photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – To bring laughter and joy to kids that have been affected by hurricane Irma. That’s the aim of the theater foundation called ‘Behind The Beyond’ from St. Maarten. They small theater group performed at six different schools last week.

Their last performance was held at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Primary School. The school was one of the worst damaged public schools on the island.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

“The Dutch military put tarps and temporary roofing on the school building, which keeps most of the rain out. I have not heard as yet when the proper repairs will start”, says Stuart Johnson, Principal at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Primary School.

School Counselor Claire Van Putten has been trying to guide the students through their emotions after the storm: “Although the situation has improved, we still have students that are dealing with many difficulties.”

“My house is gone, but I don’t tell the other kids because they will start making fun of me.” 6th grader Gian Carlo Jr Priest De Los Santos explains.

The teachers also deal with material loss an emotional trauma. “The past months have been tough. My apartment got damaged. I had to start over. At the same time you also need to be strong for your students.” says Dutch Teacher Astrid Carrilho, She adds: “I think we all needed some comedic relief.”

The people behind the theater group know all about the trauma the teachers and kids are dealing with. “I had just started Behind The Beyond. Our rehearsal space and a lot of our equipment was lost during the storm”, says Albina Matuzko.

Motivating through theater
Albina and her husband stayed in a shelter after the storm, as the home that they were rented was severely damaged. Albina: “I thought I had lost everything. At the shelter to my surprise many persons asked me about my foundation and our shows. This motivated me to keep on going!”

The play the group is performing is about Young Suzy. She has confidence issues and thus a case of “I don’t think I can – itis”. With the help of ‘professor’, a sophisticated house cat and personal advisor Susy realizes she can do anything. Suzy becomes a fire chief, a lion tamer and finally president of the world.

“We had no idea how the kids would react. Often, they have not seen much, if any, theater plays.” Says Raphael, who owns a tour company on St.Maarten.

Albina: “We were surprised to see how much empathy the kids had for Suzy during the play. We even noticed a few kids with tears in their eyes.”

“I learned that I can be whatever I want to be, I just have to think I can,” says Leslye Matteo shyly, who is a 4th grade student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Primary School.