Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Vague Uneasiness....

Last week, Elizabeth Stover of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service requested that faith-based organizations submit to her some idea of their activities and accomplishments in the reconstruction of the Mississippi coast.

Yesterday, I received this email from her:

"Thanks to all for the prompt responses last week concerning faith based organizations volunteer involvement.

The information collected is only a very small sample of the enormous contributions of so many faith based, non-for-profit, service and voluntary agencies. Twenty organizations sent back their responses, and from only those 20 it was calculated that over 2,561,906 volunteer hours have been provided since days after the storm. From this sample, it was also calculated that over 14,000 projects have been worked on by volunteer labor. Of that 14,000, over 1,600 have been completed. This truly is a testament to the wonderful organizations and volunteers that have so selflessly served the coast of Mississippi."

Maybe as a Canadian I am missing something here.

I have resisted several requests for information from government sources doing "research" on the volunteer response to Hurricane Katrina. I have felt a strong intuition that much of this research is being conducted so that the American government can discover exactly how much less they will have to come to the aid of disaster survivors and their families, in light of the contribution being made by volunteers.

It seems to me that back in the early aftermath of the storm, many volunteers appeared, me included, because of a perceived default on the part of government agencies to act quickly and sufficiently enough to bring aid to places like Pearlington. I have never regretted my decision to become involved, despite the personal costs.

Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but is it possible that our contribution is now going to be factored into recovery scenarios to reduce government responsibility in future disasters? Will our willingness to assist be now taken for granted and a hole in services purposely left that we will be expected to fill? In reviewing lots of information on the issue of faith-based organizations working on this recovery, there are some who believe our motivation is to proselytize and convert potential members. Yet, I have seen hardly any of this and, in fact, only witnessed church organizations fulfilling their responsibilities to their faith by walking their talk and putting their money where their mouths are.

Will we someday be taken for granted in emergencies and then accused of only being there for selfish reasons? It seems like a double jeopardy to me that none of the organizations deserve or have earned. While I have seen some of this in other parts of the world - notably Bosnia during the war there in the 90's - I have seen none of it in Pearlington.

Your comments are invited. I know I don’t have the answers, just this vague uneasiness. Click on the "Comments" link below and post your own opinion, if you are so called. I would be interested in exploring this together.

Please be clear: I will in NO way engage the politics of this situation - that is nothing but a huge diversion. There is too much good work to do. I have often witnessed long-term dialogue about trying to find a "magic bullet" solution to these matters only, in the end, to discover that while folks were off busy doing that, NOTHING actually got done. I put my thoughts out there in light of the upcoming conference and I know that, as David Boivin has so eloquently put it: "It has nothing to do with a specific faith... just faith in humanity in general."

Our commitment to Pearlington will NOT change. We are all in it for the long haul.

"Canada Jon" White


11 Comments:

At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Anonymous David Boivin said...

I think you are over thinking this Jon. I don't believe this government is that clever to tell you the truth. I think this task has overwhelmed them, and they could never get the intimacy the faith based groups can get, nor the personal attachment. Take the high road here and just keep doing what you are doing. It is life changing work... not just for you, but for those of us finally being dragged in, who have been moved by your commitment. It has nothing to do with a specific faith... just faith in humanity in general. Your writing (and others)in this blog of your experience is what is motivating. Don't get sucked into the politics.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Blogger your friends said...

When I stand before Christ, He is not going to judge me by what my government did. He's going to judge me by what I did. When I saw one hungry, did I feed him? When I saw one thirsty, did I give her drink? Needing clothes, did I offer mine?

It's not what the government can do for you, nor is it what you can do for your government, it's what you can do for others, as if to Christ.

In living such, the government becomes a non-issue.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Blogger George said...

I disagree with the above. I work as a contractor for the Federal Government here in D.C. and it is looking for ways to cut corners and pass responsibility to others. The recent Senate paper suggesting dismantling FEMA last week. There has been a real push to hand over responsibilities to faith based organizations. I don't want to see the kind charity given by the people I met down in Pearlington by institutionalized. Volunteerism is a gift of love, and should not be an obligation.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Blogger George said...

I disagree with the above. I work as a contractor for the Federal Government here in D.C. and it is looking for ways to cut corners and pass responsibility to others. The recent Senate paper suggesting dismantling FEMA last week. There has been a real push to hand over responsibilities to faith based organizations. I don't want to see the kind charity given by the people I met down in Pearlington by institutionalized. Volunteerism is a gift of love, and should not be an obligation.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Blogger George said...

I disagree with the above. I work as a contractor for the Federal Government here in D.C. and it is looking for ways to cut corners and pass responsibility to others. The recent Senate paper suggesting dismantling FEMA last week. There has been a real push to hand over responsibilities to faith based organizations. I don't want to see the kind charity given by the people I met down in Pearlington by institutionalized. Volunteerism is a gift of love, and should not be an obligation.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Blogger George said...

I disagree with the above. I work as a contractor for the Federal Government here in D.C. and it is looking for ways to cut corners and pass responsibility to others. The recent Senate paper suggesting dismantling FEMA last week. There has been a real push to hand over responsibilities to faith based organizations. I don't want to see the kind charity given by the people I met down in Pearlington by institutionalized. Volunteerism is a gift of love, and should not be an obligation.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with the above. I work as a contractor for the Federal Government here in D.C. and it is looking for ways to cut corners and pass responsibility to others. The recent Senate paper suggesting dismantling FEMA last week. There has been a real push to hand over responsibilities to faith based organizations. I don't want to see the kind charity given by the people I met down in Pearlington by institutionalized. Volunteerism is a gift of love, and should not be an obligation.
-George in DC

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jon -

FEMA's disaster planning is actually designed according to a multi-tiered response.

The first level is what the government can do: fix roads/bridges, provide telecommunications/staging areas/law enforcement, mass-scale evacuations, pump water/put out fires, long-term planning, engaging the business community, etc.

The next level is what large organizations like Red Cross can do. It has actually been mandated by Congress to provide: food/shelter/medical care to survivors.

The third level is the combined efforts of voluntary organizations. The government knows they cannot nor should not do everything, and invites the voluntary organizations to fill in the gaps: volunteer labor, organizing, other "unmet needs".

While this model does make sense in the long term in terms of financial and time efficiency, it can fail miserably when the first and second tier don't live up to their end of the bargain.

Camille Lopez
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Anonymous Ed Wentz said...

You may be on to something concerning future natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina and our government's involvement or lack thereof in the clean-up process.

However, in responding to government agency inquiries, you may consider being vague in the amount of data that you provide but address the need for the government to increase their efficiency and effectiveness by scaling down their physical size and delegating and helping these efforts at the state level rather than through grossly inefficient federally run organizations such as FEMA.

The other issue is federal pandering to the poor for their vote by throwing inefficient welfare programs at them rather than "teaching them how to fish". Many folks have become totally dependent upon the federal government to solve all their problems. I believe what developed in New Orleans is a by-product of socialism/welfarism; the government imparted the idealism they were there to solve all the social problems but in reality, the government didn't/couldn't/wouldn't follow through and consequently, the people were at a loss as to what to do next. Remember the case of 1,000 school buses that sat idly by as the waters rose? No one engaged them, the buses were lost to the floods and the people were stranded even though the solution to their problem stared them in the face.

 
At Tuesday, 02 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more Jon. The cynic in me comes forth with these types of things. This is a personal opinion and does not reflect the viewpoint of others in my group (as far as I know---I have not asked them). I know the thousands of hours that Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have provided. These are to be used by us for statistical data and for Hancock county IF THESE HOURS WILL BE APPLICABLE TO OFFSET THE FEMA BILL.
Charlie

 
At Wednesday, 03 May, 2006, Blogger C.O.D.R.A. said...

After reviewing all of the comments made to this posting and the personal emails I received, I am satisfied that it served to have many of us consider why we do this work in the first place.

It's time now to get back to work. I am not interested truly in the politics of humanitarianism; it's too frustrating and too big a diversion. Yet, part of being able to see the Big Picture includes a very visceral personal reaction to global unfairness and injustice.

It is part of what motivates me to do my work. Rather than just be hurt, sad and angry it calls me to do what I can do to contribute to change. Global change begins with personal change.

So....

Let's roll up our sleeves once again and keep doing what we are all agreed we're here to do, despite what else goes on.

Thank you,
Canada Jon

 

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