Bocas del Toro is an archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama. It is known for its white sand beaches, lush tropical rainforest, and rich and vibrant culture. Bocas del Toro is a center for both ecotourism and scientific study.
The rural and indigenous communities of Bocas, which mostly depend on tourism, have been drastically affected by the covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantine. Tourism has completely halted, and the people are depending on donations from community groups and organizations which have been delivering food and medical supplies.
This cause is very close to our heart. For the past 16 years Panacetacea, our non-profit organization, and fellow researchers at Bocas Research Station have been conducting scientific research in the Bocas archipelago. We have worked closely with the local communities and consider the people of Bocas to be a great support to our research and a part of our family.
Recently, José Villalobos, a member of our family at the Research Station, sadly succumbed to Covid-19, leaving a hole in our hearts and the Bocas community. As a community leader, he was integral to acting as an ambassador for the Bocas community to the scientific community and vice versa. While we can never hope to replace José, we hope to be able to honor his memory by helping those in Bocas in this critical time of need.
For this reason, we are partnering with a group of local members of the community of Bocas. Our goal is to raise funds to help feed families in Bocas with scarce resources and who have been most affected by Covid-19, like Jose’s family. Based on the cost of the basic family food basket for Panama, for every $300 raised we will be able to feed one family for an entire month.
With your support, we can all help the people of Bocas get through this difficult time and ensure that the white sand beaches, lush forests, and vibrant cultural traditions will be there for years to come.
For more information on organizations helping the Bocas community see our friends: Floating Doctors (https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/emergencyfoodfund/), Darklands Foundation (https://monsite.alternaweb.org/thedarklandsfoundation/donate/), and Give and Surf (http://giveandsurf.org/).
If you would like to know more about José and the incredible person he was, here are some quotes from friends and colleagues:
“I met José 13 years ago and the positive influence he had on me impacted my life and will stay with me forever. We would talk about nature; he had a deep respect and love for nature. He contributed to rescues of injured and abandoned animals. He also collaborated in field assistance of scientific research. His friends, colleagues, and neighbors knew if they needed help, they could always count on José. José always believed in human rights and in the well-being of his people, the Naso tribe (Teribe people). José believed in the creation and respect of a region to protect the forest and culture of the Naso. A person like José is rare and cherished by those lucky enough to have known him.”
-- D. Gonzalez (Research Technician)
“I met Mr. Jose Villalobos 15 years ago, working at Smithsonian Institute. We called him ‘Captain’ because he was a fellow worthy of admiration, very kind to all people, even recognized by visitors arriving at the Station. In addition to his kindness, I can highlight his honesty, responsibility and the kind and joyful charisma with which he performed in his work. Exemplary family father and excellent partner. Peace to his soul and strength to his family.”
-- U. Gonzalez (Administrative Assistant)
“Pain tends to turn off the spirit, but we don't want to stay there. We highly value the life and service of our colleague José Villalobos, who, with his dedication, good encouragement and willingness to work, gave us protection and attention to all our collaborators and visitors at the Smithsonian Research Station in Colon Island, Bocas.
For many of us who met him, the words trustworthy and responsible are common denominators in our opinions. ‘The Captain’, as many called him, always gave the extra mile. Always restless, with many questions to be sure of procedures. Visiting scientists had in him the man to trust, for example, when the keys were forgotten in rooms or laboratories. In emergencies, Jose didn't hesitate to give his full support.
Always in the mornings when he was on duty on our arrival, he gave us a quick report of everything that happened saying ‘Dr.’
We know that life is short and vulnerable, but we also know that the human soul is powerful when people like Jose impact our life and leave footprints of good memories and satisfaction.
To his family, his wife and children strength and trust in God
We will miss you Jose...”
-- P. Góndola (Scientific Coordinator)
“Jose was truly part of the STRI-Bocas family. He had worked as a guard at the station for as long as we have had the laboratory, keeping us safe as the facility grew. He was always very helpful and caring with all the staff and visitors. He had our complete trust and respect. He will be missed by everyone.”
-- R. Collin (Staff Scientist and Bocas Station Director)