“I hope that this series is a celebration of the kids’ resilience and love for the game,” says London-based photographer Emily Stein of her latest series: Homework First, Baseball Second. A touching and endearing series, it documents the young people involved in the St. Maarten Little League on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten; an area devastated by Hurricane Irma in August and September of 2017.
Emily first came across the league when on holiday on a neighbouring island. After hearing about the terrible damage to Sint Maarten and the consequences its inhabitants were still suffering, she began researching programmes and outlets for the island’s young people, an age group that much of Emily’s work focusses on. “I found that a really positive focus for a lot of young girls and boys was The Sint Maarten Little League based in Philipsburg, the island’s capital,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Irma was the worst hurricane the island had seen in a century, leaving three billion dollars worth of damage in its wake. Many family homes still remain un-repaired as “unfortunately, a lot of families do not have insurance,” Emily explains. “With many families struggling financially, positive outlets for the kids are now more crucial than ever. The Sint Maarten Little League has been running for over 42 years. Besides the regular assignments, the coaches of the programme are making sure the kids have the opportunity to work through their experiences surrounding Irma.”
Beyond offering sport as an outlet and a sense of community, the league provides a psychologist to work with the young people, helping them share their stories but also take part in rebuilding the league. “The Sint Maarten Little League have lost their clubhouse, lights, scoreboard, everything, but carry on regardless, playing harder than ever trying to raise the money to rebuild,” Emily adds.
On Boxing Day, Emily travelled to the island to spend a day getting to know the participants, documenting the matches that were taking place between several teams. “The kids’ coaches were so warm and invited me into their world without hesitation. Such openness and trust is very specific and special to Sint Maarten. It struck me that the girls and boys are totally absorbed in the game and it gives them so much,” she explains.
This a revelation which seeps itself into the series, imbued with joy and comradeship. Emily’s photographic approach – a mix of staged portraits and candid moments – authentically captures what is such an important pillar of the island’s community, celebrating the work of the coaches running the programme and the kids who turn up week in week out to keep it going.
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