Sun sets at 6:49pm

Sun rises at 5:47am

Moon phase: New Moon, virtually absent

 

Any moonless summer evening such as tonight and tomorrow night, you can look toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It’s located in the direction of Sagittarius the Archer. Like most constellations, it’s a pattern of stars that doesn’t look much like its namesake. We generally find other groups within the constellation to help us recognize what we are looking for, such as the three stars in a row to find Orion the Hunter.

 

The constellation Sagittarius happens to contain one such easily-recognizable pattern of stars – it’s called “the Teapot” and it makes up the western half of the constellation Sagittarius the Archer. Modern eyes have an easier time envisioning a teapot than an Archer with a drawn-out bow. Astronomers call these simple star patterns asterisms.

 

For us in St. Maarten, just look south during the evening hours for this star pattern. The Teapot currently stands in the upright position, although sometimes it is in the “pouring out” position. Study the photos here to learn the pattern to look for. And note that right now the planet Saturn shines nearby, just a few degrees to the right or west of Sagittarius.

 

Between the Teapot and Saturn, you’ll see a broad boulevard of stars – hazy from the muted light of stars not seen. How many stars are in our Milky Way Galaxy? They say 100 billion! Our sun is just one of those!

 

If you find a really dark sky, away from any street lights and cars, you will be able to see the edgewise view of our galaxy – which broadens and brightens in the direction of the galaxy’s center. We can’t really see the galactic center. It’s heavily veiled by intervening stars, star clusters and nebulae (vast clouds of gas and dust). The center of our Milky Way looms some 26,000 light-years away. But we can gaze toward this direction in space, and – if your sky is dark enough – it’s a sight to behold!

 

Another asterism, which we learned last weekend, is the Summer Triangle asterism. This huge star pattern is fairly high in the eastern sky at nightfall. It consists of three brilliant stars – Vega, Deneb and Altair – you remember that from last week, right?

 

If you are otherwise lost on some starry night but can find the Summer Triangle, let this signpost star formation escort you to the Teapot. By the way, Sagittarius the Archer – and its Teapot asterism – lie next to the constellation Scorpius.

 

Also starting on Thursday of this week and on through next weekend, treat yourself to one of nature’s spectacles. It’s time for the Delta Aquariid meteor shower. The Delta Aquarids don’t have as definite a peak as the better known August Perseids. This shower will produce a steady supply of meteors, which you can see in dark skies from Thursday through the next weekend. We have should still have dark enough skies for watching the Delta Aquariids, which are at their best in dark hours before dawn. You might see as many as 10 to 15 rather faint meteors per hour.

 

The Delta Aquarid shower reaches its nominal peak every year in late July. They’ll still be flying when the Perseids peak in August.The Perseid shower is expected to produce the greatest number of meteors on the night of August 11-12 or 12-13, 2017. However, the waning gibbous moon will obtrude on the Perseid show in 2017.

 

Thank you for keeping up with the Night Sky articles. If you are out later on in the week, each star rises about four minutes earlier each day than written here, and the moon rises 50 minutes later. Night Sky is researched and compiled by Lisa Davis-Burnett. Earthsky.org is a key resource for information and images. Questions or comments? Email lisa@thedailyherald.com

The burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the Caribbean region has prompted leaders of the Caribbean Community to issue a declaration indicating their commitment to implement measures to reduce this burden. Individual citizens, as well as states, bear the cost of this group of diseases. Secretary General of CARICOM, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque refers to “estimates that suggest that NCDs cost our region anywhere between two and five per cent of GDP”. In addition, a sobering statistic is that NCDs such as diabetes and high blood pressure account for more than 60 per cent of deaths in the Caribbean. At the 4th July 2017 CARICOM summit in Grenada the leaders of the region decided to move forward collectively with a strong commitment to reach the goals of the Port of Spain declaration issued 10 years ago of “Uniting to stop the epidemic of Chronic Non-Communicable diseases.”

Caribbean countries have not been idle during those ten years. Individual states have implemented programmes to help reduce NCDs. They certainly have been treating the illnesses and focussing on education about and prevention of such diseases. I think most citizens of the region keep hearing the term non-communicable diseases on the media and know to what it refers. Even non- government organisations provide information and there are frequent opportunities in St Kitts and Nevis for testing of blood sugar and blood pressure and accompanying advice by health professionals. Church groups invite speakers and doctors visit the topics often enough on their radio programmes. However the region is apparently still struggling to make an impact in the fight against NCDs.

The Caribbean countries would prefer to be leading the world in more positive areas such as economic growth rather than poor health statistics. Dr. Alafia Samuels, Director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre, University of the West Indies, and head of a wide-ranging evaluation of the Port-of-Spain Declaration says “the statistics are quite shocking. Our soda consumption is the highest in the world. In some countries more than 30% of young people are overweight or obese. Our diabetes rates are double global rates and in some populations up to 50% of us are living with high blood pressure. It is clear that we need to accelerate our response.” No doubt the evaluation of our progress in fighting NCDs 10 years after we started in Port of Spain has prompted a need for a more robust response. 

One aim of the newest declaration is for countries who have not yet done so to immediately introduce legislation to “limit or eliminate smoking in public places, ban the sale, advertising and promotion of tobacco products to children.” This legislation should also insist on proper labelling of tobacco products and encourage the use of taxes to reduce “accessibility of tobacco.” This is really in step with international measures taken to reduce harmful effects of tobacco on the health of smokers and non-smokers. Although some people hold the view that this type of legislation amounts to restrictions on personal choices others rebut that it is the same government that often has to bear the costs of healthcare for those affected by tobacco related and other non-communicable diseases. A further argument is that another person’s choice to smoke should not be allowed to create a health hazard for others who themselves have chosen not to smoke. That is a powerful response indeed and in any case a ban on smoking in public spaces does not remove the right or choice to smoke it just limits the locations available for such activity.

Other activities or physical activity on the whole is also being encouraged. It is unfortunate that we in the Caribbean have allowed ourselves to become so sedentary that governments have to consider developing policies to get citizens to become physically active. It is difficult to imagine that governments will have to “mandate the re-introduction of physical education in our schools where necessary”. This stems from the apparent increase in childhood obesity and the unfortunate occurrence of type 2 diabetes in children. Reports seem to indicate that childhood obesity is a global phenomenon. The obesity is blamed on unhealthy food choices and on lack of physical activity. Although my observation is that at recess time at some primary schools the grounds are filled with running, squealing children and a ball comes sailing over the fence often enough. The primary schools also have organised sports programmes and most of them have football, netball and cricket teams. This may not be the normal school programme in every CARICOM state however. It is still evident though that some children prefer their video games to actual sports. Some readers may well recall the endless activities they organised for themselves especially during these upcoming long school vacations; roaming the hillsides picking fruits, walking to the beach to go swimming, making toys, having long cricket matches. Children are still active but they definitely used to be more active.

Overall the food may be more to blame than the lack of activity especially in younger children. The Caribbean leaders are trying preventive measures from both angles – increasing physical activity and providing healthy food choices. They can make a difference on both fronts especially where school meals are served. Governments have declared their aim to ensure that their “education sectors promote programmes aimed at providing healthy school meals and promoting healthy eating.” The schools will need the cooperation and will have to educate parents as well to ensure that unhealthy eating at home does not negate the healthy eating in schools.

Social changes have contributed to changes in eating habits and in levels of physical activity. With the increase in crime and especially the introduction of gangs into our communities parents would be reluctant to allow long periods of self-organised and unsupervised outdoor play as used to occur in the past. As far as food is concerned the introduction of fast food outlets in the countries has created a demand and a source of unhealthy foods. Consumption of these global brands is sometimes a convenience and sometimes a means of showing that you have the means to purchase such branded food bearing the internationally recognised names. I suppose as we earn more we are able to spend more on fast foods and we are also able to afford the gadgets that may attract our children away from physical activity. However where food is concerned all the blame as regards unhealthy eating cannot be heaped on fast food outlets. Our Caribbean tastes somehow favour salty foods as well as sweet foods. The drive should be towards reduction of salt and sugar and moderation in general.

While schools will focus on physical education the CARICOM governments are intent on getting the entire population more active using different means including sport, activities “at work sites’ and even “mass activities”. For those who object to being told where to smoke I wonder how they would react if the government were to say that office workers have to come from behind their desks and into the parking lot for their daily 15 minute physical activity session. I doubt whether there would be such a mandatory session. That is just my imagination but it is an interesting picture. Activities would be voluntary but the workplace may provide a facility for exercise or may provide a fitness tutor for lunch break exercise. We have seen the images of workers en masse performing Tai chi. Some businesses offer such classes to their workers as businesses like governments have realised that physically active and healthy workers reduce costs and can improve productivity.

We can really accomplish most of these healthy goals on our own. We can exercise more, eat more healthy foods and reduce consumption of tobacco. The Caribbean leaders are not convinced that we will take such steps toward a healthier lifestyle so they are prepared to offer assistance to their populations to make changes to reduce the impact of non-communicable diseases. It is a big decision and it will take some time for habits to change although the concern and statistics declare some urgency.

By Terry Nisbett

Every now and then, you probably see young men in clean white shirts and dark ties, walking in pairs along the road. Chances are pretty good you are seeing volunteer missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or perhaps you know them as Mormons.

 

Who are these young travellers? Why do they leave their homes to come to St. Maarten or other far flung places? They do it to spread the word of their faith and because they feel they are called by God to do it. Weekender recently had the opportunity to visit with two such young men, who introduced themselves as Elder Huefner and ElderManasanga. “The work we are doing truly means everything to us,” shared Elder Huefner. But what is this work and how does this group differ from other churches?

 

This summer season there are seven Mormon missionaries on the island. They work in teams of two or three which they call companionships. Each companionship is directed to serve a certain portion of the island and they live in an apartment within their region while on their mission. Each missionary feels he or she has been called to this service, to share their faith with the communities of the world, and they devote a great deal of their personal savings and of course their time to their mission. Those who are called to be missionaries are given the title Elder or Sister.

 

Elder Arnett, from Utah in the United States is spending two years here, leaving to return home this September. His companions are Elder Manasanga and Elder Caraes. Their region reaches from Pointe Blanche all the way to French Cul de Sac. Elder Manasanga is from an island in the Pacific Ocean called Vanuatu and he will also be going home this September. Elder Caraes is from Tahiti and he will be going home in February 2019. Elder Huefner previously worked with Elder Manasanga but since the time of the interview he was called to serve in Barbados.

 

Over in the Marigot area there are two missionaries who work together named Elder Palmer and Elder Marahiti. Elder Palmer is also from Utah and will also be going home this September. Elder Marahiti is from Tahiti and will be going home this month.

 

Then in the Cole Bay area two female missionaries are working together, both are from Utah. Sister Dopp goes home in September 2018 and Sister Olsen returns home the following month... As one missionary goes home, there will always be another missionary called to serve in his or her place.

 

The missionaries travel in the service of their faith as young adults, normally between the ages of 18 and 25. They may again go on missions after raising a family, but at that time their companion is their spouse. While on the island they live modestly and devote 100% of their time to the mission. They do not eat out or go to the beach or the movies.

 

They rise each morning to study the gospels and the Book of Mormon and then venture out, visiting people in their homes, at a church or even just outside. “We try to talk with everyone,” shared Elder Arnett, “but of course, I am only 22 years old, so I get nervous to talk to every person, but we do our best because this message will bring more blessings into the lives of others. We do this from 8:00am to 8:00pm daily, and it’s the most amazing and exhausting thing ever.” Also, we love to serve the community by doing the laundry, cleaning a house, or picking up trash on the road sides, we are eager to help and to serve wherever possible!

 

These are volunteer missionaries and they receive no pay.  Most of them saved up money through high school to help pay for this experience.  Often parents or extended family help support them while out here.  When they finish their two year mission, they return home to start regular lives - careers, schooling, starting a family etc.

 

Many people in the world know of our church as the "Mormon Church." Though we don't shy away from this nickname, it is not the name of our church,” explained Elder Arnett. “The real name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The reason we might stress the difference is because there are a lot of false conceptions of what the "Mormon Church" is. Many think if you are Mormon you can have several wives, or you can't use technology, or to even weirder things like we have horns. These things are simply not true. We are here to help all others know that God has truly restored His church, the same one Jesus Christ established when He was on the Earth. There is a website for the church, www.mormon.org, which helps to answer those questions and shares what is to be a true Mormon.”

 

Weekender asked about their experiences on the island and here is the response: “The people here are usually very kind to us.  There are many, however, that see us coming towards their house or down their street and they dodge us.  I don't know if it's because they don't know what we are here to do?  Perhaps they've heard some kind of bad rumour about us?  Or possibly they just aren't interested in hearing a message about God.  Many people think they already know everything they need to, and they don't want to learn more.  There are also many others who allow us to set a return appointment, but then they don't keep the appointment.  Sometimes it's entertaining to watch people try to avoid us without letting us notice!  These are some of the struggles.  But it is a great pleasure to meet those who are honest seekers of truth, who are willing to listen to us, and who are willing to change their lives in order to follow Jesus Christ. 

 

“Our message is for everyone.  Devout Christian or staunch atheist.  Pastor at the front, or first-time visitor at the back.  Poor or wealthy.  Hindu or Muslim.  Our message, I know, will bring peace, knowledge, and the very power of God into your life more than ever before.

 

He continued to help Weekender understand this unique branch of Christianity. “This is a Christian church, and we are Christian people.  We sincerely love and revere the teachings of Jesus Christ that are found in the Bible, and we do all we can do abide by those teachings.  Our purpose here as missionaries is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel.  We believe that the truths that Jesus and his Apostles taught in ancient days have been warped and twisted by imperfect men, and that as a result, the Christian world in general is in confusion about what is true and what is not. 

 

“In the spring of 1820, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to the 14 year old boy Joseph Smith as he prayed alone for direction concerning which church was true and which he should join.  Jesus answered him (Joseph) that none of the churches were true, because they lacked the authority necessary to preach the gospel, and they didn't teach all the correct doctrine.  The true church had been lost centuries earlier.  God called Joseph to be a prophet through whom He would restore the full truth of His gospel.  A prophet who would receive authority to preach the gospel in all the earth - authority that had been lost for centuries.  Under the direction of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church).  We declare that this is the only true and living church on the earth today.  By the power of God, Joseph received and translated the Book of Mormon as evidence of his divine calling.  There is another prophet called of God living today.  He holds the same authority to preach the true gospel that Joseph Smith received.  He is the president of the church today.  His name is Thomas S. Monson.  He helps lead us on the path towards Jesus Christ, just as the ancient prophets and apostles did.”

 

Weekender asked the Elders if they believed that Christians who were not Mormons would go to heaven. Here is their answer: “Every Christian church has a different belief about what people must do to go to heaven.  To go to heaven is the hope and dream of nearly every Christian.  God has set specific requirements that we all must follow if we wish to accomplish this great goal.  We believe and know that although most of these churches are well meaning, they do not have the truth nor the authority necessary to help their congregations meet the requirements set by our Almighty Creator.  Those truths, and that authority, have been altered or lost through the generations since Jesus and His Apostles walked the earth.  Without a correct knowledge of God and His commandments, we cannot make it to heaven.  In the words of Jesus, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Something God has revealed more of in His restored gospel is about what's called the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness. It is His plan created for us to receive true happiness in this life and the life to come. In that, He has revealed what happens after death. God being just and merciful will not send someone who did good all his life to hell just because he wasn't baptized. But being just, they cannot live in His presence either. God has prepared a place for everyone Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:40-42, we will be blessed according to our obedience to His commandments here on Earth. Those who do all the Father asks will receive a Celestial glory, like the glory of the sun. Those who live good lives, but don't follow all His commandments will receive a Terrestrial glory, like the glory of the moon. Those who choose not to repent will receive a Telestial glory, like the glory of the stars. If someone is not baptized by His proper authority they can't enter into the highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom where God lives, but they will be able to enter another kingdom. They will not be able to receive the fullness of glory God's prepared for them, but they will still be able to receive the amount of glory their obedience allows them to.

 

“I know that this message is true.  I have prayed and asked God if Joseph Smith truly was a prophet called by Him, and if this church really is His true church.  I received an unmistakable answer that it is all true.  This answer came by the power of the Holy Ghost.  And that is why I am here.  We know the truth, and we have a mandate to share the truth with all who will listen, so that they can be partakers of the greatest happiness with God in the life to come. Seeing people give their lives to God makes all the sacrifice and struggle we experience completely worth it!  We also love the local food and the relaxed culture.  Caribbean people are a ton of fun.  I have probably learned more in these past 20 months than at any other comparable time period in my life.  It is truly a blessing from God that we get to be here serving the people of St. Maarten.

 

If anyone has any questions, we are more than willing to share more and answer any questions. Our phone number is +17215806291.”

Trekking through an arid desert of ice, feeling your lungs squeeze with an ever-thinning oxygen supply, yet pushing on in the face of sub-zero temperatures, fatigue and exhaustion subside and are replaced with the excitement of seeing an accomplishment that is an hour-and-a-half away in walking distance – on the horizon is Base Camp Mount Everest 5,364 meters above sea level – these were the moments Desiree Winkel waited a lifetime to experience.

“My backpacking was feeling like it weighed double the weight I started with, a slight tingling headache, exhausted yet invigorated, I put my hand on the rock that marks Base Camp. I started to cry. I did it. It was not easy. I did it. Nothing is impossible,”

This life dream was planted by Desiree’s late father Dick Winkel, and was the catalyst for accomplishing a feat most others would think about several times before attempting – climbing the world’s highest mountain Mount Everest.

“I was 15 when he died and he passed away doing what he loved – climbing,” Desiree said, 45 years later while sitting in Mark’s Place on St. Maarten, reflecting on the route her life has taken. An undulating path that includes traveling the world, climbing and achieving what many still think is impossible, and making her presence felt in the here and now.

“My dad and I were really close. In Dutch, we would say we were like two hands on one stomach. He was a great climber; he had climbed with many famous climbers, so it is still a struggle to believe that he died in a climbing accident in Acosta, Italy. When my mother (Leontien Baan) called us into a family meeting, I knew right away what she was about to say. Don’t tell me Daddy is dead…I knew it. That was how close my Dad and I were,” she said.

His death created a sudden emptiness, Desiree said, adding that he promised to take her climbing on Mount Everest for her 16th birthday. That promise he was unable to keep and the thought of climbing into the clouds shadowed Desiree for years. She knew she had to someday accomplish her father’s dream, and it would offer healing qualities in terms of putting her father to rest.

As she approached her 50th birthday, Desiree toyed with typical birthday celebration ideas. But as memory would have it, she realised her dad died when he was 50.

When she announced her idea to honour her father’s memory by achieving a Mount Everest climb, her loved ones, with genuine concern pointed out that many people die trying to climb that mountain. Some ventured to dissuade her by suggesting she was a bit too old for such a climb, that it was impossible for her, and that she had a daughter, Dawn. The latter was the one that tugged on her heart strings the most. “They kept saying: ‘You have a daughter,’” she said remembering.

Those statements, however, more than ever cemented her decision, “In life, nothing is impossible” became her mantra.

It is true that many people lose their lives on Mount Everest, also known in Nepal as Sagarmāthā and in Tibetic languages China’s Tibet as Chomolungma. It is Earth's highest mountain and shares a border with Nepal and China. Its peak is 8,848 metres above sea level.

Mount Everest attracts many climbers; some of them highly-experienced mountaineers. There are two main climbing routes, one approaching the summit from the southeast in Nepal (known as the standard route) and the other from the north in Tibet, China.

While not posing substantial technical climbing challenges on the standard route, Everest presents dangers such as altitude sickness, weather and wind, as well as significant hazards from avalanches and Khumbu Icefall. As of 2016, there are more than 200 corpses on the mountain, some of which are said to serve as landmarks.

“My decision was made. I was going to climb Mount Everest in my 50th year. I had tried to climb the mountain about 20 years ago, but weather conditions did not permit it. So the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the perfect time,” she said while mulling over the comforts of a cushioned chair and a café latte, luxuries not readily available trying to climb Mount Everest.

Desiree’s life journeys started with a move to Curaçao from the Netherlands 24 years ago. The Dutch national opened an events planning company, then 10 years later saw her setting up shop in St. Maarten. She was propelled to prominence in health and fitness circles after winning a body building competition.

Her body building title brought with it a flood of people asking to be trained. The fitness guru, who has a degree in personal training, opened Fitness Coaching, a well-oiled business that owed her vacation time.

Desiree’s first hurdle was carving out time from her business. “I started by thinking I can get this done in three weeks, it became four weeks and then five weeks.” The avid traveller did some more juggling and eventually made it seven-and-a-half weeks of available time. Her best birthday gift to herself.

“My travels would take me to Nepal, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia,” she said, quickly adding that high on her agenda was ensuring that all the government permits were in place for her to climb Mount Everest.

She contacted Earth Bound Expeditions, a company that specialises in taking climbers up the mountain. “My climbing period was set for May 19 to June 03. They made sure that all my government permits were in place to allow me to climb the mountain. I was provided with a guide, who was surprisingly a 20 year old. His name is Chattan “Jetty” Kulung … He could have been my son.”

The journey started with us flying to Lukla Airport, also known as the gateway to Mount Everest, and one of the world’s most dangerous airports. This flight demands precision of the pilot and of the passengers courage, thanks to its tiny, treacherous runway, perched on a steep cliff. Deadly crashes are common. “A few days before I left, a cargo plane crashed trying to land.”

The physical climb began, surrounded by lush nature, a forest, green and obviously richly fed, cool clean breeze, and excited hikers hurrying passed each other. The chatter of the excitement to come, as climbers ascend mostly to fulfil a life’s dream, to mark a milestone in life, the thrill of doing what few dare to accomplish.

“I was there with my dream, my father’s dream, and to prove that nothing is impossible,” Desiree said. Jetty hardly spoke; his English was very limited and that created the perfect setting for her to reflect, contemplate life, put her father to rest and just survive the experience.

With the ascent, nature suddenly changed the temperature and landscape. “First thing you notice, apart from the vibrant nature and excited climbers, is that there were no cars, no bikes, nothing with an engine, only people using their feet, and then the occasional Yaks – a big cow that is used as transport for goods and material.”

From Lukla (2,800 metres up) climbers would go down the mountain to Phakding (2,625 metres). In an effort to acclimatise to the higher altitude, climbers do a series of up-and-down climbs to reduce to possibility of getting Altitude sickness, which at times can be deadly.

During her trip, three persons died of Altitude sickness. Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. It happens most often when people, who are not used to high altitudes, go quickly from lower to higher altitudes.

The higher it gets, climbers see starker changes, bright and flourishing nature and vestiges of human existence are replaced by drier earth, big boulders, little streams, ice and thinner and thinner air. “This is where the climb becomes harder and harder. I opted to carry my own backpack as my personal challenge. But the higher you go, the heavier it seems the backpack was getting,” she sighed with what seems like a tinge of regret about that decision. “As we continued our climb, you come to the stark realization of how dangerous the climb is. There were several moments while walking on the edge of a pathway, I looked down, and if I had fallen, there was no way anyone would find me.”

Desiree, guided by Jetty, hiked between four to nine hours a day. There are a series of markers that climbers of Mount Everest try to achieve. Climbing to the summit (8,848 meters high) is not typical; it can cost up to US $80,000 and take an immense physical toll on the climber.

Desiree climbed just passed Base Camp (5,364 metres) to Kala Patthar (5,600 metres) “The views were incredible. You keep thinking it can’t get any better, but it does…breath-taking in more than one way,” she smiled. The St. Maarten flag and a photo of her dad are now planted on Mount Everest. The climb up and down took 13 days.

“There were a million reasons not to do it. But my position is that if you don’t follow your dream, you can only look back and regret. Just remember, nothing is impossible,” Desiree reminded.

 By Rajesh Chintaman

“My parents are so proud!” Tishelle Daniel says with a big smile, sitting across from me at a table at Chesterfields during our interview. She laughs and adds: “I think they are even happier than I am.”

Tishelle’s parents have every reason to be proud as their daughter, who graduated a few weeks ago, is now officially a doctor of medicine. The young physician, however, has barely taken the time to relish in her great accomplishment, and instead is planning her next step. She hopes to specialize in ophthalmology, the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eyeball and orbit. It is a goal she is likely to accomplish with flying colours due to her unfaltering determination.

Did you always want to become a doctor? I was very young when I first ‘decided’ to become a doctor. Of course, at the time these decisions were based on a very simple thought-process. I have asthma and when I was about seven, was hospitalized twice. Dr. Offringa, my paediatrician, made me feel better and I decided: “I want to make kids feel better too.” Although it started as a kid’s dream, I guess that dream didn’t fade as I got older. The only time I doubted myself for a brief second was during my last year in high school.

Why did you doubt yourself at the time? I have always excelled academically, but that wasn’t because it was easy. I have always needed to study a lot to keep my grades up, especially in high school. I knew that studying medicine would be even harder, and I wondered if I could handle it.

How did you overcome that moment? I am a very determined person. I guess some would say that I am hard on myself, but I don’t like the negative tone of that expression. Although I was uncertain if I could handle the workload of studying medicine, the prospect of giving up without trying was worse. So far, that mind-set has paid off quite well!

Was medical school as difficult as you expected? It was even rougher! The transition from high school to academic education was a challenge. The way I studied had to undergo a complete change. Added to that, I had to learn how to live on my own, improve my Dutch, and figure out how to navigate a new environment. I had terrible homesickness. I think in the last year I have adapted, but honestly, I still look forward to the day I can move back to Sint Maarten.

Why don’t you move back now that you have your degree? It is very tempting, but I want to specialize first and gain more knowledge before heading back home. At the moment there is no ophthalmologist on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. If I am fortunate enough to be able to fill that position, I want to be sure that I can give the best care I can. That is why I will make sure to absorb as much information as I can while I have the opportunity in the Netherlands. On another note, I hope Sint Maarten improves on targeting students like myself, who want to move back to the island after their studies abroad. I know a lot of students who would love to go back home, but due to lack of support, lack of opportunities and high cost of living are finding it hard to make that step.

Why are you focusing on ophthalmology? I actually always saw myself working in gynaecology; supporting women and being part of the birthing process seemed like a wonderful experience to me. I did my elective gynaecology internship at Sint Maarten Medical Center last year, under the supervision of Dr. Courtar. I liked the work, and have a lot of respect for the dedicated people that work in that department, but I did not enjoy being on call 24/7. Right after, I did my ophthalmology rotations. Ophthalmology is very structured and the related surgery has to be done meticulously, with millimetre precision. I loved it!

What do you like the most about being a doctor? Ha-ha, I am looking forward to actually getting paid now that I have my degree! But that aside, that dream of helping others is of course still very much alive. It is scary sometimes to think I will have the responsibility of taking care of my patients, and this can affect their lives in a big way. But this realization also makes me want to be a great doctor so that I can be confident in my decisions. It is always a welcome reward when patients show their gratitude. They often comment on calm and patient nature, which puts them at ease.

When you are not at the hospital or school, what do you enjoy? Fitness is important to me. I go to the gym regularly, do at-home cardio workouts or enjoy participating in sporting events. I actually took part in an obstacle run just last month. As a good doctor, I think one should practice the healthy lifestyle that we preach. During my down time, I am addicted to Netflix. People assume that I watch Grey’s Anatomy or House. No! I love my work, but with the little free time I have, I enjoy thinking about something else. Detective and fantasy series are my thing; such as Law & Order, The Blacklist or Game of Thrones.

Do you have advice for others who are pushing to reach their goals? You don’t have to be the smartest or most talented to succeed; you just have to be willing to work the hardest!

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