Statia Day Speech by Government Commissioner, Alida Francis
Good morning. Protocol has been established.
Many here will be familiar with the story of the little engine that could. It’s the story of the tiniest of engines that dared to take on the challenge of powering a loaded train up an extremely steep rail. Other, more powerful engines had refused to take on the task, all complaining that the train was much too heavy. But this little engine would not be deterred and kept repeating to itself it powered forward: "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can."
It was hard work and there were times it seemed it would not make it. But this little engine persevered and succeeded, after which it proudly said: “I thought I could!”
It's an extraordinary story of optimism and hard work; of determination and sheer will; of firmness of purpose, commitment, tenacity and strength of character.
It’s a story that so closely resembles that of so many Statians whose drive and stupendous effort will help overcome the seemingly impossible every single day.
It’s the story of a nine-year-old girl, who was introduced to cultural life on Statia by her beloved aunt; who fell so in love with her island and its potential that at the tender age of 13 she was being recognized by pioneers in culture and social life. They mentored and groomed her to walk in their footsteps.
Over a 30-year period, even as she rose through the ranks to become Director of Tourism and Commissioner of Tourism and senior public servant, the early introduction to Statia’s culture coloured her every decision.
And today, this little girl that could stands before you as Government Commissioner - a proud servant of a proud people who want nothing better than to see her compatriots rise to the very top.
The story of the little engine that could is also the story of Statia. Two hundred and 45 years ago today, when countries far bigger and more powerful than we are felt they couldn’t, we stood up and fearlessly proclaimed: “I think I can” and fired the First Salute.
Seventeen years ago, when so many felt we shouldn’t, this little island with an iron will asserted: “Oh, yes, we can!” and we adopted our Statian flag, which we all fly high today with such gleam in our eyes.
As we celebrate today under the theme “Bringing our stories alive for Statia’s Celebration 245,” it’s critically important that we both know and tell our story.
Terry Pratchett, the English humorist said it well in his comic fantasy novel, I Shall Wear Midnight. “If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.”
We do not want to go wrong here in Statia, so we’ll share our stories to help us better understand each other, as well as ourselves. Each story gives us an opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and to shape, strengthen, or challenge our opinions and values.
Ours is a fascinating and remarkable story of trials and triumph, of setbacks and success, of shattered dreams and dreams reborn. We are sometimes down but never defeated. But ours is also a story that’s still being written and, more and more, we’re becoming engineers and architects of our own story.
The evidence of this evolving story was there when we celebrated Emancipation Day as an official public holiday for the first time ever this year.
It’s there in Phase 2 of the Felicia van Zanten Assisted Living Complex with an additional 10 units.
It’s glaring in the phased opening of the new, four-star Golden Rock Resort, which creates employment and opportunities for Statian entrepreneurs to offer ancillary services.
It can be seen in the inauguration of our brand-new FDR Airport terminal building and a tower, in the Makana Ferry Service before the end of 2021 which will connect St. Eustatius, Saba, Sint Maarten, and St. Kitts, in the Golden opportunity programme successfully completed by 24 Statians, many of whom are now employed at the new resort, in the new incinerator that’s part of our waste management plan and in the 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage effective January 1st, 2022.
And this is just the beginning. Come next year we’ll undertake several more projects such as the road Behind the Mountain, Phase 1 of Airport Boulevard, strengthening of the coastline at Lower Town and construction of a new and modern Gwendoline van Putten School for secondary education.
An important milestone that we are working towards is the Restoration of Democracy with a robust civil service organization as its foundation. This calls for collaboration and synergy.
What we are doing here is building – not just for the present – but for the future. For the pupils who last week marched in cultural parades in the name of country, beaming like the angels they are and ready to bloom like flowers springing joy into our souls.
For the youth who offer so much and all they ask for is an opportunity to excel.
For the many for whom there are no limits to their imagination, no boundaries to their talents and no restrictions on the stories they can create.
And what a story we are weaving into our cultural fabric! Something is happening here in Statia. Something positive. Something enriching. Something good. Together, as Statians, we are building the age of Statia. One small stone at a time.
But like the little engine that could, it takes grit and courage and appreciation of each other to get to the mountain top. Appreciation of the teacher and the student, the hotelier and the hotel worker, the hairdresser and the barber, the driver and the gas attendant, the homeowner and the housekeeper, the politician and the voter –
Every Statian of every background, every status and stature, every field and every dream, every idea and opinion, must possess a line, a paragraph, a chapter in this wonderful story that we are writing.
And if we work hand-in-hand to safeguard our fragile nature, our colorful culture, proud heritage and rich history, our close-knit family ties and everything that makes us uniquely Statian.
If we align our efforts and unite our approach, then we shall craft the greatest story ever told. The story of Statia, the little island that could.
Happy Statia Day 2021!