, besides the organization Jongeren Democratie, meet with the State Secretary. “Maybe we can even meet you again to see how everything is going. We hope that you can help organize this,” she said.
The State Secretary responded very positively to this call. She said she gladly accepted the invitation. “Let’s do this. I would love to receive you. But I have to warn you, the Netherlands is only half as beautiful as your island,” she told the Youth Council members. The State Secretary received a token of appreciation from the Youth Council at the end of the presentation.