Four hands in one: how women’s shelter organisations are assisting each other within the Kingdom

On Bonaire, victims of domestic violence have been able to go to the Tabitha shelter for several years now. On Saba and St. Eustatius people have been working very hard since 2022 to establish two shelters to meet all the professional requirements of our time. All these organisations are supported, at their own request, by Kadera, a Dutch organisation that has been dealing with domestic violence for 50 years. What does this operational support entail and what sense does it make?

An inspiring interview with Linda and Babette, two Kadera staff members who have recently made a working visit to Saba, and Mildred, who is coordinating the establishment of the first formal shelter for victims of domestic violence on Saba. Also speaking will be Ereina Hunt-Gorden, coordinator of the shelter on St. Eustatius.


History with a Caribbean twist

That Linda and Babette are on Saba has a history with a Caribbean twist. Indeed, in 2016, Linda accompanied a client who was forced to leave for the Netherlands because of a domestic violence situation with her ex-partner in Curaçao. Linda: ‘I counselled her in Zwolle and brought her back to Curaçao. There, I also got into a conversation with her ex-partner.’

‘I realised that Curaçao was facing the same domestic violence problems as the Netherlands, but with far fewer support services and shelters to turn to as a victim. That touched me and I could not let go of it. I got in touch with VWS and in 2018 I participated in the ‘No Mas No More’ conference on domestic violence in Aruba.’

Caribbean shelters request support themselves

Through VWS, Linda made contact with the women’s support facilities on Bonaire from 2019, which she has enjoyed supporting since then. Now there is also a request for support from Saba and St. Eustatius to help them set up their own shelter professionally. In recent years, Linda has mainly provided the support by herself, but recently Babette has also joined the team as a colleague.

To both, being on Saba is a unique, valuable experience. Linda: ‘The domestic violence issue is fraught on these small islands because everyone knows each other, but the support teams are driven and tenacious in their work. In the Netherlands, the approach to domestic violence has already been fully crystallised and regulated. Here you can still really make a difference and people are going for it.’

Working with temporary solutions

Mildred, who has been working as a community developer on the further professionalisation of the Saba Shelter for a year and a half, agrees with Linda’s conclusion. ‘We are at the beginning of the journey. We do not have an official shelter yet. Victims of domestic violence are temporarily sheltered in a place that was initially rented to individuals, but we are still looking for a structural solution.’

‘So far, we have sheltered one client, but the landlord is not happy with the ‘domestic violence baggage’ our clients bring with them. We do everything with a small team. On the one hand, that is easy to coordinate. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to get commitment, time, and cooperation from everyone, because we all wear ten hats and do a hundred things at once.’

Risk of overburdening

Mildred: ‘The danger is that team members get overburdened because there are so many priorities.’ Mildred’s team now consists of two social workers and someone helping from youth care. In addition, the police and the public health department are also involved in the shelter as direct partners. Linda: ‘The team really has to pull together and be at home in all markets. We have great admiration for that.’

Mildred: ‘Our team does all sorts of things. We have to set up shelters, describe working methods, and provide training. Our social workers cannot do everything at once. Clients have to be patient. As a client, you know where you can go, but sometimes you have to wait and a clear, fixed support structure is still missing.’

No all-inclusive (support) package

Linda: ‘In the Netherlands, it is very different. We have a kind of all-inclusive package with no waiting list. The client has their own case manager, the children receive separate child support, and there is a material support worker for practical matters. A mini team is set up around the client, so to speak, with supervisors, psychologists, and social workers.’

‘As a client, you can attend internal and external training courses and participate in (fellow sufferers’) groups. You can also be supported from home and follow outpatient programmes, where the perpetrator of domestic violence is given a temporary restraining order and victims have an alarm system to ensure their safety. And perpetrators and loved ones can also receive counselling. There are no such things on Saba.’

Different starting point in tackling domestic violence

The approach to domestic violence is also different on Saba, all parties observe. Linda: ‘In the Netherlands, a lot of talking and writing goes on. Only then do you look at how you approach a process. There is already a considerable framework you have to take into account. On the islands, everything is on a much smaller scale. You approach the people who need to act faster and more directly. That certainly has advantages.

Linda: ‘Here people simply already start. It may not be perfect and fully prepared and elaborated in advance, but more in a pragmatic and working way. In the Netherlands, you have to follow or fine-tune and improve existing protocols and ways of doing things. Here, those are not there yet. Babette: ‘Now that I am on Saba, I sometimes think: are our work processes perhaps not unnecessarily complicated?’

Fewer links and levels

Linda: ‘Policy development on the islands can be faster than in the Netherlands. There are fewer links and levels. In the Netherlands, we have to deal with policy officers and management teams before you get to the executive staff. Here, you sit down at the table with the people who will act in situations of domestic violence. These direct lines ensure that you can take action faster.’

Assistance with work processes

Mildred: ‘The need for a shelter on Saba has been there for years. This administrative agreement finally allows us to work on a Shelter Plan. We are checking off that plan with Kadera. Through Carmen Grefte, policy officer for domestic violence and child abuse at ZJCN, we contacted Kadera ourselves and thought carefully about what we wanted in terms of support. That mainly involved assistance with work processes. We were dreading that.’

Mildred: ‘With the assistance of Kadera, we now divide our work processes into small pieces. This makes it manageable for us. On Saba, people talk a lot. But we have to train ourselves to document things well and record them clearly in writing. That is much less part of our culture, even though documentation is essential. In that respect, we can also learn a lot from Kadera.’

Much accomplished in a short period of time

Mildred: ‘During this working visit, we look with Linda and Babette at how the working method and working processes of Kadera can help us. We can immediately say: ‘This is either helpful, or it will not work here.’ On Saba, for instance, outflow from the shelter is very difficult to achieve. Applying for your own home, as in the Netherlands, is not easy. We then pass that feedback on to Linda and Babette.’

Mildred is also in good contact with Ereina, who is setting up a shelter for victims of domestic violence on Statia. And Junny, the director of the women’s shelter on Bonaire, also provides training for the shelters on the Windward Islands. Mildred: ‘It is about helping and strengthening each other and deciding together: how to mould a shelter plan for your own island into a good structure? ‘

 Very satisfactory cooperation

Intensive talks have been going on since 2022, but the cooperation between Saba and Kadera only really started in 2023. Mildred, Linda, and Babette all three give that cooperation a high mark. Linda: ‘Our contact is approachable and easy and I feel a lot of room to contribute things. We talk and discuss things together and the working atmosphere and people are nice!’

Babette: ‘Since we have been physically together on Saba, we have taken many steps. It really makes a difference to see each other in person. You come from different worlds. We in the Netherlands cannot imagine how things are here in a completely different culture. Explanations are not enough. You must immerse yourself in it and see the place with your own eyes to understand what is and is not appropriate on Saba.’

Enduring sibling relationship

Mildred is happy that her team can lean on Kadera and does not always have to reinvent the wheel. She sees the cooperation definitely growing in the future. ‘The steps we took during this working visit help us a lot. Our biggest goal is to take care of clients in a professional way. When we formally start in a few months’ time, our work processes should be in place.’

Mildred: ‘As far as I am concerned, we will never part. Kadera will remain our big sister. We will continue to need each other.’ Linda also thinks it is important to connect and stay connected. ‘We are all part of the Kingdom and it is good when we bridge differences and actually contribute something to the women’s support facilities on Saba.’

New input for everyone

Babette especially likes the fact that on Saba she gets to share something of her own experiences and also gets the chance to see what things are like elsewhere. Babette: ‘You also take a critical look at yourself. Are we not reporting too much, for example, and are our work processes not unnecessarily complicated? Nothing is static in counselling. Working together provides new input for all parties.’

Linda: ‘My dream is that you build something that is not there for a while, but that will always be there. I hope we get to a point where we not only share our knowledge and experiences, but also learn from the island. We should move towards a situation where we exchange staff members back and forth for reciprocal internships, so that our cooperation remains dynamic and sustainable.’ 

Reciprocity and cross-pollination

Carmen Grefte serves as the linking pin in uniting the shelters on Saba and St. Eustatius with Kadera. She listened in on the interview. She sums up the collaboration nicely. ‘The shelters on Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius are all three supported in their professionalisation by an experienced support organisation from the Netherlands and also lean on each other.’

‘This cooperation between the three islands and the Netherlands strengthens the quality of the support, because you learn from each other. The mutual assistance is diverse and at the same time consistent, because all three islands work with the same experienced party. The strength of the cooperation lies in the short lines of communication and the reciprocal cross-pollination.’


The shelter on St. Eustatius provides 24-hour accommodation for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Ereina, coordinator of this shelter, explains the challenges the shelter on St. Eustatius is facing and her positive attitude towards cooperation with the other islands and with Kadera in the Netherlands.

Assistance on all fronts

‘’The shelter on Statia provides 24-hour accommodation for victims of domestic violence and child abuse,’ says Ereina. ‘We offer assistance and support to victims when there is immediate danger and acute intervention is needed. In many cases, children are also involved and there are additional problems in other areas of life. We initiate a counselling process for victims to offer them support in various areas: including living, housing, finances, mental and physical health, social relationships, work, and so on.’

‘During the period of support, we also work with the victims on empowerment, so that they learn to become assertive; they start to understand and break their own patterns. For the children, an educator is deployed to support and guide them and their parents. And where necessary, it is scaled up to ZJCN Youth Care. If a victim has psychological complaints, we call in MHC via the general practitioner.’

Challenges for the shelter on St. Eustatius

Ereina: ‘Because we do not yet have work processes, we try to help and guide victims and perpetrators as best we can, departing from our knowledge and experience. But we need more training, such as aggression training, empowerment training and training to better understand the victims and perpetrators.’

Limited housing offer

‘’Furthermore, moving on from the shelter to the independent housing is also a challenge,’ Ereina continues. ‘On Statia, we have a huge shortage of social housing, and private housing is very expensive for low-income people. We have no rent allowance on the islands. As a result, victims likely need to stay in the shelter for longer, and some may return to their aggressive partner for that reason.’

Strong together on the islands and with Kadera

Ereina: ‘I experience the cooperation with Kadera as very positive. We consult each other every week, in the course of which we work on the work processes step by step. I hope for close cooperation with both Saba and Bonaire. It would be nice if Kadera could train the staff of the shelters together. And that the professionals from Saba and Statia can rely on each other as sparring partners.’