photo: Esther Henry

THE BOTTOM – It’s been 7 years since Saba’s constitutional change to becoming the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. With a population of 2000, some persons still continue to fight this island’s high prices, low salaries along with high taxes.

Single parents are forced to work two or more jobs to survive on the island, leaving little or no time to spend with their families. “I have a second job doing paperwork and a job as a restaurant helper. Because of so many jobs, I stopped to spend time with my family. The biggest concern on Saba is price control, there is barely an increase in salary, however, rent is increasing”, a single mother of five, Cecilia Gonzales stated.

Monique Wilson and Jacques Hemskerk of the Center Youth and Family talking about different aspects of poverty on Saba. By Hazel Durand

Cost of living
Gonzales experiences daily difficulties with supporting her children. “Grocery shopping on St. Maarten per month is $300, while on Saba $270 weekly. On average, $135 is paid monthly for electricity, Internet ranges from $167-$175 with bundle and calls, and rent is $627 per month.” She lives in a social welfare home of three bedrooms, with a 1.5 percent yearly increase in rent.

Monique Wilson, Social Worker of the Center Youth and Family, is well aware of the daily struggles of young families on Saba. “Child allowance from the Netherlands is of $42, monthly. This is a good start, but each island is different and its people face their unique challenges. Overspending is not an issue, rather the low income. For example, a family that is renting, their income is about jointly $1,700.”

To live comfortably a family needs at least a 2 bedroom house and such a house is monthly, at least $1,000, according to Wilson. “Then there are the basic groceries which can sum up to about $600. As well as the electric bill. These are things you cannot put aside. Children need food, they need light, they need water, but also school supplies.”

Social support
Back in January, the Dutch government announced an increase in social support on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. Saba commissioner of Social Affairs, Rolando Wilson said this will still not be enough for those on Saba who are in need. The commissioner believes a rent subsidy is crucial for families living in social homes. “There is a backlog at the housing foundation because persons can’t afford to pay their rent. We asked the Dutch government for assistance, but they said the local government would have to offer such assistance.”

Restricted perspective
Jacques Hemskerk, Former Youth Worker of Centre & Youth and Family, says that young people on Saba often don’t know how to get ahead. “A young person’s perspective on the island is restricted. They don’t always have a clear mindset of what there is out in the world. In some cases, it could be that families are not supporting a child leaving the island. Sometimes the parents rather a child to remain on the island to take over a family business. Some children think, “I already have everything I need here, why should I leave? It’s difficult to motivate them.”