St. Lucian CHTA Scholarship Recipient Champions Environmental Protection

Joanne Felix is a Saint Lucian environmental management specialist stationed on the frontlines of the growing regional movement to protect the Caribbean’s natural environment.

Currently based in Jamaica, she‘s employed with the Jamaican government as Director of Environment and Risk Management. Back in 2011 when Joanne made the decision to further her education, she’d actually had her eye on a career in Saint Lucia’s tourism and hospitality industry. She applied for a CHTA scholarship from the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association but she did not succeed. She tried again the following year but, once again, she was unsuccessful. Overcome with disappointment, Joanne began to feel despondent.

However, what she didn’t realize was that those disappointments would turn out to be a valuable learning experience for her and change her outlook on life, ultimately catapulting her on a journey that would help her find her true calling.

“Above all, [not getting] the scholarship taught me the value of perseverance. I felt pretty hopeless. I couldn’t figure out why others couldn’t see my passion, determination and commitment,” said Joanne.

“But eventually I realized that I was no more special than anyone else and I wasn’t owed a scholarship just because I felt I deserved it. So I took a risk and wrote to the CHTA and asked if they would be nice enough to review my two previous applications and tell me what I was doing wrong. They were kind enough to respond and outlined how my essay submissions weren’t responding to the questions effectively. I implemented everything they said, changed my approach the next year and it worked!

“Since then, I’ve been much more receptive and appreciative of criticism. Today it’s very important to me not to internalize criticism in the workplace but to see the value behind it and the genuine concern,” said Joanne.

With her CHTA scholarship she went off to do a course in hospitality studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, USA.

“The experience while studying was a blast! I participated in a number of internships that helped to hone my interest in the hospitality industry. Initially, I was interested primarily in customer service and meeting guest needs, then I ended up falling in love with the concept of sustainability and eco-resorts,” said Joanne.

She graduated top of her class, with the highest distinction. “After I got my degree, I spent the next few months at Yogaville in Virginia getting certified as a yoga instructor to diversify myself. Once I received my certification, I moved back to Baltimore, Maryland and immediately got a job as an executive housekeeper at Hyatt Place Hotel Inner Harbor. It was extremely challenging because it was a hotel opening. I had zero experience in housekeeping and the majority of my 34-team staff spoke Spanish.

“I stayed with the hotel until my one-year work permit expired. By that time, I had decided to pursue an MSc in Natural Resource & Environmental Management at CERMES, UWI, Cavehill. My experience with sustainability and eco-tourism made me realize that our hospitality industry [in the Caribbean] is entirely dependent on the health of our environment, and yet we had so many examples of the industry negatively impacting the very environment it depends on.”

Although she could have continued her studies in the USA or Europe, Joanne opted to do her degree at UWI instead because she wanted her studies to be grounded in the Caribbean way of life and experience.

“I wanted my studies to focus on the environment and my people. From the first day of class, I knew I had made the right decision. I couldn’t understand a word the professor said, although he spoke English, because his intellectual capacity was beyond what I was used to. But CERMES felt right. I could feel the passion everyone had for the environment. I experienced the true joy of learning and the value of research. Despite the importance placed on respecting the environment, we were taught that a balanced approach was crucial; that conservation could not always take precedence over development, rather as environmentalists we had to strive for harmony.”

When it came time to do her thesis, Joanne decided she wanted to focus on an area that revolved around the environment and the hospitality industry.

“My thesis was titled ‘An Analysis of the Factors Hindering Commercial Supply of Lionfish (Pterois volitans) in Saint Lucia and Implications for the Market. Developing this kicked my butt. It was hard work as I had to go around to almost every fishing port, interview all dive shops on the island, interview visitors and locals, restaurant owners, key fisheries sector personnel etc. I had to do it in a very short space of time, with limited funding and I had to do it all by bus because I couldn’t drive (lol).”

Meanwhile, Joanne applied for jobs throughout Saint Lucia and in Jamaica.

“Not one of the jobs I applied for in Saint Lucia panned out, which was extremely disappointing because I was desperate to find a meaningful way to give back to my island and implement all what I had learned.”

One of her dreams was to work at the UN. “I had learned a lot about the United Nations during my master’s degree program and it was my dream to work with them because of all the amazing work they’re doing for the environment globally. I now live in Jamaica under the CSME Skills Certificate programme. I’ve been working as Director, Environment and Risk Management with the government,” said Joanne.

“I don’t get to be in the field as I’d prefer. However I get to work on meaningful environmental policies and conventions. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, for example, is one agreement that I feel honored to work on. It’s a global agreement that is a successful demonstration of what governments can do when they work together. It has had a major positive impact on the ozone layer and has shifted global consumption away from destructive ozone depleting substances,” she added.

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