July 17, 2020

NGOs need help to continue St. Maarten support

NGOs provide a myriad of goods and services to make life better on The Friendly Island. Some have helped restore homes and replace belongings to those who lost much during Hurricane Irma. Others offer opportunities for cultural expression, such as singing, dancing, performing and visual art. Others provide physical activity and sports, while others focus on providing homework support and even day care when schools are closed.

One low cost program teaches everyone from six-year-olds to seniors how to use a computer. Imagine the joy of a senior when, during the Facebook section of the class, she was able to Facetime with her daughter in the Netherlands, and she and her fellow seniors saw her brand new grandchild for the first time!

“This report sheds light on the amount of work non-profit organizations put into building a stronger and more resilient community on St. Maarten,” said Jose Verschueren-Sommers from the Foresee (4C) Foundation. “Non-profit organizations are the ones that really bring the communities together and fight to ensure that everyone is helped and supported.”

The survey of 96 organizations found that almost 38% of the NGOs were not providing services at all, while 31% stated that they were still providing services, but with limitations. Other participants (27%) reported that they altered or changed how they were providing support, and a small portion (5%) reported that they were even busier than before the crisis.

Many suffered during the coronavirus lockdown, as did businesses. “Half of the organizations indicated that they are dependent on local fundraisers, which will be compromised with the struggling business sector,” said Verschueren-Sommers.

But while businesses can apply for relief, NGOs are struggling to come back and need help. The survey of the NGOs was conducted by NPOwer which produced a 48-page report on the effects of the lockdown and the way forward. NPOwer is an online platform organized by the Foresee (4C) Foundation to help NGOs connect, share information and services.

“The non-profit sector has been an essential component in helping the community to overcome our toughest moments,” explained Verschueren-Sommers. “The survey was conducted to determine how the NGOs were doing, but also how their beneficiaries/clients were weathering the storm.”

Many of the NGOs need start-back money. In addition, volunteers need to come up with new ways to help each other. “Operational expenses such as the payment of salaries, rent and utilities have now become the main issue for the majority of civil society organizations,” said Verschueren-Sommers. The report concludes: “This indicates that funding is the most significant challenge NGOs are facing.”

Financial support in the form of a check will be a short-term benefit to most NGOs, but will not get their programs up and running. One idea has been to give the clientele suffering from lost income a series of monthly vouchers that can be redeemed by the NGOs.

This way the NGOs can run their programs, and citizens can return to sports, cultural enrichments, or day care. This way, the NGOs will get the money they need and the people that used to enjoy the services provided can regain access.

Several NGOs have tried to stay in touch with their group members via the internet. Even schools tried online home learning. Many families did not have access to computers or tablets, and their phone data plans were depleted quickly. Others did not have access to the internet at all. A plan for free Wi-Fi in times of emergency should be considered.

The report also indicates that funds are not the only need. Some NGOs are re-thinking their business models, and diversifying their sources of income. They are considering limiting expenses, increasing or restructuring volunteerism, and building new alliances with other NGOs.

More volunteers are needed to replace those that left, or who can no longer devote time to the community while they struggle just to survive. In an effort to cut costs, the sharing of office space is seen as a viable option. Businesses that cannot sponsor an activity may be willing to help with printing of materials. The full report and all the conclusions can be found at www.npowersxm.com