Island Gems donates copies of ‘Stories of St. Martin’ to schools

Island Gems members Vera Cupen, Asha Stevens, Hanisha Alwani, Milva Hoeve and Ludmilla de Weever with Mark Yokoyama of Association Les Fruits de Mer with St. Dominic High School students and Teacher Marie Richardson.


CUL DE SAC – Island Gems Charity Foundation donated copies of the locally published “Stories of St. Martin” book to schools on the Dutch side of the island. The book, produced by Association Les Fruits de Mer, tells the story of twelve “St. Martiners, the collective name for people on both sides of the island, in their own words.

These stories were recorded on St. Martin between 2016 and 2021. They tell us about salt and salt harvesting, storms and renewal, work and service, and local traditions. Each one is part of an oral history tradition on St. Martin that stretches back hundreds of years, and continues today.

Learning of the book and its availability in both English and French, Island Gems reached out to Mark Yokoyama and Jenn Yerkes of the association to see how they could get the books in the hands of more people on the island, especially children. That contact yielded the Dutch side school project, coordinated by Island Gem Vera Cupen. The association has already distributed copies of the books to French side schools.

Island Gems, the only cross-border charity, took up the gap to ensure copies were available to Dutch side schools in the English language. A total of 500 copies were purchased by Island Gems for this project.

Sharing this collection of stories that captures a unique part of life on the island, told in a unique voice was important for Island Gems, said Alita Singh, Island Gems President.

Island Gems members Vera Cupen, Asha Stevens, Hanisha Alwani, and Milva Hoeve with Mark Yokoyama of Association Les Fruits de Mer with Methodist Agogic Center High School students.

“As person with a passion for writing as well, I felt a special connection to ‘Stories of St. Martin’ as I am a strong believer in Caribbean stories being told and being told by people from the Caribbean. We cannot only remain characters, but grow further as storytellers,” stated Singh.

Cupen, who worked to ensure the books got into the hands of teachers and students, shared that reading is fundamental. “This book will help with reading and imparting knowledge of the history and culture. A good place to start this journey is in our schools.”

Cupen and Yokoyama were joined by Island Gems Asha Stevens, Hanisha Alwani, Milva Hoeve and Ludmilla de Weever for the delivery of the first two batches of books to the Methodist Agogic Center High School and St. Dominic High School.

Yokoyama said of the book project: “We are grateful to Island Gems for funding the first distribution of this book to schools on the Dutch side. It’s a book that brings local history and culture to life in ways that can help youth understand their heritage and identity as ‘St. Martiners’. We look forward to putting more books about local subjects into the hands of teachers and students in the future.”

What adds to this book project is the island community has a part of it. The funding to purchase the books is derived from monies raised at the Island Gems Annual Costume Gala. The monies raised from tickets and silent auction items are funneled directly back into projects on both sides of the island. The emphasis when choosing projects is the impact must be long term and the distribution of the books is labeled as such. Tickets for the annual gala are currently on sale from all Island Gems members.

Les Fruits de Mer has produced a number of books about nature and heritage, both in print editions and as free downloads. Hard copies are available at the Philipsburg Heritage Museum, Van Dorp, La Librairie Du Bord De Mer or Amuseum Naturalis (French Quarter). The association is also open for requests for books for schools or youth groups. Learn more at