Friday, December 11, 2009

Remembering Luisa

A series of emails….

I first met Luisa when she contacted me with an interest to become a volunteer at the Duke Lemur Center. We were scheduled to meet at a new volunteer orientation. The orientation came and went, but Luisa was not there. I received an email that night informing me that she and her bike had a long, unexpected hour together!

I am sorry, but I couldn't find the center. I thought I had the right instructions, but I spent almost an hour riding my bike from cameron blvd to erwin rd and back again, with no cellphone.
The worst part is that I just took a look in the map and I was pretty close to the center.

I emailed her back and let her know that she is not the first to have a hard time finding the Center. We are tucked away in the forest with no signs to direct a lost biker.

The next time we were scheduled to meet, Luisa took a cab. From the moment I met her she had a huge smile on her face and was very excited to be at the Center. During our meeting she told me about herself and that she was an exchange student from Brazil. During an orientation I generally go over the volunteer requirements at the beginning of the meeting. However, Luisa and I got to talking and it was not until the end of our meeting that I mentioned the required 6 month commitment to the volunteer program for all new volunteers. Luisa informed me that she would be leaving in December. After talking with Luisa for 45 minutes, it was obvious that she was very excited to help the lemurs and was ready to work! Making an exception was an easy decision.

While the volunteer program only requires volunteers to complete one 4 hour shift a week, Luisa did two shifts a week. Starting in September, she reliably volunteered her time on Monday and Wednesday mornings. In early November she asked to come in for two Sunday shifts. The two extra shifts would earn her a “Lemur Experience”. A “Lemur Experience” is awarded to a volunteer after they complete 16 shifts. The experience is designed for the volunteer to choose what aspect of DLC they want to learn more about – It generally takes 4 months to earn a “Lemur Experience”…Luisa did it in two months.

So, with my two extra Sunday shifts I'll be able to complete 17 shifts. Not bad for two months of work, hun? hahahaha

I would like to talk to you about my Lemur Experience, because I am afraid we won't have time to do anything...what do you think? My family arrives Sunday December 13th, and my last work day will be the Wednesday 9th. I can't believe it's only 3 weeks away! I've already talked to Keith about a tour on the 14th, before we start our trip across the east coast. I am glad I'll be going home soon, but I'll miss the Center so much...

In my reply, I suggested a few ideas including getting her picture with a lemur. I ended with,

Thank you so much for all of the time that you have given to the Center.
We are sad to see you go....I hope to see you during your last week.

Luisa replied,


I'll miss everybody at the center...I feel so useful there! And everybody is always happy, and the lemurs are so cuuute! hahaha I guess people that live around animals are special.

There are no groups free-ranging now, are there? I really would like to see them in the wild. I'll read the manual and see if there's any particular experience I would like to have, but the idea of taking a picture with the lemurs is good too! It's something I can keep forever...

Right before Thanksgiving, Luisa asked me to write up “some kind of proof that I volunteered on the center, like a letter for example, something simple, short.”

On the Monday after Thanksgiving I wrote her back,

Hi Luisa,

Sure, I would be glad to write up something. Can I beg that you stay??? I will have it printed up and give it to Erin. I am sorry that I will not see you in person before you go. I will meet with Erin tomorrow and see if she can get you to as many training sessions as possible on Wednesday!!!! I will also check with David H. regarding a picture.
Thank you soooo much for all of the time you have given to the center. You will be missed!

I did not find out until the next day that Luisa was killed on Sunday. As I write this, the reality is still as shocking as the moment I tried to understand the words in front of me as I scanned a newspaper article that had respectfully been brought to me to inform me of the tragedy.

Luisa asked for a letter to acknowledge that she had volunteered at the Duke Lemur Center. This is my letter to her friends and family to acknowledge that Luisa did more then volunteer at DLC. She made us smile. She worked hard. She spread her enthusiasm and passion for the animals. She will be greatly missed.

Meg Dye
Volunteer Coordinator

1 comment:

  1. As a technician at the lemur center, I understand how valuable our technician assistants are to the staff. We don't see them just as volunteers, but rather we view them as welcomed friends. Luisa was a fantastic addition to our staff for the time that she was with us. Not only did she complete tasks quickly and efficiently, but she did everything with gusto. If Luisa cleaned an area, you were sure to find it immaculate afterwards. It was such a pleasure to work with her in the enclosures as well. It was quite obvious she loved the lemurs when she spoke so sweetly about them and to them. I really enjoyed talking with her about lemurs and school life. Not only was she passionate and enthusiastic, but she was funny too! She was a kind soul and it is sad that she was taken from this world so abruptly. Luisa will very much be missed.

    Adriana Cerbin
    Primate Technician