Graduates after receiving their certificates.

POND ISLAND--The first group of approximately 168 students received their certificate of completion from the St. Maarten History and Culture course.

This specially designed twelve-week course was a collaborative effort between the St. Maarten Training Foundation (SMTF) and the University of St. Martin (USM) and provided the participants of the Emergency Income Support and Training Program (EISTP) with advanced knowledge in the history and culture of the island, SMTF announced in a press release on Sunday.

SMTF runs the Emergency Income Support and Training Program (EISTP) which is financed by the Government of the Netherlands, managed by the World Bank and implemented by the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB). The programme caters to persons who are unemployed or underemployed (working part-time, less than 20 hours per week). Students can register for courses in Hospitality, Culinary, Construction, St. Maarten Culture and History (which is an integral part of hospitality and culinary), English as Second and Basic Literacy.

SMTF partnered with USM and NIPA on several of the courses. All enrolled students received financial support (called a stipend) for attending classes and successfully completing the programme in addition to a small transportation allowance. Medical coverage through the Social and Health Insurance SZV is provided, the release said.

Course Coordinator Josianne Fleming-Artsen addressed the graduates and their families during a graduation ceremony at USM, highlighting the fact that the students were now empowered through the knowledge they have received during the course. “It is important that we as a people speak with one voice,” she said in her closing remarks. “Now you are ambassadors of the friendly island, so go out and spread your knowledge.”

During the St. Maarten History and Culture course, students took a look at the history of the island dating back to the pre-Columbian days. Subjects including local flora, fauna, the role of slavery, the economy, music, food and more were discussed in depth, the release said. The students also completed group projects – political role plays with each major subject finalized with an examination. A full day excursion to visit all the important sites on the island the students have learned about is reserved for the end of the programme.

USM’s President Antonio Carmona Baez, USM Dean Dr. Rolinda Carter as well as SMTF Programme Director Sergio Wolff congratulated the students with their achievement and were very satisfied with the result of this collaborative project between USM and SMTF. They also thanked the NRPB for their continued support and assistance with bringing the entities together on this project, the release said.

Several students made use of the opportunity to address those present at the graduation ceremony to express how grateful they were for the opportunity given to participate in the EISTP but also for the knowledge gained during this course. “I have been living here for 36 years and I learned things about St. Maarten that I never heard about previously,” commented Innocence, one of the students. Another student, Francol, said that he now tells his children (who are all born here) things about St. Maarten that they did not know. A student who hails from Jamaica (but has resided in St. Maarten for many years) said that she now knows more about St. Maarten than about Jamaica, the release said.

The St. Maarten Culture and History course has become an integral part of the hospitality and culinary training offered by SMTF under the EISTP. “Rebuilding St. Maarten is also about preparing people for jobs in the hospitality industry and knowing the culture and history of the island is an important part of that,” Wolff concludes.