The Time Has Come to Move On, Rise Up, and Aim Higher for Saint Martin

It’s not often in life that something you love, that you hold dear to your heart, gets thrown completely off track, beyond your control, with no clear way to get it back on track. Such is the case for the island of Saint Martin. And for all of the hope, prayers, and positive vibes that are being sent to the island, a harsh reality remains.

Life is hard on Saint Martin. And while things are getting better, the improvements feel singular and slow developing at best. That can be hard to watch given how quickly Irma tore things down. And if it feels like it was yesterday, it wasn’t. It was three months ago now that Irma laid her waste.

But I remember it like it was yesterday. There I was, lying in my bed the night of September 5, 2017, listening to Laser 101 from the comfort of my home in Phoenix, Arizona. Thousands of miles away from Saint Martin, as my heart was being torn to shreds. When I laid down to go to sleep, I knew everything would be different when I awoke.

The morning of September 6, 2017, I woke up and went straight down to my computer to see if I could find out any news about what was happening. While I slept, the island was being ravaged by the most destructive storm in it’s history. I started the Twitter handle @SXMStrong so that I could find and tweet out information and news about the storm. It was in that moment that I became completely committed to helping the island.

Those first few days were unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was glued to my computer every waking moment. My kids would come by to see what I was doing. I’d tell them about the hurricane and show them pictures so they understood. At four and five years old, I didn’t really expect them to comprehend. But they did. And that shook me.

It’s in those first few days that this very website began. I started the website because, honestly, I couldn’t keep up with all the people that were contacting me on Twitter. People were asking me to help them find loved ones, friends and family. They wanted to know the condition of different places on the island, including hotels, restaurants, homes, businesses, you name it. I did my best.

Once I started this website, it gave me a place to post information to help people with all of those requests. I posted pictures and videos too. Since those first few days I’ve changed the look of the entire site and am slowly changing the menus to be less about the storm and more about the future.

Admittedly, I knew only as much about Saint Martin as a slightly more-than-casual tourist would, and I knew nothing about the politics on the island. Boy did that change, and fast. I have loved learning all I have about the island, even the politics for which I now hold a palpable level of disdain. And the people I’ve come to know have been even more incredible.

Every single person I’ve “met” on this path are all people that I’ve never met face-to-face, mind you. The internet can be a wonderful tool. Along the way, I’ve had the honor to work with the people at Rebuild SXM, St. Martin Lowlands Hurricane Relief Project, and many different individuals, some on Saint Martin, some in the U.S., and others abroad. All of us working towards a single goal – to rebuild and restore Saint Martin.

Earlier this week, the first cruise ship pulled into port in Sint Maarten. It was a monumental occasion and a huge step forward for the people who call this beautiful island their home, you know, the one’s that say “I from here”.

Of course, getting here hasn’t been a smooth ride. The local Sint Maarten government has been completely corrupted and eventually imploded. That took time. When I suggested a path forward for Saint Martin, just shortly after the storm hit, I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would take over three months until a single cent would come to the island from the Dutch government.

Let’s be perfectly clear about this, the Dutch have some blame to bear for this situation too. I suppose that’s something we could debate endlessly, but they knew the status of this government long before Irma hit and they waited far too long to draw the line. Of course, they’ve also done a tremendous amount to support the island since Irma hit. And now the funds that are key to the island’s recovery must come soon.

As for the French side of the island, they’ve been in a holding pattern as well. There has been very little rebuilding happening to the most devastated structures and areas in Saint-Martin. Orient Beach remains in shambles. And Grand Case is just starting to get their legs back under them, with tremendous amount of work still to be done. Slow acting government, too many regulations, and too many insurance claims have created a backlog that stretches way too far.

And yet, there is plenty of good news all around.

You can always tell a lot about people when they’re placed in dire circumstances. While those that govern continue to disappoint, those that call the island home continue to shine.

There’s the story of one man who has taken it upon himself to help those in dire need to rebuild. Drae “Fresh” Douglas has been working on the homes of elderly citizens and others who have no other options, day in and day out, repairing and rebuilding roofs. All the while, his own home lay roofless. There’s a GoFundMe that’s been created to help him raise money to buy building supplies, if you’re up to helping out.

SXM Angie, who runs a business called Caribbean Snow Ice, has been bouncing all around the island, taking pictures to show everyone the multitude of examples where people are uniting to rebuild. Together, along with many others, we’ve helped Georgiana start to rebuild her community center for at-risk kids in French Quarter.

Tom Burnett runs an after school baseball program for at-risk kids called Player Development SXM. He not only teaches them baseball, but he teaches them reading, writing, math, life skills and more. He lost nearly all of his equipment when Irma hit, including losses to his own home, and still he continued to think of the kids. He shows up at the baseball field every day, working tirelessly to help his kids recover and move forward.

These are just a few of the many examples of the amazing people of the island of Saint Martin coming together to rebuild the island on their own. And while the government, the cruise ships and the airport get most of the headlines, it’s the community of people who deserve all of the attention for every bit of good that’s happened on the island since Irma hit.

There is no question that the time has come for Saint Martin to move on, rise up and aim higher. The reality is, that’s exactly what they’re doing, but you can believe they still need a lot more help.

Please help rebuild SXM and give today. Click here to visit the SXM Strong donate page. Together we can REBUILD SXM!

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Jon Ferlise

I am a U.S. citizen living in Phoenix, Arizona, with my wife and two sons, ages 4 and 6 (and yes, they LOVE SXM as much as we do!). My family considers the island a second home and we’ve been there countless times. We love the culture, the people, the community and the beauty of this island. The people have always made us feel at home and welcome. This is a small way for me and my family to support an island and it’s people that we hold so dear. Learn more about me at Leftmind.com.

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