HOW THE STORY STARTED

 At 13, in 2017 Sara experienced the devastating Hurricane Irma, and while more fortunate than most, she was sent away to live with her family living away from her beloved St. Maarten and her parents for the first time in her young life. The hazardous effects of Hurricane Irma continued to be felt on St. Maarten long after it had passed. All the debris collected on the island ended up on the Pondfill Dump which was overloaded beyond capacity. The landfill continued to burn for most of 2018.

It was an emotionally frightening and confusing time. Upon her return to St. Maarten, she started experiencing severe asthma attacks due to the smoking Dump. It became too much to have to wear a smoke mask on the ride to school and, at times, even in the classroom. Sara decided to take matters into her own hands to raise awareness. The creation of the Breathe Better Air Campaign was her first step into taking a stance and attempt to make a change on her beloved island of St. Maarten.

The Start Of A Movement

Sara started on her own by raising awareness on Social Media and the Daily Herald but her work soon expanded into a T-Shirt Fundraising Activity which is when the help of a few volunteers was greatly appreciated.

Come rain or shine, Sara was dedicated at selling her shirts or strike up a conversation with anyone who would hear about the better ways St. Maarten could deal with our environmental issues. The start of campaign started step by step and soon, The Breathe Better Air Campaign donated $1000 to the Nature Foundation .

Often ridiculed by her peers or naysayers, Sara never gave up moving forward with her vision. For her, it wasn’t only about how a teenage girl could stop the dump from burning but how she could start changing people’s ways when it came to health, pollution and recycling. All for a better St. Maarten.

With the help and support of her Teachers at Learning Unlimited, Sara participated in the School Community Service Fair and was able to convince a number of her fellow students to join her campaign and start making a difference.

Sara’s first video captures the burning smoke on her daily ride to school.

St. Maarten Dump On Fire
The Burning Dump March 8th 2018 (photo credit Milton Peters, click on image to expand)

Media Campaign 

Sara started her Campaign by making a video about the burning Dump on September 1st, 2018 and posting it to Facebook. Buoyed by the many views and responses she received; she was encouraged to do more.

She wrote an article for Teen Times describing the way the smoking dump was affecting her life and asking for support for her T-shirt fundraiser.

Sara’s article in Teen Times September 6th 2018 (click on image to expand)

Volunteers and Fundraiser

Learning Unlimited School gave her an opportunity to participated in the Community Service Fair . The Fair was well attended by many of the environment NGO’s of St Maarten. Sara was the only teenager there with her own table and she was able to sign up a number of volunteers to help with her cause as well as to bring them into the fold regarding the message she was spreading.

At a later date she also participated in the St Dominics High School Community Service Fair and signed up a number of volunteers there as well.

Sara participated in the St. Dominic’s Volunteer Fair as a member of the Green Initiatives. She was also able to sign up volunteers for the Breathe Better Air Campaign.

Sara at Learning Unlimited Community Service Fair (click on image to expand)
Sara was awarded a Certificate for her Participation in the Fair (click on image to expand)
Many student volunteers signed up (click on image to expand)

Breathe Better Air Donates to Nature Foundation

Sara designed a logo and printing t-shirts which she then sold with the help of friends and volunteers. She eventually was able to donate $1000 to the Nature Foundation on September 6th, 2019 from the funds raised ; Sara and her Breathe Better Air Volunteers received Certificates of Appreciation from the Nature Foundation 

The Breathe Better Air Logo
Sara’s littlest Tshirt customer (click on image to expand)
The very first Tshirt sold (click on image to expand)
Sara and her Volunteers set up shop (click on image to expand)

The Breathe Better Air Family receives Certificates of Appreciation from The Nature Foundation for their fundraising efforts 

The Breather Better Air Family (click on image to expand)
(click on image to expand)

This Video was made by Sara and her fellow volunteers to encourage the residents of St Maarten to take the survey.

The Effect of the Smoking Dump on St Maarten’s Health

Following the campaign’s awareness phase conducted in the media and in person, Sara spoke with Dr Spencer who advised her to gather actual data on how the dump was affecting respiratory system of the people of St. Maarten. Dr Spencer was able to guide Sara with regarding questions to put in an online survey, which she then posted alongside a video of her fellow volunteers.  They received nearly 200 responses online but had a harder time when interviewing people living near the dump site. Even though the young volunteers were clearly non-threatening, the people living there either did not want to be interviewed, or claimed their health was fine and in no way affected by the Dump’s smoke.

 

 

(click on image to expand)
Click on the image above to view the results

One interviewee finally let them take a picture and shared with the students that the residents were “afraid of losing their homes if they were to complain”. This meant that after all of the effort to collect data, Sara ended up with skewed results which were basically useless

However, not everything was lost, her efforts were recognized and on December 31st 2018, Sara’s work was mentioned on the front page and in the first paragraph of the Daily Herald’s Issue of Year. The article mentioned her motivation and the work she did in raising awareness to the smoking Dump’s health effects.

The Breathe Better Air Volunteers interviewed residents living on the Dump (click on image to expand)

Dump Fires Extinguished 

Soon after Breathe Better Air’s survey appeared online, the St. Maarten government did its own survey, and the dump fires were soon extinguished. Sara is proud that the Breathe Better Air Campaign was one of the many voices that led to this. On Feb 7th 2020, The World Bank announced that the dump is no longer a national emergency (Read the article) Sara and the Breathe Better Air family understand that this is simply the beginning of a much longer and harder battle. Plans for more campaigning and new projects advocating for a healthier St. Maarten are under way. Sara started this project with a singular issue at first; her own health. She quickly realized that the scope of environmental sustainability is far larger than air quality and that every step, albeit small, counts towards a greater solution. For St. Maarten – For the planet.