seven years ago, i had just come back to seattle after a summer studio in taiwan, with a stop in japan. since i had been traveling, i hadn’t seen any news during the lead up to katrina, and when i saw it on t.v. for the first time, new orleans was already underwater. if was my first night back in seattle, and my friends and i were eating fish and chips and drinking beer at the ‘local,’ the bar near my house, and it was on the t.v. how new orleans was like a bowl under sea level filling up with water. my friends were repeating the news stories about people shooting at helicopters. so it had already entered the stage when the news coverage was spreading some questionable things, but it was also the moment where it seemed like the t.v. reporters, when faced with the truth of a government who had failed it’s people, were ready to tell this truth, or coudn’t help it. i still feel this was a big media moment, looking back. the reporters were people, and as people, were outraged.
in the weeks that followed, i wondered what i could do as an architecture student, how to volunteer, if i could be helpful or useful, and how? i dd volunteer, and that feeling of wondering how to be helpful never really went away.
last year after 3.11, watching the tsunami and devastation on television for several days straight was a somewhat similar feeling. in some ways it was harder to know what to do, and in others it was very very clear. in the last 7 years i have gotten much deeper into the world of disasters, and that feeling of wanting to contribute something is still there, and while it probably is what keeps me going, it’s not always clear, or straightforward, or easy.
i watched isaac approaching new orleans and the mississippi gulf coast, from afar, online, in a completely different timezone, on the other side of the world *googling new results, checking twitter, refreshing, repeat.* it’s completely unsatisfactory, in terms of information. it’s great that there are no deaths so far (except for 1 guy who feel out of a tree) and i hope it stays that way. and it’s great that the new levee system in new orleans held, and that the president is a better man than the one 7 years ago, and has already declared a state of emergency that will allow federal funds to be used in Louisiana and Mississippi. and that the overal official system seems to be about a million times more on the ball.
but for the folks whose houses went underwater, in plaquemines parish, especially, it doesn’t matter, they still lost everything. and knowing what i do now, all i want is to go volunteer in in the gulf coast. and i can’t. even though i will be there to do a survey next month.
unfortunately, japan is a very disaster-prone country. and after the big hanshin-awaji earthquake in kobe in 95, there have been several earthquakes even before 3.11 last year. and in japan there are some “professional volunteers,” people have been working in disaster response after kobe, and then after subsequent disasters. they know they stuff, they know what to do, how to provide for emotional as well as physical needs of disaster victims. and last year, after 3.11, when they heard about about earthquake and tsunami, they headed off to the diaster area before there was really any information available. i think now i understand their feeling more. because somehow (and i am the opposite of a patriotic person) seeing a disaster happen in my own country, in an area that already suffered so much, taps into something different emotionally.
i want to go there so badly, but i can’t. and no matter how many times i rationalize it, or someone else rationizes it for me, sometimes being a researcher/academic does not feel like enough.
but i can recommend a few places, if you want to donate. and i can tell you, that donating money intelligently (to grassroots folks, not to the red cross!) is often better and more effective than spending time and energy to go volunteer in person.
the st. bernard project has been repairing houses for folks who need it for the last 7 years, and they are still going strong: http://www.stbernardproject.org/ for donations!
all hands also got their start responding to katrina in biloxi, and there are already planning their isaac response, here: http://hands.org/2012/08/28/were-responding-to-hurricane-isaac/
if you know of good info or resources, let me know and i would be more than happy to share them.