This past Saturday at 7:30 in the morning, my fellow students and I at AUC sacrificed our Saturday morning sleep-ins for a special mission. It was Community Action Day, a student-run event held every two semesters where we volunteer our time and efforts to give back to the island community that hosts our school. With over 200 of us signing up to volunteer at 11 different sites around the island, this semester’s Community Action Day saw a large turnout and was a great success. After receiving an blue Community Action Day T-shirt as well as a hearty catered breakfast, the 200 of us students dispersed on our mission. Some of the initiatives included:
- Playing sports and face painting with the kids from ICAN, an orphanage for homeless children in St. Maarten.
- Helping and spending time with the disabled and elderly at Sister Basila Center.
- Handing out information about animal welfare and sterilization.
- Painting classrooms for All Children Education (ACE) Foundation.
- Mullet bay beach and community clean-up
- Lagoon clean-up (where students paddle on kayaks and pick up trash from the water and islands)
- Free diabetes screening on several sites around the island.
- Planting trees and cleaning up at Seaside Nature Park.
Two semesters ago during Community Action Day, I had volunteered in screening for AIDS at a health fair and it was an awesome experience. Since then, I wanted to do the Kayaking Lagoon clean-up, but as the schedule for that was moved to the Friday afternoon before, I could not make it as I had meetings all day long. Although I did not get my first choice of activity, I still decided to come and participate and do my duty for the community. This semester, I decided to volunteer at Seaside Nature Park, a private initiative aimed to protect and educate the community about nature, history and culture of Sint Maarten.
I had no idea this place existed. To get to Seaside Nature Park, you turn into a small road right before Daily Extra Supermarket in Cole Bay. From there, the road leads you past large oil tanks and through the GEBE power plant. Right past the power plant leads you to the park. Entering the grounds of the park, you are greeted with free roaming horses and chickens, and vegetable gardens, all by a beautiful beach and preserved forest. The park was started by a local Dutch couple, the wife who is a psychologist, who wanted to create a place where people can come and appreciate some of the last preserved natural landscapes on Dutch St. Maarten. Every year, they hold many free educational and cultural events for the public as well as offer motivational or therapeutic classes. To support the costs of maintaining the park, they offer horse rides along their many trails as well as maintain a snack bar, using the vegetables they grow in their gardens. As I thought it’d be nice to get my hands dirty, I helped out in planting some tamarind trees. Afterwards, Gundi and I joined the rest of the crew in cleaning up the horse stable of rocks.
All in all, my experience this semester’s Community Action Day wasn’t as satisfying as it was the last time two semesters ago when I screened over 40 people for AIDS. Although I appreciate Seaside Nature Park’s intentions to educate the community and let local children pet horses (for free) for the first time in their lives, I didn’t feel the work I did was that necessary, nor that helpful for the community. I had expected cleaning up a public park, not a private one. I had also expected cleaning up places for people, not for horses. In summary, I felt like I was doing free work for a private company, and not community service. Perhaps I have misunderstood their needs, but I felt there could have been other places that more desperately needed volunteer help than Seaside Nature Park.
Nevertheless, it was good being with friends and doing something together, no matter what that may be. After the community service events, we went to a catered luncheon and pool party held at Dr. Atchley’s house for all those who volunteered. It’s so nice to have a faculty member so open in welcoming students to her house. I have always enjoyed going.
Special thanks go to the Muslim Student Association, AUC Spouses Organization, Asian Student Medical Association, American Medical Students Association, American Medical Women’s Association, ACE Hardware, Jewish Medical Students Association, T-Shirt Maxx, Phi Chi, Student Government Association, Canadian Medical Students Association, AMDA, and Diversity Council for their help in sponsoring this event that benefited the greater island community. Also a special thanks goes to Dr. Atchley for welcoming the AUC community in hosting the Community Action Day luncheon at her residence.