USM Researchers engage with Caribbean region

June 16, 2023

Under the theme Transforming our Caribbean, researchers affiliated with the University of St. Martin (USM) joined over 300 regional and international scholars in celebrating the 47th annual Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) conference.
Through the Island(er)s at the Helm research program, in collaboration with Delft University of Technology, the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and the University of Amsterdam, USM organized a well-attended panel discussion on ‘How to Sustainably Develop the Water Food Shelter and Energy Nexus’. Lysanne Charles, who works on climate governance for St. Martin, Saba and St. Eustatius at USM, presented on “Hurricane Ethics” for the development of hurricane preparedness policies, while Agua Kus of Delft University of Technology shared her first-year experience of investigating sustainable design for housing in low-income and hazard prone areas on Soualigan soil.

Postdoc Researcher Charissa Granger, based at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, discussed interdisciplinary approaches to climate challenges and how music, performing arts and the humanities can inform solutions for climate change challenges. Hailing from Aruba, Gregory Richardson of the Instituto Pedagogico Arubano (IPA) gave a talk on a separate panel concerning how artistic expression gives meaning to climate experiences.

Following the week-long conference on St. Croix, Charles and Kus accompanied USM President and Island(er)s at the Helm co-chair Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez in visiting two successful community-led projects in neighboring island Puerto Rico. First, there was a visit to the Enlace Corporation of the Martín Peña Water Channel in San Juan, where the researchers met with architects, policy officers and local leaders who work directly with a group of eight self-organized communities. These communities together comprise a Community Land Trust with the official, legislated mandate to avoid displacement due to gentrification, the adverse effects of climate change and poor waste management. The USM delegation was given a tour of surrounding neighborhoods which recently saw the dredging of the water ways and construction of resilient housing for low-income residents.

Thereafter, on Sunday, 11 June, the researchers set off to the town of Adjuntas in the western mountain region of Puerto Rico, to familiarize themselves with Casa Pueblo, a self-managed organization which has been successful in bringing solar power to residents, schools, and community centers. Kus and Charles were introduced to Casa Pueblo Board Member and professor of biology Dr. Natasha de León, who explained the history of the struggle for environmental rights, and the decolonial perspectives guiding the various community projects including education, participatory research action, coffee production and solidarity with other self-managed community initiatives in Puerto Rico.

“Grappling with the ideas of community engagement and participation for policy development and governance, particularly for hurricane preparedness and climate treaties, in their broadest sense, remains at the core of my research. Understanding how local knowledge and practices inform strategies to reduce vulnerability and how those can be amplified through and alongside policy development will offer a lot to many people in our society”, Charles said. Through the visits and exchange, USM hopes to facilitate the sharing of experiences and best practices in the region when it comes to community engagement and the development of solutions to confront climate change challenges.

“Visiting these two thriving and progressive self-organizing communities in Puerto Rico reinforced the idea that stronger, more connected communities provide a way to counter both external and internal vulnerabilities. I learned a lot over those two days and look forward to returning soon to learn even more,” Charles concluded.
Island(er)s at the Helm is a five-year research program funded by the Dutch Research Council NWO, and hosted by KITLV in Leiden, the Netherlands and USM in country Sint Maarten. The 2024 CSA Conference is scheduled to take place in St. Lucia.


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University of the Virgin Islands Business and Technology Education Council Johnson and Wales University American University of the Caribbean The Hague University of Applied Sciences University of Amsterdam European Qualifications Framework Florida Mechanical Agricultural University General Educational Development Test Monroe College Mount Saint Vincent University Leiden University NIPA University of the West Indies University of Curaçao