Influencer Marta Dijkhoff
Interview July 2019
Marta could you share with us some information of your family life?
I married this year in May 2019 with Herbert Romer. So life together is a challenge. I come from a big family, with a mother who was married twice. So together my parents have 11 children, 3 from my mother’s former marriage. My family consists of 6 brothers and 5 sisters. My parents were humble people, my mom was a housewife and my dad worked at the local oil refinery. They were there for us, so I am grateful for their support during our childhood. My mom was a very strong woman with high morals on almost everything, my dad was merely a provider. They very much believed in me. They expected nothing but the best, so I always thought that I needed to be the best in everything. They trusted me and, as I child, I think they gave me a lot of responsibility. I couldn’t have children, but I brought up two girls, who are grown up now, and they gave me three grandchildren: two boys and a girl .
Could you share with us some of your educational background?
I was always fascinated with language as a child, and I loved Latin and Greek at the secondary school. For they are like puzzles. You have to know their structure in order to read them well. I wanted to study classical languages, but I could not enter at university level, for at school I had Greek until my third year at the secundary school level. So, I went for English. But I graduated with a 7.4. and I needed a 7.5 average at that time to enter into the university. So I started studying Philosophy and Spanish. When I was in my graduation year, I needed to do two mayors, but I could’t choose. So I did Portuguese, Creole languages and phonetics. Creole languages were thought in Leiden, and I was studying at RUGroningen, in Groningen. The professor in Leiden Dr. Voorhoeve, who worked on “Sranan”, saw my interest in Papiamentu, and advised me to study linguistics. In Groningen they had just started with this new study. So that is how I found my passion. I finished linguistics cum laude in four years and went on to do my Ph D. So I graduated in Spanish, general linguistics, with Portuguese, phonetics and Creole languages as minors. Later on, I did a Masters in training systems design. So now, as a consultant, I combine my knowledge of language with training and development.
Could you share with us some of your professional experiences?
I have been a Minister of Education and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Education in Curaçao, and before that I was employed at the “Instituto Liguistiko Antiano.” I taught a number of courses, both at the University and at the Teacher Training college. I have also produced a number of modules for teaching Papiamentu and other subjects at this level. And I spoke and wrote about these subjects in international conferences and journals, respectively. And lately I have worked on many educational projects as a consultant.
So you know what it takes to create transformative changes in the educational sector. Could you expand on this for a moment?
Yes, I wrote a lot about these subjects, on Papiamentu, on language and emotions The Language of Emotions, on the educational situation in the ABC islands, and on the particularities of Papiamentu as a Creole language, both locally and also internationally.
I am also the president of “Instituto Alsa Papiamentu” and the foundation organizes activities about Papiamentu’s role in society. We try to raise the consciousness of our population on the role of Papiamentu as a language.
So we understand that you are now working as a consultant, coach, mentor, scientist, linguistic expert, and you have a doctorate in Linguistics and have lots of experience internationally? Could you explore on that?
Yes, I worked in Holland, for a while, but I could not ground there. I need to be able to have a social impact with my work on change, and in Holland that was not the case. Or you are obliged to work with immigrants, but I did not want to be pushed in a certain area of work. So I moved back home. Later on, I worked with other colleagues in Aruba, Curaçao, St. Martin, Bonaire, but I also did some projects in Puerto Rico, Bolivia and I am currently working on a project in Suriname.
Our journeys have crossed over many years now since 1974 and on. We became interested in interviewing you, as you are still very passionate about educational innovation and fervent about the importance of education in one’s own native language in the case of Curaçao, the importance of Papiamentu in our educational system. Can you expand a bit on how you got interested in studying linguistics?
Yes, I already told you about my interest in languages as a child and student. So while studying philosophy, Spanish, Linguistics, Portuguese, Creole languages and phonetics, I always asked myself, how does all this knowledge connect to Papiamentu? I wanted to learn about the structure of Papiamentu and how it fits into linguistic theory, for Linguistics subparts such as phonology, syntax and semantics, to me, are like puzzles, like a sort of mathematics. I wanted to discover how a language such as Papiamentu could exist and fare with no help at all. I had to study mathematical linguistics for example and logic, and I did all of that without failing, for I was motivated to finish my linguistics study. And I discovered some rather interesting structures in Papiamentu during my study and wrote about them in my graduate and PH D-thesis. That is how I got the cum laude mentioned for my graduate thesis. While working at the Linguistic Institute, later on I got interested in Education and the role of language in securing a natural link to the child’s brain. So I helped with the whole process of introducing Papiamentu in education as a linguist and teacher. When I became a Minister of Education, I pursued that belief in policy. And thereafter when I finished my masters in Training Systems Design, I understood not only about language and its role for learning, but also how to connect language to learning in the practice of teaching and how to innovate and get through a process of real change.
If you draw an ideal path for Curaçao to have a more 21st century proven educational system, based on Papiamentu as the mother language in our educational system, what would this look like, Marta?
I had a vision as a Minister of Education, and that vision is still valid today. A school should be a safe place where students feel they are respected and thus feel free to grow. It should be a place where they are not only taught how to develop their knowledge and skills, such as reading and writing, mathematics, history and geography, but teachers should add something more to their teaching. They should teach them how to deal with their emotions and how to relate as human beings to one another. School should also be about norms and values, about caring for our island and how to live here and now in this rapidly changing world. So I would put a lot of emphasis on IT in schools and teach students how to deal with the huge amount of information coming their way. We have always been a multilingual society, and we must maintain that asset in our education. But nothing will come of that, if we do not ground what we learn in the child’s brain. Our point of reference to learn another language has to be based on the solid foundation of the language that we first came into contact with: Papiamentu. Children would learn naturally in the first 8 to 10 grades of the school system and build knowledge on foreign languages in the course of this time, depending on their capacities. So by the time that they are 13 or 15, they will be able to switch easily and with no extra effort to English or Dutch.
But the way I would go about change would be very different. I would start with teachers and their teaching and motivate them to be the best, to do what is right in our local circumstances, help them rethink their way of being and teaching. And when they want change, stimulate and help them to build a new curriculum. So it would be a very different way of going about innovation, a more practical and also holistic approach. I would also involve parents and bring them back in school, let them feel the difference for their children. And together with the innovators, build good practices and show to the public how we build good schools. I would work with schools who want to take the challenge and teach them how, but also learn from them how to go about the change in their schools. They know what they can and what is needed, and I know where I would want to go with them, according to our common vision. So we would learn together, about how to proceed, one step to the next. Yet this kind of organic or natural change is not common in our so very Dutch educational structure, with school boards having all the power, unions fighting for material benefits mostly, and teachers being employees and not actors of change. But, I still have this dream and there might be a school and school board who believes in this type of change and go for the challenge. I have worked on change on different levels and with different teachers, and I think that a holistic approach is the only solution. There are many sensitivities, and many factors are influencing education in our schools, and much of it, is politically oriented and more or less fixed by social conditions of teachers, parents and their children. But we have to try and change education, despite everything. Our teachers should be the role models of change.
If teachers change, they will change education on their own, for sure.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
I think, that I can say that I was formed by the events before and after the 30th of May 1969. The change to give Papiamentu more social significance, started irrevocably on that day. It was the language spoken by the ones who wanted social change. The language, that was used to lead that revolt. And as a child I was confronted with it’s power when my father picked me up at school and told me that he could only have passed the barricades, because he could speak it. Furthermore, I always liked stories and Ellis Juliana used to tell stories on television and I associated his voice with culture. That is how I wanted my Papiamentu to sound like. My parents are not from Curaçao. My dad is from Aruba and my mom from Venezuela. But I could be a Yu di Kòrsou because of Papiamentu. So I have had this passion for Papiamentu as a language and of it’s social importance, as long as I can remember, and it only grew when I studied it, as a professional. It is a language with it’s own beauty and incomparable to other Creole languages, with it’s role in society growing in spite of all opposition. So I work to show others it’s value by writing on it and showing them its richness and beauty. So I wrote a (online) method to teach Papiamentu on basic levels (A1/A2) for non-Papiamentu speakers, which I am still working on and perfectioning it. I wrote a program for foreign primary school teachers, so they could reach an intermediate level (B1), and this was taught in Bonaire. I wrote different modules on syntax, morphology, phonology, the verbal system and the phrase structure of Papiamentu, for a 4-year curriculum at the Teacher training college, and for the bachelor study of Papiamentu at the University.
I also went through the learning objectives of languages taught in primary school, with a colleague Drs. Marion Snetselaar, and we organized them in a system based on the mother tongue.
So I worked on language curricula on all levels of education and translated along with others a huge amount of pages on themes such as management, mathematics, computer sciences and health care. Some of the things I do are paid for and others are not. So I work mostly on non-profit basis with Ace Suares of Suares @ Co and Manuel Ortega, another IT professional working in Spain, on the digitalization of Papiamentu and the presence of Papiamentu on Internet. We developed a spellcheck on Papiamentu and a database called Papiamentu.info.
I was a president of “Kòrsou Habrí” for a long time and still follow their steps, trying to bring computer and computer science to young people in underprivileged or disadvantaged neighborhoods.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
Time is a challenge. I want to do so much in the 24 hours, that I have every day. So I make time for my grandchildren every Friday afternoon. I used to work long hours, but I am married now and living together is a challenge. I definitely want to make my marriage work. Yet, I cannot live a life of routine. So combining work with family life has always been a real challenge.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
Yes, I think my inner voice has always guided me. I decided and made choices I understood only later. Choices which caused me e lot of pain and which I doubted that they would work. But afterwards it was always the right choice for me. Like leaving my first husband, leaving politics, quitting my job at the ministry, letting the daughters I brought up, go and live their own lives. Choosing for a marriage with the person I always loved, at this late age in May 2019. But in the end, I can say that I am happy, and that I did the right thing.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
I go to conferences of the Society of Caribbean Linguistics every two years and others if possible. I also read a lot and try to keep publishing in my field. At least once a year. And for my personal growth, I like to go to retreats like the one organized by Carlo Monsanto, Angelo Luidens and Patricia Chin-A-Fo (IOLEE Ecosystem) for education professionals. IoLee testimonials – YouTube for more
What are your strengths?
I am good at managing change, where things need to get ordered and sorted in a new way. I am also a good listener and facilitator for creating new working environments. But my strength is also my weakness. I do not easily let my emotions enter into work. So I tend to overdo, become addicted to work. I tend to lose myself in work and stop feeling. Yet I know things can change only when combining brains with emotions. So I consciously work on that particular aspect and keep reminding myself, that I need to pay attention to feelings and emotions next to the cognitive aspect of learning and teaching.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love sewing, embroidery and needle point. I haven’t done it much of it for a long time. I also love swimming, something I try to do this every week for at least half an hour.
If you as Marta would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
I wouldn’t immediately share my name, I would start talking to explore commonalities, like this time in Jamaica, where I went to a conference, and didn’t have any transportation back to the hotel. Getting into a conversation with a girl I met, we talked on commonalities and I got a lift from her, she brought me to the hotel and I even got an address from her for a future stay at her house in Montego Bay.
How would you describe Marta in one word or one sentence?
I did what I wanted to do, and even more than I ever thought I would do.
Who has inspired you the most in your career?
Ellis Juliana since I was a young child watching him on TV and Frank Martinus Arion because of the role they played in making Papiamentu what is has become. Frank and I were colleagues during my years at the ministry. Furthermore, Maria Liberia Peters and Lucille Wout because both had personality traits as women, that I admired during their political careers.
What are some challenges, lessons learned, that you have encountered in your life when you ultimately discovered your talents and strengths? What was a defining moment in your life?
My children were a defining moment in my life. Because of them, I developed my Emotional Intelligence on a deeper level. You can’t educate children only from the mind, that is what I learned from raising them. I had this opportunity to become the care taker of 2 children (girls), one of my brother’s (her mother died at a young age) and one of my sister’s (we were two mothers, dividing the week and holidays between us). So they came into my life and I feel blessed of all they have taught me.
Where do you want to be 15 to 20 years from now with your career?
My career was…. I am an elder now. I was a professional for many years, and I served long enough, lately, as a Secretary General of the Ministry of Education. In the coming years it would give me a lot of satisfaction, if I am able to pass my knowledge and expertise to the next generation: as a linguist and as an innovator in education.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
“She was there for us.” I pick up my grandchildren every Friday and spend time with them. I do not let anything stand in my way, because I want them to remember the good times we had. They are important to me and they need to sense that. I also took care of my children when they grew up, in spite of having to deal with a lot of challenges when I was working. And I want my husband to feel loved, in the time that we still have left. I want my friends and family to remember me as someone who cared.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
The youth. They still come up with new ideas and see things differently, without all the baggage of older people. They see the world as fresh and new, it still challenges their creativity. My daughters, my nephews and nieces live their life as entrepreneurs. They work very hard at different jobs, they don’t even go for steady jobs, but for what they like to do. They are like entrepreneurs in what they do, and they work hard to make things happen in their own way. They see a future we don’t see. So new things are happening. New types of relationships. New types of living “life.” They don’t rely on our ways of safety, they don’t need a fixed place to stay or live, they have this freedom with their life, which I did not have when I was young, and they are perfectly happy with change. The trust we build over the years with my daughters, in the time that I took care of them, made them, I believe, the person that they are right now, they are free young people, full of zest and hope for the future.
One of the 250 Community Influencers
Marta Dijkhoff, is an inspiring and energetic, multifaceted Influencer. As consultant, coach, mentor, scientist, linguistic expert, innovator, author, former Minister of Education, Civil Servant and doctorate in Linguistics and she has spent, lots of time consolidating Papiamentu in our society and in our educational system using all the different facets she has to its maximum, to achieve this. A worthy representative for the Educational sector of our island, with international experience. She is still a committed educator, eager to transfer her experiences to the next generations of educators. In that sense, she is a role model and therefore an Influencer for all working in the educational sector. We definitely consider her one of the 250 ethical leaders of our Island with a warm heart for Curaçao. Check these links:
Marta Dijkhoff | LinkedIn