PHILIPSBURG – While the idea of back-to-school shopping can bring schoolchildren much excitement, in this particular climate it can also create added strain and financial pressure to their parents or guardians. As the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) empathizes with those facing financial strain and recognizes the implications of this on a student’s access to education, the entity has begun executing a school uniform project. With this initiative, parents and guardians of over 250 primary school children will now have one less expense to worry about as SMDF will be providing two pairs of school uniforms to many of the most vulnerable children throughout St. Maarten’s primary schools.
Over the last few months, SMDF received a number of inquiries from parents searching for financial assistance to purchase school uniforms. One such example is of a St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) beneficiary who reached out via WhatsApp and expressed, “I have lost my home and everything due to no finances. I don’t have funds to buy for my kids and (I’m) seeking any help.” Having managed programs like the SSRP and Collective Food Assistance Program, SMDF has witnessed firsthand the socioeconomic disruptions caused by the devastation of Hurricane Irma and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hearing the overwhelming stories of how the cost of even a single uniform set can be prohibitive for many families, SMDF decided to launch a Back-to-School Uniform Project to assist those in need.
“Students are required to wear school uniforms in order to attend school, however, purchasing a uniform can be costly for some, particularly at this time. However, at SMDF, we believe a child’s education should not be hindered by a lack of appropriate clothing,” said Breanna Barrie, Project Coordinator. Sharing the same sentiments, Project Coordinator Karin Vicente added that “this initiative goes beyond providing school uniforms. It also allows children to feel a sense of pride and identity and families to channel their wages toward other necessities such as food and housing”.
Now, with the help of School Managers and Care Coordinators who identified vulnerable students and community-minded vendors such as Penny’s and 0-14 Kids who provided favorable pricing, SMDF has been able to begin purchasing and distributing the uniforms to the schools. Upon hearing of the project, a representative from the Seventh Day Adventist School, Ms. Vera Illidge, expressed “This…brings happiness to my heart because there are people out there who truly care. Indeed there are a number of students in every school who are in need.”
As the project continues, SMDF thanks all 17 participating primary schools and the stores for their partnership and collaboration. This collaborative effort has allowed for the breaking down of barriers to early childhood school and education success and the building up of the students’ self-esteem and confidence.