Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top 5 Ways Not To Help People After Disasters

There's a huge market, isn't there, for the "everything was horrible but I/my city/my country overcame, and now everything is hunky-dory" story.

Except, sometimes it just isn't so.

Actually, I think a lot of times it just isn't so.  I hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but the blind don't always see, the amputees don't always become Paralympic champions, and people who have struggled with the terrible impact of natural disasters don't always get back to where they were before the fire/flood/tornado hit.  And, sadly, that third thing sometimes isn't because of the disaster - but because of scum masquerading as fellow citizens.

I do know a little something about the third topic.  I've gotten to the point where I can talk about well meaning people (and the not-well meaning people and the harm (or the non-help, at best) they sometimes provide.  What I am about to say may not be popular but it is what I have learned out of the truths of what my neighborhood, my town, my area, went through during a natural disaster last September.

We have been conditioned to think that it is so easy to help those in need.  Just text '12345' (or whatever) and presto, you have helped!

Not exactly.

But, dear reader, there are other ways you CAN help.  I compiled this list not that long after the flood that hit my area of upstate New York last September.  I don't want to presume, but I have a feeling this may be of help to others who truly want to help, but don't know how. They feel they have to do SOMETHING.

5.  Don't come out to see us.  No, really, don't.  First, we aren't animals in a zoo, to be stared at.  Please, give us space.  At first we are in shock but then that shock wears off - and really, we don't want you to see our tears, or some of the things we do that may seem bizarre to some, but actually make sense in context.  If you aren't an emergency worker or with a charity that knows what it is doing, STAY HOME.

4.  Don't take pictures of us.  We aren't one of those commercials where charities use pictures of sad, beaten dogs or starving children to get your sympathy and your dollars.  I got so upset at a cousin (at a family event, no less) a couple of months ago when he told me how he wasn't impacted by the flood but he had gone around and taken pictures where his city did flood.  No Kodak moments, please.  Not unless you are a journalist or a historian.

3.  Don't send clothes.  Well, sometimes we do need clothes but not the clothes that get sent so many times - clothes full of stains, holes, and rips.  If you wouldn't wear it, don't send it.

So many people sent clothes after the flood, and charities were overwhelmed with them.

2.  Don't trash our neighborhood.  We aren't your garbage dump, either.  If you carry in cigarettes, coffee, and sandwiches, please take out what they came in.   Respect us.

1.  Don't call us victims.  We are not victims!  And while I am on the topic of victimization, I hope there is a special place in hell for those who went to charities for help that they didn't need (and literally took food out of the mouths of those who needed it).  Or the "contractors" who showed up, but were really scam artists. 

10 months ago, the people in my neighborhood were very grateful to the volunteer firefighters, who came on 9/11 to pump out basements, the Salvation Army, who served meals, and the many people who did really help: who showed up out of nowhere and started to help with the filthiest of chores or to set up tents and serve meals.  More times than you would think they had been impacted themselves.  Or, they found their workplace closed and just decided to see where nearby the need was greatest.

THAT was true help.  It will not be forgotten.  For many, the road back is long, and as I pointed out before, they may never be in the same place as they were before.

Just don't exploit us in our hour, day, or year of need. I suspect that is what someone impacted by any disaster would say.

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