Surviving the storm

Humanity reaching out, across an ocean

We are very, very small, but we are profoundly capable of very, very big things. Stephen Hawking

Atlantic Discovery spent a little time talking to two employees at NAGICO Insurances Group - our primary sponsor based in the Caribbean. Both Niala and Kyria have remarkable, very personal stories to tell.

I am sharing their stories with you, because there is so much value, learning and growth in simple human connection, in reaching out across an ocean.


The story told by Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator (aka Policewoman), NAGICO, Trinidad

Atlantic discovery’s challenge is a metaphor for my life, and for nagico

 Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator, NAGICO

Niala Singh, Insurance Administrator, NAGICO

I have worked at NAGICO for three years and from the first moment I read about your extreme challenge to raise funds to research a cure for Multiple Sclerosis, you had my heart. I am your biggest fan.

In particular, I felt an immediate affinity with Ben. We both have parents who have been struck by illness. Just over a year ago, my active, lively, outdoor-loving father Barat had a stroke. He is 61 years old. He is now in a hospice, and I cry to know that he won’t be able to hold me and dance with me at my wedding.

 Ben as a baby, with his beautiful mum Rose. She has lived with MS for two decades and is the inspiration for our fundraising row #row4rose

Ben as a baby, with his beautiful mum Rose. She has lived with MS for two decades and is the inspiration for our fundraising row #row4rose

To get me through this time, I set myself little personal challenges every day. Sometimes I stop and question whether I can do them, and then something in me changes. I grow strong and fierce and resilient and tell myself - I can do this!

I am brave because of my Dad. I remember when I was about six, I was terrified of the sea. It seemed so overwhelming and the waves so big compared to me. My Dad would hold my hand and urge me to go in, and when it got too terrifying, he would hold me tight to his chest and carry me in. He taught my sister and I to be risk takers and to challenge ourselves no matter how much it scared us.

You are going to encounter times when you question whether you can go on. You can. You’re going to be strong and fierce and resilient and come out of this extraordinary human beings. This is a parallel with the NAGICO story. We support people faced with terrible loss or tragedy and help them come out stronger.

 Niala cradled in the arms of her father on the beach at age 6.

Niala cradled in the arms of her father on the beach at age 6.

NAGICO is rapping for you Team AD. You are doing something incredible. Pitting yourselves against extreme adversity in a huge, selfless act for humanity. This is very rare. You want a world free of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and this journey is to raise awareness for the disease and to pay towards research to find a cure. I want everyone to fall in love with you and help you do this.


The story told by Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO, St Maarten

I thought I was going to die that night

 Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO

Kyria Ali, Chief Strategy and Development Officer, NAGICO

One month after I moved my parents from Trinidad, to live with me in St Maarten, Irma struck my home. A direct hit by a category 5 hurricane. One of the most powerful storms ever seen in the Atlantic, and to pass through the Caribbean.

I had heard many stories about hurricanes, but nothing prepared me for the reality. Nature, in her almighty glory, at her most violent, leaves catastrophic devastation and death, in her wake.

We knew she was coming, and we prepared as best we could. But similarly to Atlantic Discovery, we were largely preparing for the unknown. Unless you’ve experienced a storm of this power, or rowed across an ocean, the truth is you don’t know what you will face. We had plenty of supplies and water, barricaded our homes, and planned emergency procedures should disaster strike. Then we waited.

At midnight on 7 September 2017, the massive storm moved in over our heads - stretching 650 miles east to west - bringing pulsating winds of up to 185 mph. It killed 38 people in the Caribbean and caused an estimated $50 billion damage.

The pressure on our heads, deafening sounds and the sheer violence of the storm that night, I will never forget. Roofs and shutters were ripped off, cars were tossed about and there was water everywhere; the battering was as constant as an angry heart beat, and it went on for hours, interminably. The fear of losing your loved ones, your life, plays on your mind through the living nightmare. And, when we emerged from our tiny concrete safe room in the first light of day, deeply grateful to be alive and safe, to have each other, the enormity of our loss stilled us. We didn’t even have water to drink.

 Kyria’s home after the  Hurricane Irma  had passed.

Kyria’s home after the Hurricane Irma had passed.

It is very hard to describe exactly how I felt and what we endured. We are so used to taking our homes, our sustenance, and all the luxuries of life as a given, the setback is overwhelming. It’s a true test of one’s courage, resilience and strength.

You’ve got to reach down into the deepest part of yourself to find the strength to begin your battle for survival.

 Satellite image of three active hurricanes  Katia ,  Irma  and  Jose  threatening land simultaneously on 8 September 2017

Satellite image of three active hurricanes Katia, Irma and Jose threatening land simultaneously on 8 September 2017

Against a backdrop of the frightening possibility of a hit by Hurricane Jose, which thankfully missed the islands, followed two weeks later by Hurricane Maria - a second, and equally devastating direct hit, I rushed to address the basic needs of my family so I could move on to my next priority, work. I knew that I had to help all the people who needed to get their lives back. I had made a promise to them when I accepted my role at NAGICO. I neglected my own needs and family to work 15 to 18 hours a day for months. Even today, my home still bears the scars of Irma.

One never goes back to the way one was before.

Atlantic Discovery will be rowing 24-7 in rotating shifts, sacrificing their sleep, health and comforts. They will find their own path to surviving this test. They will wear the experience of this crossing on their hearts for the rest of their lives. They will never go back to the way they were before. They will be stronger. More resilient. And they will have found their courage.


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Learning from each other

Atticus was right. You never really know someone until you stand in his shoes… or, perhaps, spend time listening to each other. Thank you to Niala and Kyria for reaching out across the ocean to share your stories with us. Compassion, and empathy, are borne of sympathy. The call was uplifting, inspiring and emotional for us all. Tears were shed. Laughter was shared. We ended the exchange as firm friends.

Watch this space @virtualstowaway  Penny Bird is a professional photographer and writer documenting Atlantic Discovery's incredible journey.