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FEATURE STORYSeptember 15, 2023

An Opportunity to Pursue Untapped Possibilities

 34-year-old Shannon Bell

34-year-old Shannon Bell, beneficiary of the Emergency Income Support and Training Project

World Bank


  • Income support and medical insurance have been provided to two out of every four unemployed persons in Sint Maarten between 2018 and 2020.
  • So far, 1,822 people have completed training and received certification in the construction and tourism sectors to prepare them for the job market.
  • The Emergency Income Support and Training Project achieved its objective of building and upgrading skills and enhancing the employability of under- and unemployed workers affected by Hurricane Irma.

In 2017, 34-year-old Shannon Bell was working as a graphic designer, but after Category-5 Hurricane Irma hit Sint Maarten on September 6, the company where she had worked never reopened. She was on of the thousands of people who lost their jobs after the storm’s winds of more than 180 miles per hour left a trail of devastation throughout the country.

Shannon’s new path began in 2018 when she responded to a newspaper announcement for a six-month intensive course on general property maintenance, which was financed by the EISTP, supported by the Sint Maarten Trust Fund (SXM TF), and administered by the World Bank on behalf of the government of the Netherlands. Shannon excelled and finished as the top participant in her cohort, in the program covering carpentry, masonry, landscaping, electric, and plumbing. As part of the course, she was given the opportunity to work with a construction company, where she learned additional skills such as steelwork.

After graduation, Shannon was quickly recruited by a construction company in charge of the post-Irma housing reconstruction under the Emergency Recovery Project I (ERP-I), another SXM TF project. Today, Shannon works as a health and safety officer for airport reconstruction: “It was an old passion rekindled,” she said proudly.

Take the chance. Take advantage of the knowledge you will gain. You can use it wherever you go, to other employment, or even to build your own house.
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Shannon Bell
Beneficiary of the Emergency Income Support and Training Project

Supporting Economic Recovery

Sint Maarten’s overall 2017 unemployment rate (6.2 percent) and youth unemployment rate (23.8 percent) rose significantly following the hurricane as tourism businesses shut down. Rapid economic recovery and reconstruction have been critical to generating revenues and avoiding further job losses, and support to stimulate access to finance and business recovery has also been necessary to enable the private sector to grow and contribute to Sint Maarten’s overall economic recovery. The EISTP was prepared as an emergency response to help mitigate the economic impacts by protecting poor and vulnerable people, and Shannon is among the 1,960 EISTP beneficiaries who received income support and training through 2022.

The EISTP extended the successful Hospitality First Training and Education initiative started in December 2017 by the nonprofit Sint Maarten Training Foundation, which also began operating that month, and was subsidized by the government of Sint Maarten. The EISTP got underway when the major educational institutions on the island were severely damaged and remained closed. One main component of the EISTP’s focus was on supporting the social safety net and enhancing employability by providing occupational training and income support to beneficiaries left under- and unemployed from the tourism sector, which was the economic sector hit hardest by Irma. That aspect of the project, which was operated in collaboration with the University of St. Martin and the National Institute for Professional Advancement, was completed in September 2020.

The occupational training program offered a six-month training and certification program with theoretical and hands-on experience and an opportunity to take a course on English as a second language. The program also provided participants with health insurance during their coursework. The project achieved its objective of building and upgrading skills and enhancing participants’ employability. It provided income support and training to 1,960 beneficiaries, as verified by the Stichting Overheids Accountants Bureau, exceeding the original project target of 1,800 beneficiaries by 9 percent, of which 69 percent were women.

The program reached two out of every four unemployed persons in the country, of which 27 percent were youth. Thus, the project reached the most disadvantaged population in the labor market— women and youth. Ninety-three percent of the beneficiaries completed the recommended training successfully, exceeding the completion target by 50 percent.

It Is Only the Beginning

Just like Shannon, many participants who graduated from the training program were able to find new jobs or return to their previous jobs. Moreover, for many, acquiring the certificate has been a stepping stone that encourages them to further their education at the University of St. Martin or the National Institute for Professional Advancement.

Speaking about her own progression from EISTP training to housing reconstruction work under the ERP-I, she says, “it was the best feeling, seeing the joy on the faces of the people who were displaced and had to wait months after their homes were destroyed to finally be able to return [to their own home].” Shannon stated, “You’re not just developing yourself; it affects the people around you, people in need. The home repairs project, for example—to me that was an exciting project because not only was it construction-related, but also you are giving back to the community.”


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