It is my pleasure to present the first Green Antilles interview. Jadira Veen is co-founder and President of the Sint Maarten PRIDE foundation, a non-profit environmental organisation. She spoke to Green Antilles about her work, what inspires her, and her hopes for a greener Sint Maarten and a greener Caribbean.
Green Antilles: First, please introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from and where you work.
Jadira Veen: Jadira Veen, President of the Sint Maarten PRIDE foundation, which is a grass roots community based all volunteer environmental non-profit foundation. PRIDE foundation is also a activist pressure group, placing pressure especially on government to enforce environmentally sound decisions. I am also, along with two other people, a co-founder of the PRIDE Foundation along. I am a born and bred St.Maartener, I work from my home along with the other board members who volunteer and dedicate their time to bringing across eco- awareness issues in our local community. Please note that in this interview I speak about the Dutch side of the island, Sint Maarten. The French side Saint Martin does not have some of the same problem—like the solid waste issue. So I want to make it clear that I reside and work on Dutch side: Sint Maarten. I am a volunteer as is my board, we make no money and have no financial gains from the foundation. We are also non-political.
GA: Tell us about your work and how it’s green. How did you become interested in this field, and what motivates you to continue to do what you do?
JV: Sint Maarten PRIDE foundation was founded on April 22nd (Earth Day) 2000. This year makes 12 years of our existence. We were founded on the principle that a small group of people can make a difference. Back in those days our island had serious litter issues; our group decided that in order to combat litter, we must educate our youngsters on changing their behavior. So we started with cleanup campaigns with students from the local schools. The first cleanups were held outside the school grounds where much of the lunch bag litter was found, plastic bags, aluminium wrappers, juice boxes, soda cans etc.
We also took students to the beach for beach cleanups, in the process teaching them the importance of understanding and appreciating their natural heritage, but also making them aware of the dangers of trash on our beaches and how it endangers our oceans and wildlife. As the foundation became more popular, we partnered with community councils to hold large scale cleanup campaigns in the various communities. On Saturday or Sunday residents would join in and help their fellow neighbors clean up debris ( car wrecks, old furniture, car and truck tires, etc.) that might be lying around in yards as an eyesore and contributing to dengue and rodents.
Sint Maarten PRIDE foundation recognizes and stimulate awareness though volunteer events, parties and media letters for the following days:
World Wetlands Day: Feb 2nd
National Tree Day: March 22nd
Earth Day: April 22nd
World Environment Day: June 5th
World Ocean Day: June 8th
International Coastal Cleanup: the entire month of September, with the third Saturday of September organised as the largest cleanup event of the year. PRIDE foundation is proud to be associated with the Ocean Conservancy for this event.
I personally became interested when I noticed that my island was changing in a negative direction, our government (past and present) focused more on mass tourism and economic growth with no clear agenda for environmental protection and conservation.
GA: With regards to your work, what are your current goals and projects? What are your ambitions and aspirations for the future?
JV: I will hold off on saying anything about personal ambitions until I have embarked on them, I have decided to make 2012 a new year with new goals for the future. I do hope to inspire young people to join and volunteer, dedicate their time to the Sint Maarten PRIDE foundation.
GA: What are some of the areas or issues that most concern you in terms of green development and green lifestyles (or lack thereof) in the Caribbean?
JV: The environmental challenges on St.Maarten are many and complex. While we are considered a rich island catering to over 2 million visitors a year, a one-of-a-kind cruise harbor in this part of the Caribbean, with sometimes up to 8 cruise ships in port on busy days, the basic infrastructure is lacking. We do not have a comprehensive sewage infrastructure. Sewage water is seen running on the roads in every district. We do not have a solid waste plant or modern technology to handle waste, no recycling facilities for the residents and tourists. Instead we have a landfill that has grown to inappropriate heights and creates dangers with fires and underground combustibles. The same landfill is situated in the center of one of our wetlands and chemicals and pollutants leach though into the water body.
Other issues that have my attention are illegal beach encroachment by beach bar establishments. While we do have policies on developments of our beaches, many are not enforced.
Since the island is a mass tourism destination, developers tend to remove mangroves on shorelines, excavate lands removing all greenery.
GA: What are some of the green changes, developments or innovations that you find exciting or encouraging?
JV: Recently there have been voices coming from our government regarding renewable energy for the future, wind turbines and solar energy. A waste-to-energy plant was also brought forward in speeches. I do hope that these nice words will materialize into a reality one day soon. Another recent change that I am excited about is that the island now has a shark fishing ban for a period of years. Since the start of 2012 St. Maarten has a marine protected area. This is definitely a step in the right direction. PRIDE foundation has been advocating a ban on single use plastic bags for years and some grocery stores have taken the step themselves to stop handing out these bags. However the majority of the shopping establishments still give them to customers; we are crossing our fingers that our Parliament will pass a law about plastic bag use hopefully this year.
GA: And finally, what advice do you have for the average Caribbean person looking to live a greener and more sustainable lifestyle?
JV: Caribbean people in general should first and foremost learn to enjoy and appreciate their island, the beauty and natural heritage. They can take simple steps that can make a difference, pick up litter when they see it. Volunteer in cleanup campaigns, refuse single use plastic bags given out at the grocery stores and carry a re-usable bag for shopping instead. Try their hand at a small kitchen garden, and support local farmers as much as possible. Become more aware of what you consume and how much. Global fisheries are at risk and certain fish species in the Caribbean are becoming extinct from over fishing. I am also not in favor of granting concessions to large foreign fishing vessels to catch sharks for shark finning and whales for meat. Caribbean people should appreciate all the marine wildlife that inhabit our oceans, we can only blame ourselves for the destruction of habitat and loss of species.
You can find out more about the Sint Maarten Pride Foundation on their Facebook page, which also presents regular updates on their work and on environmental issues and happenings in Sint Maarten. And, of course, you can follow Green Antilles on Facebook as well. Sincere thanks to Jadira for being the first Green Antilles interview subject.