July 18, 2021 -I greet you on behalf of the government and people of St. Maarten on this momentous occasion of the global celebration of Nelson Mandela International Day. I am grateful to the organizers for the invitation to have the honor to share this platform with illustrious dignitaries from the Caribbean and the Americas.
Today, we celebrate our collective power to make our world a better place for all. This movement for positive change, however, hinges on small steps each one of us can take to impact the lives of others. It is, therefore, most appropriate that the theme of this year’s Mandela Day is “One hand can feed another.”
The ongoing, mutating COVID-19 Corona Virus pandemic has thrown many of our people out of work and into poverty, with food security being a top priority for most governments within this region and the world. I am, therefore, happy to note that “Food Hampers for the poor and underprivileged” is on the program the organizers intend to launch today. This has been among the top priorities of my government as well since the onset of the pandemic and remains a campaign to which we are committed wholeheartedly as our food program and voucher system continues.
Our current initiatives are intended to help lessen the hardships the pandemic has inflicted on our people who have seen our tourism-based economy virtually grind to a halt. Thankfully, St. Martin is safely open again for business, but it cannot be business as usual in a world that has been plunged into a so-called “new normal”, which requires massive vaccination to combat this faceless yet lethal enemy.
However, we can continue to encounter unexpected challenges on this front as well, with a relatively large segment of the population showing a lack of confidence in vaccination. This phenomenon seems to be worldwide. Nevertheless, I am happy to report that as of July 15th, a total of 19,642 of our residents on Dutch St. Maarten, which is about just over half of our population, have been fully vaccinated and the Pfizer vaccine is the one that we have been using, with some 23,528 having received their first jab. We are well past our 50% mark and therefore continue to encourage our people on St. Maarten and within the region to get vaccinated at the highest rate possible.
We all know, that the COVID-19 virus is no respecter of borders, therefore efforts in one country would be ineffective unless similar measures are taken around our region and indeed around the world. Mandela himself wanted us to show “a fundamental concern for others” as we seek to improve the world that we live in. We cannot, therefore, turn a blind eye to the situation currently going on in both Haiti and Cuba; our sisters and brothers within this Caribbean region. When they hurt, we all feel the pain.
As we mark Mandela Day today, may I suggest that we take part of the 67 minutes we are called upon to dedicate in honor of his 67 years of service to humanity, to pray for peace and stability in both Haiti and Cuba where our brothers and sisters are facing not only food shortages but also a lack of adequate access to the very vaccines that will be able to save lives. Indeed, As Mandela told us, “It is in our hands to make our world a better one for all.” The world begins with our beloved Caribbean for, as they say, “charity begins at home.” So let one, feed one; let one, teach one.
Happy Mandela Day!