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.