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NEWS | ST. MAARTEN

We spoke to Soraya and Faye, both are from the Department of Youth in St. Maarten, to learn more about the main project they have been working on in 2020, the Youth Desk. The youth desk was established in 2015 as an outcome after the Youth Round-Table Conference in 2013, where almost 300 youngsters between 0-24 years old, came together to discuss topics ranging from sports, culture, national identity. Recommendations that came out of the conference were used to review programs within Sint Maarten’s Integrated Youth Policy (IYP), as well as to discuss and explore new initiatives to achieve the indicators outlined in the IYP.

 

A subsequent survey involving 1675 responses provided strong support for the establishment of the Youth Desk, which functions as an information point for youth. The Department also organized an innovation contest through which they asked youth what they felt were relevant topics for the Youth Desk to address. Teenage pregnancy and immigration were the two topics that received the most mentions by the respondents.

The Youth Desk started off as a pilot project and operated for a couple of years during which time they organized several activities, but had to close and relocate in 2017 due to the devastation caused by hurricane Irma. In 2019 Soraya and Faye resumed their work after former Minister Smith expressed willingness to re-open the Youth Desk.

 

The Kingdom Taskforce for Children’s Rights team in Sint Maarten is working to re-establish the Youth Desk. They already have a location and are creating new programs which are in line with the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC). There will be a Business Outreach and Placement Program, an awareness campaign on children’s rights, a teenage pregnancy prevention campaign as well as programs for bullying, peer pressure and general life skills.

The Government of Sint Maarten takes a holistic approach to youth development. The Department of Youth supports and guides all other ministries regarding youth issues. The Youth Desk will operate at an inter-ministerial level and ensure that all seven ministries are represented in the Youth Desk’s programs. For example, if a youngster has a question about study financing, s/he will be able to go to the Youth Desk on a specific day to speak to a representative of the Ministry of Education. The Youth Desk will offer support and advice to parents as well.

Soraya noted that the main goal of the Youth Desk is “to enhance youth participation, share information, and to ensure that Government and NGOs work on possibilities for the youth and support projects that come out of the Youth Desk.”

 

The Youth Desk is also developing mechanisms that will enable them to collect information in a standardized manner. “We are working on collaborating with the youth council as well to give them a stronger voice and to help them be heard,” Soraya said.  They will also inspire other youth to take up leadership positions under the guidance of a coordinator. This will be done by empowering youth to design and assist in coordinating and executing awareness and school sensitization campaigns.

 

Right now, the team is awaiting confirmation of the location where the Youth Desk will be based. In the meantime, they are working at raising awareness of the Youth Desk via radio interviews, media releases and school visits around the island.

The Department of Youth has seen delays in the execution of this project due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite this and Sint Maarten’s delicate financial situation, the Government has decided to launch the Youth Desk by November 2021. The Department plans to open a physical location soon but for now it is focused on expanding its services digitally with the help of UNICEF NL through the Trust Fund of the World Bank.

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