A small white boat floats next to the docking station at the Sint Maarten Yacht Club (SMYC). The boat has a picture of a clownfish, one fin smaller than the other—known as Nemo from the animated film “Finding Nemo.” The fish and the boat share a name. They also share a similar purpose: promoting inclusion and opportunity for people with disabilities.
The Nemo is an RS Venture Connect, a specially designed “sailability” vessel that allows almost anyone the chance to experience sailing. The SMYC acquired the Nemo via a grant offered through the Resources for Community Resilience (R4CR) program, part of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund’s Civil Society Partnership for Resilience Project (CSPFRP). In July 2023, it launched its sailability program, partnering with the White Yellow Cross Care Foundation to provide an innovative form of physical activity and mental engagement for people with disabilities living in Sint Maarten.
“I grew up on a boat. My parents are sailors in Holland. My mom is blind, so I always saw that even though you have a disability that doesn’t limit you,” says Saskia Revelman, manager of the SMYC. She always wanted to start a sailability program. “Who doesn’t enjoy being out on the water? A person without a disability enjoys it, so why would that be different for a person with a disability?”
Granting the Gift of Sailing
“We wanted to include everybody in the sport, even if they have a disability. We have a safe, spacious lagoon. We just needed a boat specially designed. You cannot let a person go out with any kind of boat,” says Saskia.
The SMYC successfully pitched their idea for a sailability boat during round five of the R4CR’s Call for Proposals for projects that benefit the Sint Maarten community. The R4CR’s goal is to improve the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) and support the implementation of reconstruction and resilience projects at the community level. It also focuses on improving the capacity of local CSOs in reconstruction and resilience activities.
“The R4CR is small, and our turnover times are short. So, we have our projects at a maximum of a year. Our application process usually takes weeks and not months or years. So, it’s different than I think all the other [Trust Fund] programs,” says Steve Duzanson, R4CR Team Leader. The R4CR grant program is implemented by VNG International, working closely with the World Bank, Government of Sint Maarten, and relevant community and state agencies.
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 to better manage resources and write grants to find alternative sources of funding. As of June 30, 2023, 30 CSOs have benefitted from project grants, 63 subprojects have been funded, and 8,500 direct project beneficiaries have expressed 100 percent satisfaction with the program.
Sailing Beyond the Horizon
The sailability program is the only one of its kind on the island. The eager new sailors come in twice a week. Sailing sessions are one hour long, with two people learning at a time. The SMYC collaborates with the White Yellow Cross Care Foundation on the island, an organization that facilitates activities and support for guided living for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Explaining the mechanics of sailing, Saskia says, “You always sit on the opposite side of the sail, depending on where the wind is blowing. So, we let them practice with switching sides,” she added. “We get them involved in pulling in the sails, but now we’re pushing our limits.” Looking at individual abilities, the instructor distributes the roles accordingly. “We motivate them to become better at a specific skill. This gives them a goal to work towards, and it provides structure when they come to the day activity center.”
The sailability program is only a few months old, and the team is still fine tuning it, but Saskia is heartened that other local organizations that cater to people with special needs have approached the SMYC with an interest in partnering. Also, the program draws parental and community involvement to celebrate student achievements. “Parents are so happy to see their children participate in these team activities,” Steve adds.
With the initial funds the program bought regular sailing boats. To make the program sustainable, they sell advertising space to local businesses. This creates interest from companies that are willing to sponsor and contribute, thereby building capacity. Saskia says, “In the past, we wouldn’t have seen the possibility to include people with disabilities in a sport such as sailing. But with this boat which the project has funded for us, it became a possibility… Our boat is used five hours a week. I would like to see it being used five hours every day.”
“For people that are excluded from certain things, including them is good for their mental health. They feel socially included, and they can learn a specific skill for daily activities, creating structure in their lives.” — Saskia Revelman, Manager, Sint Maarten Yacht Club