~ Job Coach, Educational Motivator and Dream Catcher ~

Every Academy PSVE student and former student knows who Sabahoglu Zeynep is. Better known as Miss Zen, she has been job coach at the high school for more than seven years and has done her best to answer questions, motivate when needed and help pave many a student’s path to success. It isn’t always an easy job, but Miss Zen does not give up easily! She is determined and passionate to help as many young people as she can to achieve their goals in life and ultimately reach for the stars so they can grab hold of their dreams.

Tell us a bit about where and how you grew up?

My parents migrated from Turkey to Holland in 1970 to have a better life. I was born the second child of four in Hengelo, which meant that I grew up very multicultural speaking Turkish, Arabic and Dutch. There wasn’t much money around so my mom had to be extremely creative for us to get by. She had her own vegetable and fruit garden and made clothes for us to wear. Looking back I have a lot of admiration for my mom.

How did you find yourself on Sint Maarten and what was your first impression of the island?

During university, I made friends who were from Sint Maarten. When they had moved back, they invited me over to come and visit, which I did in 2006. As anyone who visits the island, I liked the beaches and the weather, but what I loved most was the friendly and laid-back culture of the people on the island. Just a year later, I made the decision to move to the island for a year to see how I would like living on Sint Maarten. That is now 10 years ago [laughs].

Why did you decide to go into education?

I grew up in Holland, experiencing discrimination first-hand, not only from my fellow students but from teachers as well. There were many misconceptions going around about my family background. My siblings and I had to work extra hard to prove ourselves. We lived in a Dutch society but at home were taught Turkish and Arab cultural morals and rules. We had to constantly adapt, which was not easy for us, but often even harder to explain to others what we had to go through. I want to be there for students who have it rough as well; students who are going through similar or other difficult situations. I want to let them know that I understand them, hear them out and will try to help them using my own life-examples. Most importantly, I want to teach them to never give up pushing yourself because in the end, you are the price!

What did you like least and most about being a guidance counsellor at PSVE?

I sometimes wonder if people truly know what our young people go through. There is so much misunderstanding and hardship going around that it is heart breaking to hear the stories the students tell me at times. It is even worse when you feel as if you cannot help them enough with the few resources you are given. I wish there were more funds and attention pumped into the schools on the island so we could give students the attention and help they deserve! Of course, my work also has a lot of rewards; I form such strong bonds with certain students that I treasure greatly. I love to see students reach their goals. It makes me so happy to join students who invite me to their graduation after they have finished PSVE, knowing that although they had a hard time, they pushed themselves and stayed focused so they could stand on that stage and receive their diploma!

What other things do you enjoy doing when you are not in school?

Hugging and cuddling with my “umpalumpa” (daughter); she is medicine to my soul. I also love going out with friends and family, doing research, learning new things or watching documentaries, kicking up my legs to watch the sunset while sipping my wine, going to the beach and – as all my close friends know – I am a proud coffeeholic and LOVE a good cup of coffee!

Any other big future plans?

Oh yes, in the making! I want to have my own offices all around the Caribbean where people can come for help and leave refreshed, motivated, excited and a better person! I want to help people get the job they want, improve their skills, reach their goals, realize their dreams and grow into the person they envision!

What is the most important advice you give to your students?

That depends on the student and their situation BUT I always think it is important to remind them that their current situation does not have to be their lasting situation. I’ll also add: “Keep your eye on the prize which is YOU. Winners do what losers don’t. Walk tall and keep your head high and STAY FOCUSED!”

If you could serve three people (dead or alive) dinner, who would they be and what would you serve them?

Prince – I would tell him about how I grew up, what I am up to now, and how his music helped me through that journey; my grandparents who died too young so I did not really get to know them – I would love to hear their stories: all my siblings and my daughter (I know I am cheating but I can’t help it!) – they would have to be at the dinner table too so they can also meet my grandparents and learn more about their roots! I would cook them the authentic Hatay/Arab food which is basically what my mom would cook, as she is from Hatay. The dishes have loads of fresh own-grown vegetables and herbs – this also means that it tastes incredible!

Who is Cristina Martin Padilla?

I am a 36-year-old woman, who moved to St. Maarten 13 years ago looking for new experiences and knowledge. I am very social, extroverted and passionate about love, family, real friendship and hard work; but most of all, I believe in myself no matter what, because this way, you can accomplish anything in life and everything becomes possible.

What’s it like having a name similar to the island on which you live?

It is actually very interesting. That’s the reason why I am here. A friend who visited the island years ago contacted me and told me that I own an island. I thought I should check it out and here I am.

How did you end up on this beautiful island?

I am from Barcelona, Spain, and I’ve always been very adventurous and wanted to learn about other cultures and backgrounds. Since I’ve been on my own, I have travelled to many places. Before I came to St Maarten, I lived in London. It is one of my favourite cities in Europe, but the weather was too cold for me so I decided to come for a vacation and get some sun and here I am.

What are your functions at Topper’s Rhum?

I have been the manager at Topper’s Rhum since 2012 and I am basically in charge of human resources, payroll, managing accounts, collections and many other jobs too many to describe. And of course I get to taste all the different flavours of rum that my boss creates; the Creamsicle is one of my favourites.

How interesting is it to manage the creation of rum made right here in St. Maarten?

It’s an amazing experience. My boss is like a sister to me and I cannot see my life without her. When I worked at Topper’s Restaurant, she taught me how to make homemade banana cinnamon vanilla rum from scratch. This was our first flavour and it was given to our customers after their meals. After all these years, we are able to produce and export to the United States. Topper’s Rhum is the only locally produced product that is currently being exported off island. I am very proud to be part of this, especially now that we are doing rum tours and are able to tell people about our history.

Work history?

Before Topper’s, I worked at another restaurant, where I met my current boss, Mr. Topper, just after he started his restaurant, so I decided to join him. Since then, I have worked eight years at Topper’s Restaurant and four years at Topper’s Rum Factory. For the last two years, I have also been managing a tour company called Mirabella. We do snorkel and beach excursions around the island, private events, birthdays, etc., with our beautiful 54-foot catamaran. I also just recently joined the Gigi’s team – the wonderful organic restaurant that I am proud to run for a very close and good friend of mine. We just opened in Simpson Bay so I am back in the restaurant industry, but just for breakfast and lunch.

How has the switch from restaurant to management been?

I worked in the restaurant business for 18 years from hostess to busgirl to bartender to waitress to manager. Eleven years ago, I had my first daughter Phoenix. I managed to work day and night to provide for her. One and a half years ago, I had my second daughter Allure. So besides being a businesswoman, I wanted to spend quality time with my kids. I didn’t want to work as much as I did with my first child so I decided to quit my job at night when I got a good opportunity to work only during the day and mostly from my home.

How and when did you discover your love for business/restaurant industry?

I discovered this love in Barcelona, when I was involved in different lines of work until someone told me I should try out restaurant/management because I was a people’s person. So I decided to try it. I worked at one of the most famous bars and restaurants in Barcelona back then and I loved it.


I have a General Education Diploma (GED) and high school diploma. I attended the best schools in my city: Sagrada Familia, Salesianas and Jesus y Maria.

What's your personal management style?


What do you like about your job?

I love what I do so it doesn’t feel like a job.

Best moment?

The birth of my two daughters.

What differentiates you from similar professionals in the field?

I do not recall ever being sick in over 10 years and besides me getting dengue fever, I always make sure I get the job done. It doesn’t matter if it is a holiday, a weekend or 2:00 in the morning.

Future goals?

I would love to study interior designing and makeup professionally.


My hobbies are spending time with my loved ones: my kids, my wonderful mother-in-law and my amazing sisters and brother-in-law. Any time I can spend quality time with them, I enjoy it. They are an inspiration to me. And anything that inspires me, I believe in it being a hobby. I also love drawing. This inspires me. I did a piece of artwork last month for someone very special – that’s one of my secrets.


Carpe diem. You have to seize the day. Grab any opportunity and never give up.

Pet peeve?

Uncleanliness and disorganization – I can’t stand it. My sister-in-law says I have OCD.

Biggest fear?

My biggest fear is to drown in the sea. I dreamt various times that big waves came and I couldn’t run fast enough. I wonder what it means?

What is your advice to youngsters who want to follow in your professional path?

Work hard and build your way up. Also, listen to people who always have positive thinking in life and always believe in yourself.

What’s your favourite type of music?

I listen to a lot of unknown artistes mostly, what you call independent music.

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

I would invite more than three persons, but since I have to choose, number one would be my mentor and father Mr. Topper; my best friend Marni; and my sweet sister and mom-to-be Melencia. I would probably cook my famous Spanish paella to tell them how lucky and grateful I am to have them in my life and that I was able to accomplish so much – thanks to them. The three of them love food to death so I know there won’t be any food left behind after dinner.

Alida Brown is part of the coordination team of the first ever Miss International Elegance Mothers Pageant, which will be held at St. Maarten Festival Village on Saturday, November 12, from 8:00pm. In this week’s Hot Seat, Brown tells us more about herself and the pageant.

Who is Alida Brown?

I am a shy, talented, friendly and behind-the-scenes type of person. I was born on the beautiful island of St. Maarten and am the oldest child for both of my parents. I am very much family-oriented, fun and protective of my family. Also, I would say that I am like a lion: full of life and energy and a leader when I have to be. I am always looking out for others and I am very loving.


I began my studies in accounting at University of St. Martin (USM) under the Johnson and Wales University (JWU) programme and then travelled to the Netherlands and furthered my studies in the field of financial administration at Mondriaan College.

How did you end up being involved in the first ever Intl Elegance Mothers Pageant?

I was asked by main coordinators David William and Nicole Richardson to go on board and assist with some aspects of the pageant.

What role do you play?

I started out as a member and am now the secretary of the Believe to Achieve Foundation board, which is coordinating the pageant. As secretary, I am responsible for taking the minutes at meetings; but for the pageant, I am basically in charge of the 12 delegates. I will be chaperoning the mothers during all their outings on island and will make sure they get to where they need to go while here, amongst other things.

What do you like about being involved in pageantry coordination?

I love the many colourful and creative talents and fashion involved in the process. I also enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them a bit more.

Give us an idea of what goes into planning a major event like this.

There is so much involved and so much that can be said about such a process, but what I can say is that a lot of brain storming is involved, there is meeting after meeting and a whole lot of decision-making to ensure the safety of the delegates. This is very important because we want to bring out the full elegance in mothers at this event.

What challenges do you face and how do you think these can be resolved?

I believe that the greatest challenge any pageant or show faces is sponsorship. But our team doesn’t see this as a challenge; we take it as an opportunity to come up with better ideas on how to get what we need to give the audience a fabulous show.

Many pageants are held in St. Maarten every year, what makes this pageant extra special?

This pageant is extra special because we are not only portraying the beauty, grace and elegance of the delegates, we also want to show how each participating mother has her own hardships, struggles and strengths, while still managing to not lose her true value as she maintains her bling and glamour.

Is there a reason why the pageant is being held close to St. Maarten Day?

No; this is purely coincidental. However, the combination is good for us to regroup and start preparations for our local Miss Elegance Mothers Pageant.

Why should anyone attend the pageant?

St. Maarten is a melting pot of many nations, and this pageant will have participants of many of the nations represented in St. Maarten, so I believe that one and all should come out and cheer for their respective country and get a first-hand view of the talent, creativity and entertainment each nation offers.

Future goals?

My personal goal is to push the Mix Emotion (ME) musical in order to give the many talented artistes and actors in St. Maarten their spotlight moment.

What do you do outside of helping to coordinate this pageant?
I am a civil servant who functions as an administrative clerk at the Inspectorate of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Youth (ECSY) Affairs for the Government of St. Maarten. I look forward to my weekends and I want them to come fast knowing that my nieces, nephews, stepson and godchildren usually sleep over at my home. We usually have fun with movies, games and laughter. I close off my weekend in church with my Rock Church St. Maarten family. We are one in love.

Do you have any special talents besides pageantry?

I do have some special talents other than pageantry. I love taking pictures and filming. I also do play writing and engage in arts and craft.

Dream holiday venue?

I have dreamed, wished and fantasized about going to Venus, Italy, Hawaii and many other places, but the one place that I consider my dream holiday venue, where I have spent many vacations with my son when he was much younger, is right here on my beautiful island, sweet St. Maarten. I would encourage everyone to book a hotel and have a staycation (or vacation if you’re visiting) to enjoy the wonders of vacationing in my homeland.

What message do you have for youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?

No matter how big or small, always put God first. All things are possible through Him. Also, always believe in yourself.


Fashion designing, reading and watching cartoons or any kid-animated movies.

Favourite quote?

Education is the key that opens doors of possibilities. ~Tyresse

What’s your favourite type of music; what artistes do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of gospel and old school R&B. I enjoy listening to gospel artistes like Blessed Messenger, Positive, Rizon, Hezekiah Walker, Kevin Smith and Marvin Sapp. For R&B, I enjoy Luther Vandross, Rita Franklin, Anita Baker, Michael Bolton, Michael Jackson, Tyresse and Barry White.

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

The late Ruby Labega, Claudette Charmaine Carty and Pearl Forde-Labega. I would cook food fit for goddesses. These women had no favourites and did not care how grand the food was. All that mattered to them was spending time with loved ones and sharing love, joy and prosperity with each other.


Who is Sabrina Vrutaal?

I was born on the beautiful island St. Maarten in the 80s, raised in Holland, returned to St. Maarten, completed my studies in Curaçao, and am now a mother of two boys and the Founder of EduCare Foundation. I have been a Registered Nurse for the past nine years. I’m currently employed as the AVBZ officer at Social Health Insurances SZV for the past five years, while managing the Early Childhood Learning Center for children from birth to four years old, with a dedicated team of four teachers and one school assistant.

How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a driven and caring person who is always willing to challenge, myself. I am also a very social person.


While living in Holland, I completed MAVO. I always loved caring for babies and children, however, I chose nursing to have more working options after my studies.

What is EduCare Foundation?

EduCare Foundation was founded in March 2015 with four board members who had the mission and vision of the foundation at heart. We offer services that would enhance the quality of life even before birth through education, care and support in the areas of prenatal, postnatal and early childhood education. We started in July 2015 with prenatal workshops to give much-needed information to the community when it comes to caring for your baby, what to expect during delivery, breastfeeding and more. In September 2015, we officially opened the doors to our early childhood education centre that offers an alternative for parents during the day, allowing children to develop at their own pace while stimulating and educating them with emphasis on cognitive development, social emotional development and physical development.

How did you end up in early childhood development?

I always had a passion for children and I had the pleasure of working at the baby clinic of White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation/Youth Health Care for three years. After moving on to SZV, I wanted to be involved with the development and care of children and therefore the idea EduCare came about.

And what do you like about being in this field?

Children are here to be loved and cared for, they depend on us to show them love, care, and right from wrong. I enjoy seeing the joy on their faces and seeing the little one grow and taking the courage to do new things just because they feel secure and loved.

What differentiates you from other professionals in the field?

Everyone who does their job with passion and love in their heart will deliver good services. I would not differentiate myself from the others. However, consistency and self-advancement are key to success.

Tell me about your upcoming conference?

The Early Childhood Development and Disorder Conference is a one-day event on Saturday, October 8, which will highlight different aspects of a child's development, how we monitor a child development, common acquired disorders during the development and services that are available locally that are there to support and assist with such. EduCare Foundation was chosen as the organisation to be highlighted during the month of October by Be the Change Foundation, which is a charity fundraising group that assists non-profit organisations with raising monies needed for a particular cause or project while promoting the mission and objectives of that organisation.

Who does it target?

It targets (expecting) parents, caregivers, teachers and the community at large that would like to know more on these topics.

What does the coordinating organisation hope to achieve with such an event?

We hope that participants gain knowledge from the experts in this field, insight on certain behaviours and also network with those present.

Why should anyone attend?

This event was organised for the community free of charge with local and regional speakers all with the same goal in mind: to educate the community on these much needed topics. We often have question or doubts pertaining to child development, but don't know where to go with them. This is the perfect opportunity for you to attend. Persons interested in attending can register via our Facebook page: EduCare Foundation SXM or email: educarefoundationsxm@gmail.com.

Future goals?

Completing my Bachelor’s in business management, expanding the services of EduCare and being the best I can be spiritually and mentally.

What do you do outside of EduCare Foundation?

Being a full-time AVBZ officer, mother and fiancé is enough to keep me occupied.

Special talents?

None I can think of besides juggling all my responsibilities at the same time.

Dream holiday venue?

I would have to say Bora Bora. It looks like a place where I can actually step out of my busy schedule and relax.

What message do you have for youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?

Whenever pursuing your dreams, don't look left or right, when you do that, you start to compare yourself and this can lead to doubt or even failure. Look straight ahead and follow your heart.


Travelling, shopping and dining.

Pet peeve?

I’m terrible at delegating and this can cause hindrance, especially when working in a team.

Favourite quote?

Don't meditate on the problems, meditate on the promise.

What’s your favourite type of music?

Zouk, soca, gospel and ritmo kombina (Curaçao music).

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

I would ask my great grandmother, grandmother and mother. I am blessed to have all alive and well, I would try to cook a la Martinique such as fish, breadfruit, banana and avocado.

Lisa Michele Davis-Burnett was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico; her father was in the military, so she therefore grew up as a “military brat.” She attended school in many places – mostly all over Oklahoma and Texas – because the military moved families from post to post.

When did you come to St. Maarten?

I came to St. Maarten in the spring of 1990 and only left to put my stuff in storage and to sell some of it.

Why did you come to St. Maarten?

It was spring break and one of my friends had timeshare at the Pelican Resort. She invited our group to go with her. “Let’s go!” she said, so we did!

What were some of your previous jobs?

Oh I’ve had a lot of jobs. I taught every class from second grade to just before university. I worked as an exploration geologist for Texaco. I was an Asbestos abatement engineer. I ran a dive shop here on St. Maarten. I also worked on the 12-metre boats. Now I coordinate The Weekender for The Daily Herald and I teach on Saturdays.

What are your interests?

Everything! I love geography, math, painting, performing, singing and all kinds of sports, scuba diving, water skiing and biking. I also like to travel.

You’re interested in performing? What performances would we have seen you in?

I’ve been in church choirs; performed in Les Misérables and both Jesus Christ Super Star shows staged here on island. I also take part in performances with the belly dancing group, these are so much fun. I am looking forward to the upcoming stage performance, Behind the Beyond.

What’s your favourite part about performances?

Rehearsal is the best. It’s very demanding but worthwhile, not to mention it helps keep me fit and in shape.

You enjoy belly dancing? What got you into it?

Yup, I love belly dancing. As to how I got into it, I met the teacher and liked her personality and positivity, and finally decided to try it out. Belly dancing is addictive once you learn how to move your body.

Are there other fun things you do in your spare time?

I really enjoy doing clown classes. I like being a clown because it allows me to have a connection with my inner child.

They say age is just a number; does age make a difference when pursuing your interests?

If I lived in a bigger place, I wouldn’t be participating in as many activities as I do here, I think. St. Maarten is a very open place and welcomes anyone who’s interested to try something.

Is St. Maarten still the same place you fell in love with?

I’ve changed the way I see St. Maarten, now that I’ve gotten a chance to experience and understand the culture and people; and as a result of that, I love St. Maarten even more so now.

What is your life’s goal?

I have many life goals but my ultimate life goal is to live to 100 and still be healthy and functioning!

What are your pet peeves?

My biggest pet peeve would have to be people who have no curiosity and are easily bored.

If you could invite any three people, dead or alive, to dinner, who would they be and what would you serve?

That’s difficult. I would love to have the following people at my dinner party: Karl Saigan – because he’s the best science communicator; Sacajewa – because she’s mysterious and I want to know more; Louis Armstrong – because through his trumpet playing, he cut down barriers between people. I would serve a vegan feast with lots of bright and fresh colours and flavours!

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