In February 2018, 46 alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs gathered in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago with a shared mission to build resilient communities in the wake of natural disasters across the Caribbean. Participants hailed from 15 countries in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, USA, and eight U.S. government exchange programs. Each participant brought their own unique personal and professional experiences to this Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) on the topic of “Alumni in Action for Resilient Communities: Emergency Response and Disaster Preparedness.”
Participants began the seminar with a networking event where they established commonalities across their communities, particularly in terms of where practices could be improved when preparing for and responding to disasters. During the seminar, they discussed several interrelated topics, such as emergency response, energy infrastructure, waste management, the tourism industry, financial management of aid, water management, and inclusive recovery, seeking to pinpoint elements in each of these areas where preparedness, response, and risk mitigation could be improved. Alumni also participated in a training on leveraging digital tools, creating crisis communication plans applicable to specific case studies.
In addition to expert-led panels and small group discussions, participants also visited local organizations working in this field. One group of participants visited the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM), the government office of Trinidad and Tobago tasked with responding to emergencies. During the visit, they learned about how the OPDM creates action plans for various emergency situations, as well as how they are structured for quick and effective response. Another group visited the Habitat for Humanity offices and was inspired by how the organization is supporting low-income families throughout Trinidad and Tobago. Alumni TIES participants were also invited to the U.S. Chief of Mission’s residence for a reception to meet other local U.S. government-sponsored exchange alumni and expand their regional networks.
The culmination of this Alumni TIES seminar in Port of Spain was a session where participants presented their ideas for community-based projects, addressing disaster preparedness and emergency response. Merging their different fields of expertise, alumni proposed projects addressing a wide range of needs in communities across the region. Project ideas included creating neighborhood disaster response plans, investing in coral reef resilience and recovery, and inclusive community development projects focused on addressing the needs of rural communities in the islands. These presentations built the foundation for proposals that will be submitted to the Alumni TIES small grants program, a grants competition where alumni can receive up to $4,000 USD to implement a community project.
Alumni TIES participants plan to return to their communities and share the knowledge they gained from the seminar to implement a Day of Emergency Prep #disaster2empowerment event in mid-May 2018. During the event, U.S. government-sponsored exchange alumni will engage their local communities on how to implement effective disaster preparedness and emergency response plans. As Alumni TIES Caribbean participants begin executing their project plans, the World Learning Alumni TIES team looks forward to capturing the stories of successful alumni projects throughout 2018!