Home Regional News Pioneer for the blind in Curacao is Regional Unsung Hero 2011

Pioneer for the blind in Curacao is Regional Unsung Hero 2011

Bridgetown, BARBADOS, November 14,2011 – An 83 year-old woman in Curacao who has spent her adult life championing the rights of the visually impaired has given Curacao its first top award in CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank’s region-wide Unsung Heroes programme for 2011.

Cornellie Schoonhoven-Muntslag topped the list of 24 regional finalists after a panel of judges met in October to make the final selections.  This is the first year that Curacao has produced the region’s top Unsung Hero.


One of the first in Curacao to learn and teach Braille, Schoonhoven-Muntslag helped to form the Society for the Blind (Pro Bista) in Curacao in the 1960’s. She has, for over 40 years, sought to integrate visually challenged persons into the community and has inspired many to do likewise.

Encouraged by her blind mother, Schoonhoven-Muntslag was determined to help visually impaired persons in Curacao. She started volunteering with a women’s Christian group which organised activities for children with visual impairments. Eager to take this cause to another level, Schoonhoven-Muntslag, who was a full-time teacher, rallied a group of 14 volunteers and established the Society for the Blind. Leveraging her contacts with the Dutch Institute for the Blind, she arranged for the volunteers to receive training in Braille reading and teaching, communications techniques and craft work for blind persons. The volunteers then went through neighbourhoods in the island to register visually challenged persons and a variety of activities were then organised.

The number of Pro Bista’s “clients” grew so large that in 1975 the group organised a Telethon and raised enough funds to construct their own centre.

Despite her advanced age, Schoonhoven-Muntslag spends three days a week volunteering at Pro Bista. While lauding the volunteerism of young professionals to the society she says, “I will always stay committed to Pro Bista, because if I stay home, I become an old lady.”

Also receiving recognition as Unsung Heroes in the 2011 programme are Cleopatra Jackson from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who has trekked three miles on dirt roads to offer free after-school classes, and Sylvaneta Brooks from Antigua and Barbuda, who provides housing and care for underprivileged children and adults in her community.

Jackson, 63, who started teaching at the age of 14, has committed her life to the education and upliftment of children, adults, the needy and elderly in her community through a number of organisations and programmes. The seventh of 15 children, she experienced firsthand what it meant to share and care for others with limited financial resources. Many of the children that Jackson has cared for, housed or taught have gone on to become proficient and productive members of society.

Sylvaneta Brooks, 56, has, for the most part, depleted her savings to provide care for those in need. She began her labour of love some 40 years ago when, as a teen, she took on responsibility for caring for her niece. This formed the launch pad into community work which included providing shelter, clothing, food and social and spiritual guidance to over 25 children over the last 26 years in the Ottos New Town community in St. John’s, Antigua.

The regional unsung heroes are to be honoured early next year at a ceremony in Trinidad and Tobago, the home of the 2010 Unsung Hero, Stephen McLatchie. He will hand over to the 2011 Unsung Hero at a ceremony which will simultaneously launch the 2012 Unsung Heroes programme. As local finalists the three have already received award donations of US $6000 each towards the development of their benevolent work. The two remaining awardees will receive an additional $US 5000 each, while Schoonhoven-Muntslag will receive a further US $7500.

CEO of CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, Rik Parkhill, offered congratulations to all the regional awardees. He made special mention of Schoonhoven-Muntslag, Jackson, and Brooks for possessing that rare combination of personal sacrifice, determination and consistency to make a significant and lasting impact in their communities. “CIBC FirstCaribbean’s Unsung Heroes programme is a credit to the enduring spirit of benevolence in Caribbean people. We were humbled and impressed by the quality and level of sacrifice illustrated in the submissions both at the local and regional levels for this programme,” Parkhill said.

Mr. Parkhill also expressed appreciation to the panel of regional judges for their continued commitment to the programme in seeking out those persons from far flung parts of the Caribbean who play their part quietly contributing and benefiting those who may be less fortunate.  This year the panel comprised Sir Shridath Ramphal, who chaired the group, Sir George Alleyne, Sir Neville Nicholls, Ms. Marie MacCormack, Jones P. Madeira of Trinidad, Charles Williams of Dominica, and A. Leonard Archer of Bahamas.

The Unsung Heroes regional programme is CIBC FirstCaribbean’s flagship corporate social responsibility initiative. Launched in 2003, the Bank has contributed over US$4 million in funding to the programme which continues to be of great assistance to unsung heroes.

Seated left to right: Ms. Marie MacCormack former High Court Judge in Barbados; Mr. Charles Williams, former Chief of the Carib Community in Dominica; Sir Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and Mr. A. Leonard Archer, former Bahamas High Commissioner to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM);

Standing left to right: Sir George Alleyne, Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; Sir Neville Nicholls, Former President of the Caribbean Development Bank and Mr. Jones P. Madeira, Court Protocol and Information Manager in the Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.


About CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank

CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank is the largest, regionally-listed bank in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, serving over 500,000 accounts in 17 markets through 3,400 staff across 100 branches and offices. The bank offers a full range of market-leading financial services in Corporate Banking, Investment Banking, Treasury Sales and Trading, Retail Banking, Wealth Management, and Credit Cards.

CIBC FirstCaribbean is a member of the CIBC Group. CIBC (TSX, NYSE: CM) is a leading North American financial institution serving clients in Canada and around the world. CIBC provides a full range of products and services to almost 11 million individual, small business and commercial banking clients and meets the financial needs of corporate and institutional clients. CIBC is rated A+/Stable/A-1 by Standard & Poor's. For more information about FirstCaribbean, visit www.cibcfcib.com


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