Island(er)s at the Helm project awarded funding from NWO

THE HAGUE - Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven of Education, Culture and Science of The Netherlands announced Island(er)s at the Helm as one of two projects awarded funding from the NWO Caribbean Research program on January 7.

The Island(er)s at the Helm project is chaired by Dr. Francio Guadeloupe from the University of Amsterdam/KITLV, with co-applicants Dr. Corinne Hofman from Leiden University/KITLV, Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez from the University of St. Martin (USM), and Dr. Filomeno Marchena from the University of Curaçao.

Island(er)s at the Helm brings together researchers and societal partners to combine technical, traditional, and contemporary knowledge practices to co-create sustainable and inclusive strategies for social adaptation to these climatic challenges.

A trans-Atlantic academic platform will be developed, fostering research-based education on climate challenges for the six islands. Moreover, a regional expertise center on climate challenges, where the Dutch Caribbean researchers can find employ, is one of the end objectives of this program.

This center will be jointly managed by USM, University of Curacao, University of Aruba, and the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute. These institutions have committed to working towards this integration by offering joint courses in cooperation with institutes in the region and the wider Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In March 2020, a team of researchers and societal partners travelled to the six Dutch Caribbean islands to organize outreach seminars and bring together researchers and local stakeholders to discuss the initial ideas and set-up of the NWO program Island(er)s at the Helm.

The main objective of the seminars was to discuss the climate change challenges that face the Caribbean island(er)s; to define common goals of interest towards social adaptation to climate change; to broaden and consolidate the prospective network of partnerships; and to start off discussions to co-create questions and approaches to shape the full proposal. These conversations contributed to the final Island(er)s at the Helm program.

The emphasis within this NWO program is on the structural strengthening of the knowledge system and the embedding of scientific research in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. NWO aims to achieve this goal by means of two large multidisciplinary research programs that are carried out and anchored in the region itself. The research programs focus on issues of great social and scientific importance to the Caribbean region and promote the transfer of knowledge through education and outreach.

“This project is about NWO truly investing in research that benefits our islands. Climate change is real. We know this from [Hurricane – Ed.] Irma and the rise of the frequency of hurricanes in our region. We know this from the heavy rainfall and droughts on the ABC islands [Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao]. We know this from the rise in earthquakes and now a volcano waking up in the wider Caribbean. There is absolutely no time to waste on cooperating Kingdom-wide, even if some of us rightly attend to the colonial past. That righteous attention must not deter us from recognizing that by paying their taxes, the hardworking Caribbean diaspora in the Netherlands have partially contributed to the funding of this program,” said Guadeloupe.

Hofman shared that it was fantastic to be part of the transdisciplinary program. “Culture and climate adaptation are inextricably and indispensably connected to each other, and we will focus on how heritage can contribute to resolve societally relevant questions, in this case how to approach and adapt to climate challenges, thereby strengthening cultural identity and a sense of belonging.

“I am particularly looking forward to the collaborations in the trans-Atlantic academic platform. This platform is one of many ways in which stakeholders across the Kingdom will connect, undoubtedly resulting in successful and sustainable embedding and implementation of the project’s results in local and regional education.”

Carmona Báez said that this was the most significant thing that has ever happened to USM. “We can now become a full-fledged developmental University sponsoring research-based teaching that is essential to the sustainable progress of our Caribbean people. Together with other institutions of higher education in our region and our brothers and sisters in the diaspora, we can move forward by putting knowledge at the service of our islands.

“By co-creating solutions with historians, artists, archaeologists, anthropologists, urban engineers, farmers and students, we can start to build that sustainable future looking inside and around us. No longer will research agendas be dictated from abroad, and from now on the results of research that is conducted in our region will serve the people of the six Caribbean islands. This is about emancipation and empowerment,” he added.

Dr. Marchena said the research program is great news for the Caribbean. “We are really looking forward to collaborate with the research team crossing the boundaries between the social sciences, humanities, technological sciences and the natural sciences. We can further strengthen the collaboration between the Caribbean islands and The Netherlands and focus on Caribbean-research and research-talents. Using innovative tools and practices in the critical areas of integrated water resource management, foodways, and architectural practices will contribute toward sustainable living that may reduce fossil-based energy use.”

Dr. Charissa Granger from the University of the West Indies said, “Island(er)s at the Helm reframes climate change research in the Dutch Caribbean for the way it engages transdisciplinary and especially the space it offers for thinking sustainability and knowledge through visual and performing arts.

“In so doing, this project shifts the axis of climate change studies to acknowledge the critical need for cultural practices. Such a research endeavor invites us to not only see, but feel; revealing an entirely new avenue for approaching water management, thinking of the water, food, and shelter-nexus, and making sense of the relationship between cultural heritage and the social adaptation of the island(er)s to climate challenges and catastrophes.”

In photo: A large part of the Island(er)s at the Helm group at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba.

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