This semester, the Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies (TIBS) in Bocas del Toro, Panamá, welcomed an additional 15 students and seven staff members from the Center for Marine Resource Studies (CMRS) located in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI was heavily impacted by category five hurricane Irma and all staff and students were evacuated.
When I received the call asking whether or not it would be possible to house, feed and deliver a top-notch educational program for CMRS students and staff at TIBS, my immediate response was, YES! Without question. In life, there are ups and downs and rights and lefts, unexpected surprises and difficult decisions. I’ve learned that adopting a positive mindset and leading with compassion is key in the face of challenge. Though no one knew how this would take shape, friendship and teamwork have without question weathered the storm.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the TIBS staff who hurriedly prepared our center in less than three full days to receive our new CMRS cohort. I am very proud of our TIBS staff who came together to make this happen and who with great care and attention worked with our TIBS students to prepare them for this transition. Thank you as well to our TIBS students for welcoming the CMRS students with smiles, open hearts and open minds. I equally thank all of the CMRS staff who with great care and concern assisted in the evacuation of the CMRS students, moved them through the process of preparing to go to a country some had never imagined visiting and finally oriented them to this new place called, Panamá. We are also very grateful to the staff at our headquarters in Massachusetts for their support on the ground and the countless hours spent over the phone orchestrating this transition.
My mom has always told me that our family is made of “tough stuff”. In our family, when something goes wrong or someone needs help, you pull together and push forward without question. I hope that students take away from this experience that in the face of a challenge, you never give up and you never give in. You make it work the best you can, you stay positive and you just keep swimming.
Hurricane Irma has forever changed our lives. We send much love to all of our colleagues and friends at the many wonderful research institutions and universities throughout the Caribbean affected by this storm. We also send our thoughts and love to all of the people of the Caribbean who have lost homes, livelihoods, communities and loved ones. Receiving an education, having access to clean drinking water, and a safe place to rest is a privilege. It is the extraordinary resolve of the people of the Caribbean affected by the hurricane that motivates us all to do our very best and to be grateful for each and every opportunity.
TIBS students, August 29, 2017
…And two weeks later, CRMS students, September 11, 2017
CMRS students get comfortable in Panama
TIBS students pose in Panama City for a group photo
TIBS and CMRS staff in Casco Antiguo