September 28, 2005

Off to the Gulf Coast

Tomorrow morning I'm off to the Gulf Coast to do hurricane relief work. I'm flying from San Francisco through Houston to Biloxi, Mississippi.[ 1]

I was in Portland, Oregon, from the end of August through the middle of this month, for a series of classes. I'm a second-year student in a three-year MA program in "conflict facilitation and organizational change"; it's a distance learning program punctuated every six month by two-week residencies. It amounts to a lot of learning and practice in group facilitation, strongly grounded in psychology and psychological practice.

The night before the first day of classes was when Katrina made landfall. So, no shit, there I was, sitting on my hands in help-the-world class when it was increasingly clear that the world needed helping right now. I had a few tough nights, lying awake and wondering if I should just gas up the car and go. I did some investigating, and found that even though the Bay Area chapter of the Red Cross was completely uninformative about whether or not they could use or train volunteers, the Portland chapter had disaster relief training scheduled for just after my classes were over. I decided to stick around for a couple more days to take the training. I did so, and now have a certificate that says I've taken "Introduction to Mass Care" and "Shelter Management".

The advice of the RC staffing people in Portland was that I should go home as I had hoped to do and volunteer through my local chapter, certificate in hand. I drove home on Friday the 16th, filled in an application at the local RC chapter on Saturday the 17th, talked briefly with the staffing coordinator on the following Thursday, and took another training class ("Client Casework") on Friday, just hours before Hurricane Rita made landfall.

After the class, the instructor was in the front of the room giving us advice on filling out paperwork, and she said, "We aren't likely to deploy for Katrina any more; and since Rita hasn't landed, it isn't a disaster yet and so we don't have any plans." While she was speaking, Interstate 45 north out of Houston was lined with the cars of evacuees who had run out of gas in the traffic jam.

I was already having doubts about the Red Cross at that point, and this sealed them. I decided to go on my own as a freelance volunteer. Badgerbag, who had volunteered to work on information services at the Houston Astrodome, put me in touch with Grace Davis's Hurricane Katrina Direct Relief, and this in turn led me to the people in Biloxi with whom I expect to be working.

I expect communications to be iffy while I'm out there. I've been less than assiduous about keeping As I Please up to date, and this isn't likely to get better any time soon. I hope to have notes to upload when I come home, though.

Wish me luck.

[1] I'm actually more surprised that the Gulfport-Biloxi Airport is open a month after Hurricane Katrina than I am that Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport is open a week after Hurricane Rita.

Posted by abostick at September 28, 2005 11:34 PM

Good luck. And good for you.

Posted by: BC at September 29, 2005 05:42 AM

My prayers go with you.

Posted by: Lynn Kendall at September 29, 2005 08:16 AM

thank you. and good luck and take care. *hug*

Posted by: betsy at September 29, 2005 08:21 AM

May you help many and learn lots.

Posted by: Stef at September 29, 2005 02:11 PM

Good on you. I am seriously impressed.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at October 2, 2005 07:22 AM

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