We knew that Raymond Jessurun was an amazing leader, organizer, and dementia advocate from our previous work with him in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. But we had no idea what a powerhouse performer he was until recently, when we presented with him at the island’s White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation.
On our way to the event, Raymond told us, “We have a mixture of people coming together, people from all over the world, people of varying abilities. We want to invite joy into their lives. We want everyone to connect and have fun together.” 
Ron and I loved the idea and focused on music and laughter as a common pathway. When we arrived at the care center, which is managed by the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation, the  community area was filled with light: the windows opened to the temperate breeze and lush outdoors. Indoors, in a large and cheerful room, people gathered in a semi-circle. Some had lived in Philipsburg all their lives. Others had relocated from other islands or countries, including Holland, Curaçao, St. Kitts, and Guyana.
Raymond opened our session by telling everyone, “I want you to teach Deborah and Ron something about yourselves and about our country.”
We all shared specific songs that reminded us of our families. Raymond jazzed us up by sliding into the center of the circle with a rousing a cappella rendition of  Come on Let’s Twist Again. After a few bars, people were dancing in their seats. We kept the movement going as we conducted When the Saints Come Marching In, first in a stately tempo, then fast. We talked about the times of the day we liked to sing. Several of the care staff said they liked to sing throughout the day. One woman enjoyed singing in the afternoons. Another sang a poignant favorite of hers, about how she longed for someone to hold at night. She received a heartfelt round of applause.
As part of our interaction about music and movement, we showed a video of Drum Safari engaging everyone in percussive activity during one of our KC Memory Cafes. We ended our session by giggling our way through some Laughter Yoga exercises, including drinking a delicious, no-cal, laughter milkshake.
As a final treat, everyone serenaded us with a traditional national song, O Sweet Saint Maarten Land. (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41capjzf7iQ) The ending stanza captures a taste of this beautiful country, but fails to mention its amazing people: 
“Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice,
Oh I love thy Paradise,
Nature beauty fairly nice.”

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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“We are here to explore meaningful ways to stay connected throughout the dementia journey. We are all going to take what we’ve learned and we need the commitment of all of you to help us reach out to the families living with dementia in our communities,” Raymond Jessurun said when he introduced us at a gathering of healthcare professionals, family caregivers, and government representatives. Raymond, who is Secretary of the St. Maarten Alzheimer’s Foundation, is a passionate and inspiring speaker. He urged everyone to join as volunteers of the Alzheimer’s Foundation to spread the meaningful engagement throughout the island, making a difference, one island at a time.

As a group we discussed many engaging activities, including the joy of singing, the nurturing that animals can offer, the power of looking at art, and the creative conversations that cooking together can inspire. We strategized adding more laughter into the day and the importance of knowing each person’s musical preferences. We were also learned of the challenges family caregivers face, which in residential settings as in the Sint Martin’s Home are being addressed by professional caregivers.

Our host, Bregje Boetekees, Director of the White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation in St. Maarten, was deeply tuned into the importance of offering an array of individualized activities and to the comfort that nature brings to those who are living with dementia. She is overseeing the construction of a new elderly care facility with a large courtyard that will offer safe and ready outdoor access, as well as fertile ground for gardening and other nature-based activities.

As always, we left feeling inspired by each of the people we met.  Bregje and her team are constantly exploring ways to enrich the lives of their residents who are living with dementia. Raymond and the board members of the Foundation are an example of how a few compassionate and determined people can make a difference. Just eight years ago, Raymond was struggling to find his mother-in-law the dementia care she needed. His advocacy attracted other caregivers and this year their Foundation, which is recognized by Alzheimer’s Disease International, celebrates its seventh year of serving the community. In June, Raymond is co-coordinating a gathering of leaders of Alzheimer’s organizations of 15 Caribbean countries as a step to forming Alzheimer’s Caribbean. These advocates are making a difference, one caregiver at a time, one facility at a time, one island at a time.

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We invited everyone to join us in Dr. Madan Kataria’s Ha Ha chorus. Watch this and please, sing and laugh along. Click here to view the St. Maarten HaHa Chorus

For more about Laughter Yoga, visit Madan Kataria’s website, http://laughteryoga.org

Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

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