On the island of Bonaire since.....1973

 

“I was born into a big Catholic family in Aruba and my parents were very

 

strict and protective. At 17 I left for Holland to study to become a teacher at a vocational school, and four years later I returned to Aruba where I worked till 1973. When my ex-husband was offered a job on Bonaire we came to live here with our daughter. I couldn’t work as a teacher here as the only domestic science school was very small so I started at the front desk of Hotel Bonaire and later on I did reservations. In 1976 I was offered a job at the Watapana School for special education in Rincon. I stayed for a year, then I started working at SGB high school as a social education teacher. During that period I became certified as an English professor… great! In 1977 I got divorced and I took a lot of courses. I don’t need a CV anymore– ha! ha!-so I lost track of all the studies I did! In the meantime I got married again to a Bonairean man and I had two children with him: my son is 28 and my daughter 25. They’re both living in Holland. My eldest daughter, Mary Ann, has been living on Bonaire since 2003. I stopped working for SGB high school in 2004, but Mary Ann is still working there – although not for the time being because her baby will be born any day now!

February 28th, this year, my daughter in Holland made me a first-time grandmother. What a wonderful thing. Baby Joey is an absolute sweetheart, an easy going lovely little boy and such a happy child.

After my second marriage broke up, I was alone for 17 years. Then I met Hans Evers in 2002 on an American dating site on the Internet. I was his first match, but it took him three weeks to answer. He came to visit and that was it.

We travelled back and forth to Holland for two years, then Hans moved to Bonaire.” She laughs: “Before we met both of us said, ‘Marriage…never again!’ But… we got married and now it’s never again alone anymore. We do everything together and we have a wonderful and understanding relationship. To go back to my career, around 1980 I was offered a seat on the child welfare board. I accepted and have been the chairman for 18 years now. Juvenile care on Bonaire is not what it should be; the organizations involved haven’t been able to coordinate properly and therefore many children have slipped through the net. The social sector has been neglected for years and it has resulted in many dysfunctional families who need help to raise their children, but the parents themselves need help too.

The child welfare board is like the last resort; the very moment a child comes to our attention it’s in fact too late. I hope once we’ve transferred to the new status, we will be able to work more efficiently. The problem is and has been that there are too few professionals on the island, people with a higher education and the right attitude who know the culture and who speak the language – Caribbean Dutch people.

And that’s how we get to our Ban Boneiru Bèk Foundation, which we founded in 2007. After the referendum I feared that there was going to be an unstable growth considering the population of Bonaire, that we were going to be flooded with foreigners and that the local people would become the underdog. In my opinion, a number of crucial mistakes have been made. First of all, the politicians at the time were actively campaigning to push the option through and they gave misleading information because at that time nothing had been discussed with Holland yet. Another crucial mistake I find, was that just a small majority, 56%, chose for the option. When it comes to radical changes like this, I feel that at least two-thirds of the population should agree with the option. Another issue I found very disturbing was that our people who were living in Holland were not allowed to take part in the decision; they were excluded.

I wasn’t happy with the outcome of the referendum– the basis was too weak. It was more about breaking up the relationship with Curacao. Because… let’s be honest… we don’t love the makambas that much! We’re still suspicious of being dominated and that’s because of their behaviour. Some of the Dutch people who have come to live here recently spend a lot of money and they have this certain attitude about them – it stirs up bad blood. And they’re a particular kind of people who don’t add anything to the island. Even the

European Dutch people who are involved in the well being of Bonaire are often ashamed of this group - like we are ashamed of our people who are misbehaving in the Netherlands; we don’t want to be identified with those people either!” Celia Fernandes Pedra is outspoken, energetic, well informed and worried. She’s a lovely woman and a great conversationalist. She’s not prejudiced; she has a clear view, a good heart and the right intentions to make Bonaire a better place. The goal of our Ban Boneiru Bèk foundation (Hans, my husband, is the Secretary, I am the Chairman and Javier Boezem is our Treasurer. That’s it. It works fast.) is to help establish a balanced and prosperous growth for our community, with the help of people who have a heart for Bonaire and who are capable and willing to give a lasting contribution. It’s very simple. It means that we want to see in all organizations - in trade and industry, in the island’s government and in the Dutch group of officials - a reflection of the composition of the population. Let me explain. Suppose Caribbean Dutch people make up 68% of our total population then we should find that percentage back at all levels. That’s crucial. If not, you’ll get problems because people will feel like second class citizens. Only when this percentage is equally represented at all levels of our society will people identify themselves and feel involved in the growth and development of the island. If they are not equally represented they will step back and withdraw from the process. Our foundation is helping to come to a solution with Holland and the local government.

We’re open to every possibility of cooperation. We’re trying to get the best of everything for our people. We’re an intermediary for both parties and often a catalyst as well. Where we are now is ‘direct ties’ with Holland. That was the option and it was only filled in after the referendum. It was something new, a new and difficult situation for both parties. Of course, if you want to come and live with me, even if you’re my child, the child Bonaire, we have to set the rules. But in this case the child is not in the position to negotiate, as it doesn’t speak the same language and it doesn’t have the same education as the parents. It’s a crooked relationship. Integration means that Dutch law will be enforced on Bonaire the way it is enforced in Holland. Many people didn’t agree to that, especially because the old people’s pension and social welfare won’t be on the same level as it is in Holland. Because of this controversy the island government fell and now we have another party who wants to hold a new referendum. Whatever the outcome will be, the process of integration is unstoppable. I’m afraid that’s how it is. I would like to have a new referendum, but it should be explained clearly and ahead of time what can be changed and what certainly cannot be changed anymore. I also would like to know if this process is irreversible. Suppose we’re blooming 25 years from now – could the child still move out of the house? And what if the combination with Saba and Statia doesn’t work? Will we be stuck with them forever? Another thing we’re working on is to have the jobs at the Regional Service Center equally divided. We want 65% of the jobs - or more - to be filled by Caribbean Dutch people. I want our own highly qualified people, Caribbean Dutch people, to come back from Holland and get the jobs here. Then you make a statement that the Caribbean Dutch people are as good in this position or… even better. We’re not there yet as all the quartermasters (kwartiermakers) are European Dutch. The key is to lift up the people of Bonaire with knowledge and information and to recognize Papiamentu as the official language. Then we can make a good start!”

 

 

Story & Photos by Greta Kooistra