The visit of Carola Schouten, Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions

On Monday, April 22nd, Minister for Poverty Policy, Participation and Pensions, Carola Schouten, arrived on Saba for a working visit. She was accompanied by Remco Spek, Head of the Caribbean Netherlands department at the Employers’ Regulations Directorate; Reinier Polinder, Political Assistant; and Nadia Amenou, Policy Officer for the Caribbean Netherlands.

The delegation’s first visit was to Saba Reach Foundation (SRF), where a presentation was given by Director, Werner van der Linden. Over the years, many improvements have been made to the structure of the foundation as well as changes to its role in the community, including the recent opening of Saba Greens, a store where local vegetables and other handcrafted items are sold, adult education classes (in Dutch and English, and in the future, budgeting classes), the Replay Program and overseeing the Saba Works Program. The Minister and her team then had open dialogues with the employees of SRF on their experiences.

A tour of Absolute Childcare Center was next, hosted by Manager, Tessa Alexander. Alexander presented the structural upgrades made, as well as the policy changes which were enforced to be in line with the childcare regulations on the island. Alexander explained that although it was a difficult transition and required a complete change in mindset, these policy changes were necessary and the basis for passing the inspection, conducted by the Inspectorate of Education. The recently opened Buiten Schoolse Opvang (BSO) was also shown, where children aged 4 to 12 can attend for afterschool care and activities.

Following this, the delegation toured The Spot where Kemaul Lee, Community Outreach Coordinator, explained its role in getting youth more involved with one another and in organizing their own activities or events. Facilitating a discussion with eight youths and the Minister allowed them to openly express the challenges that they face as students here on Saba, their opportunities abroad and preparations for such, and their thoughts on what could be improved. Issues raised were centered around the steady increase in the cost of living on Saba, the availability and affordability of local housing, the lack of comprehensive guidance before studying in the Netherlands, and the vast disadvantage they are at due to the lack of Dutch language education.

One youth, Francine Zagers, stated, “One reason that many high-school students are concerned about being unprepared for their B2 Dutch exams is the constant changing of Dutch teachers at the schools, which immensely hinders their progress. In comparison to other islands where students are able to complete their schooling fluent in English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento, Saban students are not set up for success in this way, which is made clear by the lack of opportunities available for those who cannot speak Dutch.”

Minister Schouten acknowledged that this could be a hindrance for students and that there were still some gaps that could create a cycle of poverty.

The following day, the delegation met with Island Council members Rolando Wilson, Julio Every, and Vito Charles where discussions were held on the increase of the minimum wage (which will see a further increase on July 1, 2024 to $1750 on Saba) and its impacts on employees and employers, as well as the continuing high cost of living. Council Member Every stated the need for more education for the public on financial literacy, as it should go hand in hand with the increases to the minimum wage.

Council Member Charles reiterated the concern that students from Saba are at a disadvantage, as job opportunities (such as working at RCN) become limited if they cannot speak Dutch. Charles also discussed the importance of ensuring senior citizens do not end up in vulnerable situations, citing the cases of those who have lived on other islands in the former Netherlands Antilles before 10/10/10, but currently live on Saba, and therefore do not receive the same amount of pension as other persons who have lived on Saba their entire lives.

Other meetings held included those with the Executive Council, where gratitude was expressed to Minister Schouten for her efforts in making tangible improvements to the quality of life for the residents of Saba, and discussions were held on ongoing matters such as the cost of living and the impact of the social minimum. The increase in social minimum, child benefit allowance, and AOV, were also discussed at the SZW unit, as well as future developments in their department.

The delegation ensured comprehensive engagement through these discussions which further solidified their commitment to understanding and addressing the diverse needs of the community, laying a strong foundation for future collaboration and support.


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