The Cure of Souls: Speaking of Response

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This post is part of a series called The Cure of Souls: A Spirituality of Care and Compassion
written by Kate Wiebe. Look for her posts twice a month, and a list of them here.

Warehouses full of water.  Truckloads and mountains of clothing.  Hundreds of unaffiliated volunteers (people who have no relationship with a trustworthy organization or faith group and simply show up).  Despite relief agency campaigns to assure the public that donations of things and simply showing up would not be helpful after the tornadoes in Oklahoma – still they came.  “Disasters within disasters,” these practices of excess tangible donations and hundreds of extra people in a disaster zone are commonly called.  Why? Because the logistical mess of coordinating storage and processing of all the things and finding housing for the unaffiliated volunteers and tracking their credentials or affiliations only detracts from the actual needs and ability of the local leadership and the disaster relief agencies that are encouraging local response.

Going or giving things promptly to the site of a recent disaster can be very meaningful for many people. It is part of the reason that so many people self-deploy after an event.  “I just felt like I had to go there and do something to help,” you can hear countless people say after mass tragedy unfurls.  Similarly, people who feel this instinct to go, but cannot for whatever reason, can feel trapped and wanting to be useful.  They mean well, but their own need to give gets in the way of checking to see if what is being given is needed or listening carefully to what is being asked for.  This kind of giving can too easily become focused on the person who is giving, and their need to give, and not the needs of those who are suffering.

There is so much to do after a disaster, and many people often do not realize how very much there is to do right in your own backyard, especially if you are not in a current disaster zone.  Responding locally after a distant event can produce great ripple effects of healing, and can avoid creating mini-disasters in disaster zones.  Also, if you are someone who feels strongly about giving to or going to a disaster zone, please consider joining a reputable disaster relief agency ­– the Red Cross and the many faith-based and denomination organizations that exist are all great options.  Each of them provides ways to give or to get involved in going to a disaster site.  By working through these organizations you will save yourself and those on the ground a great deal of head and heartache.

For those who are interested in learning more about how to respond locally after a disaster occurs somewhere else in the country or the world, here are some examples:

–        Often, trauma events strongly remind people of troubling events from their past. It may feel counter-intuitive to create programs to address past events, especially in light of a recent incident.  Yet, creating local venues to share within trustworthy and safe relationships can help individuals move through the hold memories keep and lessen infringe on future events.  These might include small-group meetings, prayer groups, or therapy sessions.

–        Education can help squelch rumors.  Providing forums for learning about mental health, natural storms, and effects of violence on persons and communities, as well as common law enforcement, emergency response best practices, insurance practices after disaster, and social work practices, can all help to diminish speculation and inform persons about next steps. For example, hosting two or three town-hall or congregation meetings can ease anxiety and increase senses of trust.  Topic-specific adult and youth education classes also are very helpful.

–        For people who feel strongly about doing something physical in response a mass trauma event, consider responding locally in honor of victims and survivors.  Dedicating services can increase moral and inspire more good works.  For example, service providers might donate building supplies, repair services, or labor locally and designate that work in honor of a recent event.  Deacons and layperson caregivers might take bake goods to local people or groups in the name of recent victims or survivors.  Prayer shawls can be delivered to local persons who may have been through a similar kind of event as the one in the current news.  Towns and cities who are impacted by disaster, and receiving skilled care from disaster relief organizations, often value the cards or notes from distant places that share about how certain services and care practices were dedicated to the victims and survivors.

–        Plan a rebuild trip.  Rather than going to muck out basements or put up dry wall first-thing, instead look up the many faith-based and NGO relief agencies that provide long-term response, and see about participating in a long-term effort already in motion.  For instance, after the most recent event in Oklahoma, you may plan a trip now to Missouri, Alabama, or New Jersey, or any of the many other states that had disasters in the last year or two and who are all still in stages of restoration.  Or, if you are focused solely on the current event, consider planning now for a trip to take place in six months or a year, when more substantial rebuilding efforts will be underway.

In these days of mass media, local communities become deeply impacted by distant events.  Keeping eyes, ears, and hearts peeled to how service providers, individuals, families, and lay caregivers can best use their skills and passions to respond to local impact can greatly increase resiliency, decrease anxiety, and make growth contagious.  

2 thoughts on “The Cure of Souls: Speaking of Response

  • June 4, 2013 at 9:54 am
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    I appreciate this very much – as someone who lived through the tornado disaster in Alabama in April of 2011, I saw first hand the chaos that results, both from the disaster itself and the well-meaning help that pours in afterwards. I, for one, however, found it reassuring that so many people came to offer their time and hands to be with us. We could NOT have done it without them. I worked in the Volunteer Reception Center, set up by the local government, to help process all of the in-coming helpers – both those affiliated with a national organization and the unaffiliated. If I may, then, I would add this comment to what you have said – if you MUST go to help, find out where to go so that you can be registered. Local government agencies keep track of volunteer hours and are actually reimbursed by the Federal government. Being registered so that your hours count toward this money means that your work will help twice.

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