With a wide range of afternoon activities in place, children on Saba do not have to be bored after school. From dance, arts, and cooking classes to basketball, volleyball, and swimming, there are more than 40 activities that children can choose from to keep occupied positively after school.
In total, 313 children from both the primary and secondary school are enrolled in the youth activities: 50 at Saba Nature Foundation, 117 at Child Focus, 111 students from the Saba Comprehensive School (SCS), and 35 at the Queen Wilhelmina Library.
The Saba Nature Foundation and Child Focus host activities for youngsters between the age of 4 and 12, while the SCS hosts the after-school activities, called clubs, for its students' ages 12 to 18. A selection of the activities that are offered are hiking and science, arts and crafts, boxing, homework support, snorkeling/diving, softball/baseball, theatre, yearbook, Djembe drumming, board games, IT, Bellot, carnival costume design, Saba Fit, Junior/Sea Rangers, soccer, Lego tech, LGBTQ+ Pride club, animal care, track and field, guitar, and piano lessons, West Indian cooking, chess, ballet, Leo’s Club, ceramics and textiles, sewing, triathlon swimming and biking, Latin dance, math, astronomy, Boys and Girls Society.
The possibilities are almost endless, with children combining several of the activities from Monday through Saturday. Children can also go to the library three times a week for Dutch lessons, English lessons, Spanish lessons, Math is Fun, and homework support.
The youth activities have been in place for several years and are an integral part of the community and of growing up on Saba, with many volunteers, teachers, staff, and youth leaders. Lauren Risley, project leader at the Public Health Department, said the youth activities were a good way for children and youngsters to learn what they are interested in. “It helps them to discover their passions, what they like, they develop their talents, and keeps them busy.”
Commissioner of Social Affairs Rolando Wilson praised the many after-school activities. “All organizations involved work hard to provide opportunities for Saba’s children. This is an important investment in developing these young people, a cause that the Public Entity and the different stakeholders are committed to. I am happy to see that stakeholders joined forces to make this possible. It also helps guide the young people on this island and ensure that they are staying on the right path. Our youth is the future of Saba. It’s good to see them showing their talents in different fields,” he said.
Sapphire Ramkissoon, Program Manager at Child Focus, said the after-school activities were essential for the children, especially on a small island like Saba. “The children are kept busy with activities they like, and it takes some pressure off the parents.” She explained that at Child Focus, which was set up in 2001, parents pay no fee. Per day, Child Focus has about 30 to 40 children with activities taking place at different locations.
The vast majority of the children come from the Sacred Heart School. They are brought to Child Focus after school by the bus drivers of the Public Entity Saba. Child Focus hosts between 15 and 17 activities per week, in the afternoons on weekdays and on Saturday morning, with a maximum of three activities per child. A sensory room is being prepared for special needs children. Child Focus also hosts the summer camp during July and cultural exchange trips with St. Eustatius and other islands, and day trips to St. Maarten. The COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, put a stop to these trips.
For the SCS students, participating in after-school activities is compulsory. They have to attend at least two clubs from 2:30 to 4:00pm on weekdays or on Saturday morning. There are close to 35 clubs that the students can choose from. The program has been in place for three years, and it is very successful, said SCS Club Coordinator Tracy Zagers-Johnson. “We see a real positive attitude from the children and their parents, and we receive positive feedback.”
“Our students have become stronger and gained more self-confidence. The clubs allow them to do something they like and have something useful to do. It broadens the students’ horizons, teaches them about leadership and working together,” said SCS Principal Anton Hermans.
Zagers-Johnson said that the clubs contribute to more motivation and self-discipline. The after-school activities are also positive for the students’ CV and their tertiary studies. The clubs are organized based on the interest of the children. For example, a female basketball club was recently added based on the large interest of female students. Some clubs are multiple times per week. There are about 35 club leaders who get paid for this work. Many teachers are club leaders.
According to Hermans, this pays off because, through the clubs, the teachers build on their students' relationships. The clubs can also count on the help of many volunteers. Apart from the regular clubs, there are also special activities such as the Christmas Assembly where the different clubs show their talents on stage. The different sports clubs are encouraged to participate in events such as the different runs and the annual triathlon. The basketball club participated in a competition with the visiting basketball team from St. Eustatius in December 2020 and will compete again in April this year. Saba basketballers also traveled to Statia in January 2020. In 2019, an inter-island competition took place.
In 2018 and 2019, SCS participated in the Saba Carnival parade with their own costumes, made by the carnival costume club. Last year, a Saba Day show was organized in the week leading up to Saba Day. The SCS organizes a club market at the start of the school year, enabling children to look around at the booths of the different clubs and pick their clubs for the new school year.
This year's highly successful event was the musical Aladdin, performed by members of SCS’s drama club under the guidance of club leader Dahlia Hassell. For two weeks in March, Saba residents flocked to the Eugenius Johnson Center to marvel at the youngsters' talents and the wonderful costumes. “The two hours of splendor means four months of hard work and dedication. A show like Aladdin brings Saba together. We could not have done it without the volunteers. A show like this opens people’s minds to the unlimited talents and the abilities of our children. It shows possibilities and opportunities,” said Hassell.
Drama club teaches valuable skills, discipline, and responsibility. “Drama is a good way to express, to explore. Self-expression helps you to build as a person, especially when you are in puberty, which is a peculiar phase in your life. Drama club is another chance for the children to create beautiful memories,” said Hassell. “Some children come in with extreme shyness or a stutter. Some are very insecure. I see them grow and develop. We treat the drama club as a family; we bicker, but we still love each other like a family. I am very proud of my students. We get it done. That is showbiz.”
The youth activities on Saba are financed from different sources. The funding for Saba Nature Education, the library, After School Care, and Day Care dance class comes from the BES(t) 4 Kids, a program to improve quality in childcare in the Caribbean Netherlands. Funding for the Child Focus and SCS clubs comes from the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare, and Sport (VWS). The Saba Fit or Fit with Lee program is funded by the Saba Public Health Department.
Apart from the regular youth activities, there are also annual events that cater to children and their families. Some of these annual events are Easter Family Day, Book Week, Summer Camp, the UNICEF Film Festival, Halloween, the Children’s Rights Week, Saba Day, and the Spelling Bee.