be the change

18 01 2011

I have to pause tonight, and put on hold the usual crafty/foodie/family anecdotes that illuminate my life and my writing here, to mark the passing of a great human being. His work helped engage, improve, and transform the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans, including mine.

Sargent Shriver died today at the age of 95. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy of public good, including programs/organizations like the Peace Corps, Head Start, AmeriCorps VISTA, and the Special Olympics, just to name a few.

He was my favorite kind of idealist – the compassionate and practical, get-it-done kind – and one of my heroes.

“It is well to be prepared for life as it is, but it is better to be prepared to make life better than it is.”
– Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr., 1915-2011

Who are your heroes? And how do they guide your life?


haiti relief effort

22 01 2010

I follow the news online, and even there Haiti is starting to fade away. We don’t have a working TV anymore – a casualty of finances during last year’s switch from analog to digital broadcasting (and a more limited broadcast areas) while we couldn’t afford a replacement due to gradschool & my wages in the non-profit sector. So I don’t know how the major television networks are doing with their coverage on Haiti.

Having been through several large-scale disasters on the Gulf Coast, both as a resident and as a responder, I know that public attention quickly becomes overwhelmed and so the coverage drifts away. We give this phenomenon a polite name and call it disaster fatigue. But meanwhile the need remains, the people remain. And communities need help rebuilding.

How can I help?  is often asked after a tragedy, and sometimes the options are overwhelming. But even very little things help. You can support by sharing information, donating money, donating materials, or volunteering. In a large-scale disaster, there is a timeline when each of these things is most effective & helpful to residents.

Right after a large-scale disaster and for weeks following (i.e. still going on in Haiti), the main focus is immediate relief and rescue. You can think of it in the context of a very local crisis – an apartment building fire: police, firefighters, and emergency medical teams are helping first, while the local Red Cross chapter is getting people to temporary shelters. Community members who want to help can do so a bit later by sharing meals, clothes, helping with clean-up, and so on. 

Material donations generally are not helpful right after a natural disaster – that need comes much later – because these kinds of donations require additional time, money, logistics, and people to (1) sort and transport materials, (2) store materials for community distribution, (3) distribute effectively.

In a natural disaster like Haiti, the first responders are focusing on providing water, food, medicine, shelter, security, and information. And this is where roads, electricity, buildings, and communication are broken, so they have to work on that too.

This is why there are requests for monetary donations. Charity Navigator has a useful evaluation guide to the U.S.-based charitable groups that are active in the Haiti relief effort. Be sure to read the “Tips For Funding Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts” – including the guidelines for making text donations safely. There are many very, very good organizations that we can and have supported. These are the ones I personally support for Haiti, because I have seen their effectiveness first hand in other disasters.

Red Cross / International Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières)
Habitat for Humanity
Convoy of Hope

Do you want to volunteer? Around here, people are volunteering through organizing fund drives – Boy Scouts, radio stations, churches, etc and several VERY cool fund drives via Etsy. After intense conversation, Mr. Perches and I decided that this is not a good time for Bebe to have me gone overseas for a long period of time, although I am trained and have experience. Generally, to volunteer in immediate disaster recovery, especially if you are not there already as a resident, you need training, experience, and attachment to a relief organization – government/military, medical, or an NGO/INGO (non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, etc).

If you are interested in becoming trained and gaining experience, your local Red Cross chapter is a good place to start – first aid & shelter management to begin with.  There are also college/university degrees & certificates that specialize in disaster response & recovery. And most major organized religions have national and international relief departments – Catholic Charities, Episcopal Relief & Development, etc., just to name a few.

Long-term recovery, which happens for months and years long after the news stories fade, is a better place for non-professional general volunteers. This is where material donations & volunteering give the most benefit to a recovering community. Volunteering through mission trips, Habitat for Humanity trips, etc. are a wonderful community support. People can help with rebuilding schools, daycares, homes, public spaces, and other community infrastructure. Material donations are also more useful at this time, because organizations in the area are back on their feet and able to store & distribute the supplies to where they are actually needed. This is when people can organize drives like the Mama to Mama drive that Soule Mama organized for Haiti in 2009.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank

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