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FEATURE STORYSeptember 15, 2023

Miss Sally’s Calling: Caring for Children in Need


“Miss Sally” Benjamin, sits behind the wheel of the new bus that her foster care foundation, New Start for Children, was able to purchase with support from the Civil Society Partnership Facility for Resilience Project, part of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund.

Sint Maarten Trust Fund.

Veronica “Miss Sally” Benjamin grew up in Trinidad with her aunt, who had no other children and treated her as a little adult. After her aunt died, Miss Sally returned to her parents. At about age 14, she was deemed the responsible one in the family who “knew how to do things,” so her parents entrusted her ten younger siblings to her care. Even though her big heart led her to quit school to work and look after them, she said, “foster care is not something I dreamed about growing up. I am a seamstress by trade. I like designing costumes and things like that.”

A few years later, when Miss Sally moved to Sint Maarten as a young bride, she found herself caring for the children of her husband’s work colleague, who had decided they wanted to stay with her. “They didn’t know me, but people’s children seem to hold on to me for some reason,” she said. And after caring for more than 50 children over nearly 60 years, Miss Sally, 71, is still going strong. Her path to fostering began when a friend asked her to take care of five siblings whose mother was sick. Miss Sally declined because her work required frequent travel and her husband could not care for them alone, but two years later, she heard her friends discussing five siblings who were being mistreated to the point that the eldest ran away—they were the same five she had turned away.

“I felt so rotten. That was Christmas Day. The Court of Guardianship [which oversees foster care in Sint Maarten] reopened on January 6. I went straight to them and requested they give me the children. And they did. After that, the Court kept calling me asking if I could take in more children and I kept saying yes because I couldn’t bear to hear another story like that again.”

Miss Sally and her husband cared for the children they took in on their own, supplemented by a small state stipend of about US$280 per child. As they were growing older, they considered winding down after 20 years of fostering, but social services instead persuaded her to create the New Start for Children Foundation. “It was nothing planned. I always say when you come here on Earth, whatever you have to do, you have to do it before you leave. And I guess this is it.”

“I started the foundation so we could continue having the children. I am not the going-out type. They keep me company. I treat them well, and we exchange—I am not doing anything for them that they are not doing for me.”
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Veronica “Miss Sally” Benjamin
Director, New Start for Children Foundation

Strong Community, Strong Country

The New Start for Children Foundation has since been able to tap into the Civil Society Partnership Facility for Resilience Project (CSPFRP), part of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund. Through the Resources for Community Resilience (R4CR) grant program, the CSPFRP has played a crucial role in supporting CSOs that fill critical community service gaps, such as helping the foundation purchase a new school bus in 2022 to get the children to school and extracurricular events. The CSPFRP is implemented by The International Cooperation Agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG International), working closely with the World Bank, the Government of Sint Maarten, and relevant community and state agencies, including the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB).

Through its small-grant program, the CSPFRP aims to help finance 100 projects and target 10,000 people. In addition, the CSPFRP helps these CSOs build capacity, through training and skills development that help them better manage resources, and grant writing to help them find alternative sources of funding. By June 30, 2022, 73 percent of the 37 subprojects were completed, and 73 percent of CSOs reported improved capacity for management and implementation. In its first two years, the CSPFRP has benefitted nearly 2,500 Sint Maarteners, of whom more than half are female.

Looking Ahead

The New Start for Children Foundation operates a five-bedroom foster house with a maximum capacity of 20 children from 0 to 18 years of age. Miss Sally wants the children to feel at home and grow up as strong, capable human beings. “It’s not their fault, circumstances brought them to my home, and they should not pay for it.” The foundation also assists single parents and families in critical situations with the care and raising of their children. Recently, Miss Sally delegated the running of the foundation to her capable staff, comprising her daughter-in-law and a former ward. “I have good help, I am not involved much anymore, I give a little advice here and there. They practically run the whole show.” Last November, Miss Sally visited 12 of the children, now grown, who used to live with her and her husband and were now raising families of their own. “I got goosebumps,” she said proudly. “The children have good positions, and that is my reward. You feel good because everybody is doing well.”


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