La Luz swim school
May 23, 2021
When Help A Star was organized as a charitable organization, the goal was to incorporate swimming as the vehicle to better the lives of children particularly the disabled. This may lead to the question – why swimming? There is a truly clear and direct answer and that begins with our founders – Xiomara and Tariq and their introduction to swimming as children.
Growing up in a nation like Suriname teaches an important lesson early on – opportunities to reach your full potential are not easily acquired. When there is a chance that you can take advantage of scholarship or additional skill training you jump at the opportunity. The path to success is not always a straight line in the developing nations of the world.
For Xio and Tariq that first opportunity was presented to them by their mother, Lucia “Loes” Vroom. Loes had been a talented runner and loved athletics for an exceptionally long time. Unfortunately, she did not have the funding to secure a proper coach and training regimen. Thus, she realized that athletics was not going to be something that she was going to be able to pursue with any level of competitive success.
Loes discovered that she also loved swimming from a young age. Sometimes she and her sisters would just sneak into Parima, the only 50-meter pool in Suriname’s capital – Paramaribo. Swimming was not allowed by her mom, because she was very protective of her kids. At that time there was a lack of swim instructors in Suriname leading to many incidents of drowning among children. As she matured, Loes came to the realization that she too was given an opportunity - to use her love and skill in swimming to develop a swim school to teach and prepare children for swimming with the goal of reducing that terrible number of drownings in Suriname.
As of Mother’s Day 2021, the academy started by Loes, La Luz Swim School, has been in existence for 30 years. Before the onslaught of CoVid -19, the academy had 80 students. Not only that, Xio, Tariq and another family member, Jacques “Jack” Getrouw, also began nurtured their swimming abilities here and eventually served as instructors.
The opportunity presented to the three young people led them far from the Parima pool to academic scholarships in the USA and Europe as well as careers teaching new generations of children how to swim. Xio, for her part, now has her sights set on earning a master’s degree and eventually working with disabled youth.
The La Luz academy is not finished with the training of a new generation of swimmers. The school is inclusive, and everybody is welcome from age 2 to 100. Loes has taught many students with a disability. She never utilized formal advertisements but has distributed flyers and sent letters to schools at all levels; of course, word of mouth also brings new students.
If a disappointment exists, it is the lack of official funding from the government, its Olympic Committee or swimming federation. Loes has observed that many of her students are talented and have extraordinary competitive skill. While some can compete both nationally and in Caribbean competitions there are obstacles to reaching the FINA championships or the Olympics. Some children do not have supportive parents or suffer from a lack of financial support. Most of the talented in Suriname come from poor families.
Other neighboring such as countries Trinidad and Jamaica have more efficient and successful athletic development programs because they realize these programs lead to success in international competition. The increased positive visibility for their respective nations provides a leverage to improve their nations overall and a source of national pride.
While Loes is very hopeful that things might change, and she will often provide tuition for some children who cannot afford the school she realizes that this is an unsustainable and temporary solution. At the same time, she understands the importance of her efforts to contribute to the world and make a difference.
She is clearly motivated to continue leading La luz for the coming years and hopes that eventually, her children will take over as the leader.
While the current pandemic has necessitated changes to school procedures, students still attended La Luz and for that Loes is incredibly happy. She believes that living with CoVid means we need to push ourselves even harder to stay fit and healthy. As she stated very clearly: “We are living in challenging times, but you need to push yourself no matter what obstacles you are dealing with. You need to move forward! Stay positive because it is part of life.”
Help A Star becomes a Foundation in the Netherlands
May 1, 2021
On February 12, 2021, Help A Star was officially registered as a foundation in the Netherlands.
With the official designation we also have appointed our first Board of Directors:
Xiomara Sushmita Getrouw: Co- Founder & Foundation Board Chair
Tariq Getrouw: Co- Founder & Foundation Board Vice - Chair
Rob Van Maanen: Foundation Secretary
Peter Troon: Foundation Treasurer & Director of Information Technology
Jacques “Jack” Getrouw: Director of Technical Programs
We have added additional team members from both the Netherlands & USA in the following roles who will be added to the foundation board in the near term:
Dakota Getrouw: Executive Director
Edwin Vermetten: Organization Liaison to Athletic & Creative Sectors
Robert Bernstein: Director of Media & Public Affairs
Currently, we are beginning the process for non-profit status in the Netherlands known as “ANBI” status. That will permit Help A Star to begin the collection of funds for future endeavors.
With this official recognition the organization is planning a mission to Africa in the first quarter of 2022.
Additionally, we will be pursuing non-profit 501©3 status in the USA as soon as the federal government permits. The pandemic has led to massive schedule changes on both continents with respect to our work.
Edwin Vermetten is awarded the Michiel De Ruyter Prize for 2020
January 10, 2021
Royal Netherlands Air Force veteran and celebrated sportsman Edwin Vermetten was awarded the Michiel De Ruyter Prize for 2020 in a modified ceremony; the ceremony was changed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Vermetten received the award for his quick actions at the 2018 Invictus Games.
During a tennis match, one of the athletes, Paul Guest from the United Kingdom suffered a bout of PTSD after hearing a helicopter flying overhead. Edwin quickly soothed the upset athlete by singing to him.
One of our key team members, Vermetten has been with Help A Star since our inception,as Swim for Life International. The founders of Swim for Life International, brother and sister Tariq and Sushmitra Getrouw met Edwin at the 2016 Invictus Games and shortly thereafter he joined the team.
The Michiel De Ruyter Prize is awarded annually for those "who distinguish themselves by praiseworthy acts of duty for the Netherlands." Edwin Vermetten has certainly demonstrated courage, perseverance and we are very proud of him,
Young child drowns after falling into river in Lesotho
January 10, 2021
Those of you who follow our work know that we are motivated to protect children from drowning. Our goal during the two previous missions that we made to Lesotho were focused on teaching children how to swim and to learn how to drown proof themselves.
According to the World Health Organization drowning is a very serious cause of concern, They have stated the following on their website:
Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
There are an estimated 320 000 annual drowning deaths worldwide.
Global estimates may significantly underestimate the actual public health problem related to drowning.
Children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning.
It is very sad when we hear that a child drowns and it is especially sad when that report emanates from Lesotho. In November of last year a seven year old boy, Mpho Petros Masoabi, fell into a river in Quthing, Lesotho and subsequently drowned,
We hope to begin a new cycle of missions to Lesotho as soon as the Coronavirus Pandemic abates making travel to Africa safe once more.
Obituary Mr. Harold Robles
December 6, 2020
It is with great sadness and sympathy that the Help A Star team announces the death of Dr. Harold E. Robles. Dr. Robles, a great friend to the organization passed on July 31, 2020 from complications due to an ongoing struggle against prostate cancer. Born in Suriname, South America in 1948, he founded the Albert Schweitzer Center in the Netherlands in 1973 and remained affiliated with international Albert Schweitzer organization until the mid-1990’s.
His most rewarding efforts were made for the organization he founded and directed in Africa, the Health Promoters, formally known as HPSA (Health Promotion South Africa). HPSA provided basic health guidance and information in the townships of South Africa.
His work was recognized throughout the world and was confirmed by the honors that he received: honorary degrees, Doctor of Humane Letters from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut and Doctor of Public Health from American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts as well as a royal decoration, Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau.
When the King of Lesotho, Letsie III, visited the Netherlands in 2019, the Help A Star team was advised that Dr. Robles would be one of the King’s hosts. Since we had made missions to Lesotho previously, we contacted Dr. Robles and thus began an especially important relationship. He provided us with tremendous guidance. His knowledge of both NGO development as well as regional knowledge of the southern portion of Africa proved invaluable as we began to scale up our NGO. His friendship and support in our formative and early days will never be forgotten.
Dr. Robles will certainly be missed.