Influencer Denice Bezemer-Hoyer: trustworthy, organized, and driven

Interview February 2022

Denice, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born in Curaçao on May 13th, 1963, as the 8th child of my parents. I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers. My father was a manager of the marketing department of the National Airlines and my mother was a teacher. They were always very supportive of their children and wanted us to reach our goals in life. I studied in the Netherlands from 1981 up to 1984 and graduated as a dental hygienist. I lived at a dormitory where I met my husband after graduating. He came to live in the same dormitory as where I lived. At that time, he was a student at the University of Utrecht. We soon moved from the dormitory to another living facility. After he graduated, we got married in December of 1988. We are blessed with one son since 1996. I’m part of a close-knit family and we are trying to support each other through thick and thin.

Denice Bezemer-Hoyer with husband and son | [private collection)]

Could you share something about your educational background and your experience?
After finishing high school in Curaçao in 1981 (Peter Stuyvesant College) I went to the Netherlands to study to become a Dental Hygienist. The reason to choose this profession was that I used to visit the dentist every six months and got to hear all the time that I had to take better care of my teeth, but he never told me how to do this. My grandmothers both had dentures and my grandfathers still had their teeth. I decided that I wanted to learn how to take care of my teeth and to be able to teach others because I wanted to make sure to go into my grave with my teeth. I graduated as one of the best students and returned to Curaçao to work on my vocation, teach others how to take care of their teeth. Because there weren’t jobs available for me and besides I had my – then-boyfriend – living in the Netherlands, I returned to the Netherlands in 1985. I worked as a dental hygienist and as an OR assistant in the oral surgeon department at the hospital (Gooi Noord) and worked for 1 year at the GGD in Amersfoort (Tandheelkundig Preventief Medewerker) and I worked at 2 general dental offices. Because my husband wanted to come live in Curaçao, we moved to live in Curaçao in 1994. I was homesick in the beginning while my husband was feeling completely at home, but in hindsight, I am very glad to have moved because it was here that I had the necessary help, for us to be blessed with our son and I had the chance to be close to my dad during his last years. He passed away at the end of 1996, while my son was born at the beginning of 1996. 1996 turned out to be an eventful year with ups and downs.

We know you to be very active in the “Fundashon Yuda Muchanan di Skol di Kòrsou”/ Stichting Help de Schoolkinderen van Curaçao” for some years. Can you expand a little on this?
After my son went to school (kindergarten) I decided to join the PTA (Parents Teacher Association). I joined ever since all the PTAs of the schools he visited afterward. During the school year 2005/2006, all the parents who were active in a PTA got an invitation to a meeting organized by the Government, which I attended. The reason for this meeting was that they wanted to form a platform for all PTAs on the island. During this meeting, I got elected along with 7 others to start with this platform (Representashon Mayornan Uni or abbreviated: Rema Uni). I got to be the first official chairman of this platform, through this platform I met all the schoolboards and had the opportunity to visit most schools. 10 years ago, I was approached by the Roman Catholic Schoolboard asking me to join their new to set “complaints committee”. Through these boards, I had been active with adults more than with the children, so I decided to do something with the children as well.

I had difficulty believing that most of the children scored so low on their end test after primary school, I wanted to see for myself what was keeping them from scoring higher. I started once weekly as a “reading aid mother” in some schools in poor neighborhoods. I realized that the children didn’t have adequate materials to work with. Their learning/working environment was depressing, with old and broken furniture. That’s when I decided that I needed to do more. I needed to help with the environment and with the teaching materials to motivate the teachers and children to achieve more.

This was occupying my mind all the time. What can I do, how can I make a difference for these children?
During my holidays in Holland in May of 2016, I went to visit my sister. I got to meet a friend of hers and my brother-in-law, Sam van Dommelen, who was planning to move to live in Curaçao along with her husband and 2 children. She wanted to do something for the community and asked me if I knew of something. Immediately I told her about the situation at the schools of Curaçao and that I was sure that we could mean a lot to the community.
She moved to Curaçao during the summer holidays that same year, and together with my sister, brother-in-law, and her former neighbor in Holland we moved mountains. In January 2017 the first container filled with secondhand school furniture reached Curaçao. On February, 23rd of 2017 we officially launched “Stichting Help de Schoolkinderen van Curaçao”. In May of 2018, we launched “Stichting Help Curaçao”.

During the first years of existence of the foundation up to 2020, we delivered an average of 22 containers per year. After 2020 we delivered an average of 12 containers per year. In total, we delivered 92 containers. With “Stichting Help Curaçao” we take care of the other groups of needy of our community.

We delivered containers for the St. Elizabeth Hospital, for nursing homes Betèsda and Hamiëd. And we had been delivering food for the needy from April 2020 up till May 2021.

We also transport, from Holland, clothing, and other items, like household effects for those in need in Curaçao.

For how long have you been chairperson of the foundation? Can you tell us something about what inspired you to take up this responsibility?
After launching the foundation, Sam van Dommelen was the chairman, but because she worked full-time and because I was the one who was more occupied with the foundation we decided to switch roles and I became the chairman after 3 years. The founders, my sister, brother-in-law, and Sam are still board members along with me.
My inspiration to be the chairman is simply because I have more time available and because I have the knowledge of the school system on the island. I’m now the person who can replace most of the board members in case one of them is unavailable.

But the most important part of this all is making sure the children get what they need to succeed in life. We want to make sure the children know that they are very important, make sure that they know that their future goals are to be reached by attending school. They have to be able to know that we as adults think their future is so important for all of us, that we make sure that their learning environment is in top condition to be sure that they can work on their goals in life. They have to feel cared for, they have to know that they are the most important human beings for us, their parents!

Have you noticed changes in the willingness of those willing to contribute and also the preparedness of schools to accept gifts, and how would you describe these changes?
In the beginning, we had to approach the schools in the Netherlands, we approached one of the suppliers of the school furniture in Holland. We wanted them to know that we wanted to make a difference for the schools in Curaçao (and Aruba) without any additional costs.

We wanted to get a chance to show them that we are working as volunteers, that we want nothing else but secondhand furniture and materials to deliver for free to the schools and other instances.
After our first two years of existence, we noticed that we didn’t have to approach anybody anymore, they approach us. Sometimes we aren’t able to accept all that’s being offered to us.

The school boards on the island already knew me and know that I’m somebody who you can depend upon. They know that we keep our promises.

The other thing we do for both the Netherlands and Curaçao (and Aruba) is we share with them every step we take, besides we send the sponsor or schoolboards the bills for the transport of the furniture directly, and they pay them themselves. We don’t charge for the work we do.

The schoolboards have an annual meeting with us, in which they share their needs with us. We can mix and match when we receive an offer. However, due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to meet in person as usual during the last 2 years.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now? 
What drives me is the need to show the children that they are worth this and so much more, the need to give them each a chance to succeed in life, no matter their choices. The need to show them that there are people who care for them and their well-being. I want all the children to have a fair chance to reach the maximum of their ability. No matter where they come from or which neighborhood they grew up in.

“The reaction of the children when you deliver and they receive. It’s priceless…”

What always motivates me is the reaction of the children when you deliver and they receive. It’s priceless, that’s what gives me the strength to continue.

What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
I will continue helping out as much as possible. What I have noticed doing what I do, as part of the foundation is that every time you think that you have reached a goal and that your work is finished, something else pops up, and afterward there will be another one popping up. And each time it will be bigger. I will go with the flow. So I really can’t say upfront where I will be 5 years from now.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
The challenges I have to deal with are that not everybody is the same, not everybody wants to reach the same goals and not everybody is to be trusted. Sometimes you have to accept that not everybody is as driven as you are, and you need to figure out a way to show patience. I tend to do everything at once and immediately, some people have to take their time, and that’s something I have to learn to live with. Another challenge I have to face is that not everyone you come across has the same goals. Sometimes you will meet people who aren’t as driven as yourself to support the children of the island, they are more focused on their own well-being.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
I do use my inner voice to guide me during hardship. I tend to try to sit back and relax, regroup, and figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, in as short a time as possible with as few complications as possible. I try to see the problem in layers and try to fix it, one layer at a time. I always follow my inner voice. Most of the time that’s the best way to go for me.

How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
For the Dental Hygiene part, even though I don’t work as such anymore, I am in contact with my colleagues and I keep myself informed through literature. For the foundation, I tend to ask as many questions as possible while rephrasing, to make sure I understand everything.
The world of freight, logistics, and customs is now my occupation, and I had to learn a lot to be able to run the foundation. I keep myself informed through the transporter and customs, and reading.

What are your strengths?
My strengths are: I am driven, I am passionate to reach my goals, and will reach them. I am very well organized and have the ability to organize events. I have a dose of imagination on how to reach the goals and can pursue them. I listen to what others have to say. I am a very hands-on person.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love to read, I love watching documentaries, I love arts and crafts, love to paint and crochet. When I am very tired or when I need to relax I crochet or paint. Afterward, I feel like I can manage the world again. I love cooking and baking as well. My passion at the moment, I need to say, is crocheting, it’s wonderful to be able to create a garment out of some yarn.

If you as Denice would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in New York or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I’m not a person to boast, so I would say that I’m a member of the foundation and would explain what we do. The reason why we do what we do. I’m always hopeful that there can be others who are willing to help.

How would you describe Denice in one word or one sentence?
Trustworthy, organized, and driven.

Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My parents definitely, my husband and son as well. My mother was a teacher and had witnessed the development in the schools/education through the years, instead of getting better it went in a downward spiral. She always was and is ready to help others, and besides that, she is very well organized.
My father, was a very well-organized person as well, sure of himself, always willing to fight and go the extra mile for all children, and ready to help out anybody who needed help. Both were people you could count on.
My husband and son support me all the way. They also see the aid that needs to be given and they both give me all the support I need. They are willing to let me be and let me work day and night on the well-being of those in need in our community. My husband helps out in whichever way possible, I can always count on his support.

What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
I can’t seem to have the patience to deal with people who only complain about the situation they’re in or the situation surrounding them. No matter what you do to help, what you offer to help, they don’t want your help or sometimes accept it, but still, complain. They sometimes even complain about the help they received. Because, so it seems they are very comfortable in their victim role. I try to cope with this kind of people, let’s say that this is a work in progress?

What was a defining moment in your life?
There are different defining days in my life. For the foundation and me, was the day I met Sam van Dommelen in Holland during my holidays.

Another defining day was the day before my father passed away, Friday, December 20th, 1996, he was in perfect health but yet he woke up very early and was waiting for me to talk to him. That morning he felt the need to talk to me about his life and what he wanted for all of us, his children, in life. He asked me to take care of my mother and to make sure to take her to the physician the following Monday. I didn’t want to accept what he was saying to me but listened to what he was saying. Yet, I didn’t say goodbye to him at the end of the day, because I thought that if I didn’t, nothing would happen. So I greeted him like I usually did. He came outside on that day to wave goodbye, I wished I hugged him goodbye, but I didn’t that same night, my mother called to say that he had passed away after a massive heart attack.

Now I make sure to greet somebody as if it would be the last day.

Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your career?
10 years from now, I would like to be able to sit back and relax and be pleased with what we have achieved for the island. I would like to be able to hand over the foundation to somebody who can carry on with it. We established the foundation and made sure we have everything in place with the right persons at the right places. A person who will carry on, do more maybe, and see more possibilities. I don’t necessarily need to reach anything for myself.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
In 20 years from now, I would like people to know that I did everything that was in my power to help the young adults walking on the island at that moment and that they can say that during their schooldays they were helped by this foundation and that they would like to do whatever is in their power to help the future generations. I hope to have motivated some of them or at least one, who will know that it’s their turn. But most of all I hope that the government will be able to do whatever needs to be done to help the future generations to become well-behaved producing citizens.

“Every mistake one makes, everything that goes wrong in life is a learning point, a point in life to stand still.”

What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
Everything happens for a reason, no matter what happens I always think of it as a learning moment, a chance to grow, a chance to wake up and smell the coffee. Every mistake one makes, everything that goes wrong in life is a learning point, a point in life to stand still. A chance to look through different eyes what is going on, what is going wrong, and remedy the situation. It’s a new challenge in life. A new moment for growth. That’s the only way to be able to help others. By falling and standing up stronger than before.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I would like to have more volunteers to join in the efforts to offer schoolchildren in need of school supplies, as what we do is gaining more awareness in Holland which is great, but this also means more work to deal with the big demand that we have on the island. We are now a board of 5, it used to be 6  and hopefully, soon we will have an extra board member living in Curaçao as at this moment I am the only one living in Curaçao. The other 4 board members live in Holland.

We have been focusing on FO (Funderend Onderwijs = primary school level), but we are aware of a great demand that also exists among schools at the secondary school level, the Kindergarten level, and even the after school care. We still have a long way to go. We have an increasing willingness among school boards to share with regards to school furniture. In the beginning, it was more of first come first serve and only addressing their own needs, now we are noticing they have opened up to share based on the needs of the different schools and school boards. The schoolboards pay for the cost of transportation and at times we help them with a sponsor for these costs.

You seem to be able to let a lot of people and organizations collaborate, which is exactly what Share2Uplift wants to enable. Can you mention some examples that come to mind right now?
I have a couple of examples like the local Rotary Club had contact with a member of the Rotary club in Holland and this contact knew that the school furniture of the school of one of his children would be renewed. So the local Rotary and the one in Holland teamed up and paid for the transport costs, and we were involved in identifying the school with the highest need for new furniture. The school we identified was Bellefaas Martis and what they don’t need they are offering to another school board to help out some of the needs of one of their schools. Another example of collaboration is the students of the International School organized a fundraising and used that money to sponsor the transport costs of a container full of school materials that were then distributed among schools that needed these the most.

This was our philosophy as we started exactly 5 years ago on the 23rd of February 2017, we were trying to create a Ripple Effect and we can now see that it is happening.

We have also mediated to bring some headmasters of different schools and varying schoolboards together to share their experiences and lessons learned with our projects. Due to Covid, this was stopped, but we are planning to re-start this initiative again.

Another example where we were involved in collaboration among different organizations was in 2019. We organized fundraising for the foundation (for us to be able to cover our costs. Most of the time the focus is on the younger children visiting the FO schools (the primary school level). This time we wanted to focus on the children from the middle and high school level and we invited Archell Thompson who lives in Holland, to come and address the youth as a motivational speaker. The idea was to trigger the youth who are experiencing problems at home. He had experienced a rough education and he managed to unfreeze the youth who were present. Archell’s presentation was very impactful, as a lot of children in all types of schools have first-hand experience with not a soft nor nice upbringing. Archell continued up to now to mentor some of these children. One of them was a timid young boy and after a half-year completely transformed and opened up. He turned out to be a talented rapper and he has himself become a motivational speaker. Archell requires from them that they don’t get involved with the criminal justice system. He is also very involved with Don Sarto at Soto and plans to help children from that school with some extracurricular activities.

For that fundraisings event, we also invited some schools from the secondary school level to be involved, and we asked Papy Adriana for his collaboration. Mr. Adriana is a famous local artist and art teacher. We auctioned some of the paintings his students had painted. During that event, we involved Maris Stella SBO, a hospitality school to be involved as help cooks for the chef, and in the evening students were involved as waiters to serve attendees at this event. There were some students also that played aguinaldo and offered some dances, and all this took place at La Hacienda. We had Percy Pinedo help out with the whole organization of this event! The intention is to have this type of event repeated after Covid hampered our efforts.  

Geen fotobeschrijving beschikbaar.

We were also involved with the “Voedselbank”. At first, we thought that the lockdown would give us some rest and breathing space. None of that happened, as we were approached by the Transport organization Carib Intertrans (they transport our school materials) in December 2019 with a certain amount, with the request if we would be willing to offer 10 to 15 families in need for “food packages” as part of Christmas. The family names we got after contacting The ministry of SOAW.  When in March 2020 we went into lockdown due to Covid, we were approached by the ministry of SOAW if it is possible to help out with food packages we couldn’t say “no” and we collected money, negotiated the prices, and the retailers offering these goods and in the end offered twice about 250 food packages because of our work.  We gave the food packages to the “Voedselbank” which distributed these packages to their clients.

Geen fotobeschrijving beschikbaar.

But as you build reputation other opportunities to serve in society show up. We were approached by one of the retailers (EWT) to deliver goods for the food packages asking us if we could facilitate and organize food to be cooked by the chef cook of Kunuku Aqua Resort and his team for 500 people, and paid for by both parties. This they were willing to keep up for 6 weeks. We managed to deliver 600 meals daily for people bedridden and who depended on Wit Gele Kruis, Thuis Zorg Bandabou, schoolchildren in Brievengat depending on the after-school program to eat, and elders who don’t receive a full pension. The food was delivered by volunteers who lost their jobs due to the lockdown. They had their expenses paid for but were more than willing to help out. After 6 weeks, we decided to offer our help through the Red Cross to continue with our project. We worked together with The Red Cross on this Ready to Eat Meal project until May 2021. Afterward, The ministry of SOAW took over the project of distributing meals.

We are not doing this work for our credits, but we are intrinsically motivated to help our fellow citizens, which can also be a challenge because at time pride stand in the way of people asking for help when they need help. For more examples of the work, do go to our website and Facebook pages.

I can’t plan ahead as “we go with the flow” and surprises that come up and we can give a contribution to, we will always help.

The latest project we are involved with is called “Een glimlach voor Curaçao” (A smile for Curaçao). On the 20th of March we will start with a pilot where a group of Dental hygienists from Holland and local Dental hygienists are starting a project aimed at a sustainable, low threshold, preventive program together with Ministery of GMN and MOWCS. We will use information sessions and a video that the dance school “Drazans” made to inform and educate parents and children (depending on their age) on the need for prevention. This will hopefully incentivize these parents to allow their children, between 0 – 18 years old, to visit a dentist twice a year. This project will take place in Shopping Center Sambil. After the informative session, the children will be checked by professional dental caregivers (Dental hygienists or dentists) after the simple check-up, they will receive a package containing flyers and some utensils.

This program originated in Holland where the clients of the “voedselbank” were given an opportunity (4 times a year) to visit a dental office where they are offered free utensils. The idea behind this is, that people have no means to provide themselves with dental aids if they don’t have the means to provide for their own food. Through this project, we hope to make the dental practice as accessible as possible.

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Denice Bezemer Hoyer is a driven, passionate, organized, goal-getting, dependable, inspiring, sharing, dedicated social entrepreneur. By connecting, aligning, and collaborating with different volunteers and organizations she is increasingly creating bigger “Ripple Effects” in the areas where she is involved via “Fundashon Yuda Muchanan di Skol di Kòrsou”/ Stichting Help de Schoolkinderen van Curaçao.

But as Denice is a graduated dental hygienist, her involvement in the soon-to-start pilot aimed at a sustainable, low threshold, dental health preventive program together with the Ministry of GMN and MOWCS for a specific age and social group, illustrates the width of her growing circle of influence. Denice epitomizes the share2uplift concept 100 % as she connects, aligns, collaborates, and creates impact together with others.

All this, and especially her collaborative mindset and her deep caring for the less fortunate in our society and children, makes her stand out. That is why we deeply love and respect Denice Bezemer-Hoyer and we consider her one of the 250 influencers of the islands representing the NGO sector focusing on “Community Development” and preventive health care. Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.

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