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Humanitarian organizations provide relief, assistance to disaster victims

[dropcap style=”light” size=”3″]F[/dropcap]reshman Kanchan Hans was only a three-year-old toddler when Hurricane Katrina threatened to strike her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Her family still remembers its rapid progression from a mere tropical depression to a Category Five Hurricane that would turn out to be the most damaging natural disaster in U.S. history, causing $108 billion in losses over the course of its existence. As the storm began nearing New Orleans, her family grew increasingly worried and was eventually left with no choice but to evacuate the area, hoping that everything would turn out to be okay.

“I can’t remember the specific details, but I can recall what happened through my family’s stories. About four days before we evacuated, we weren’t that worried, but we were keeping a close eye on the news. Then, around two days before we left, we started making preparations, such as stocking up on food in the refrigerator and making sure we had enough water and alternative sources of power. At this point, we were just following the weather channels, and none of them called for an evacuation,” Hans said. “Then two days before the actual storm hit, we weren’t sure what to do. The weather was getting worse, and we were getting scared. Being new to the city of New Orleans, we didn’t know anyone that could help us, so we left.”

A month after Katrina hit, Hans’ family returned to the city. Much to their shock, the New Orleans they left had become unrecognizable. Entire buildings were flooded to the roof, thousands of homes were completely destroyed, and water was everywhere, as if the city had transformed into a river with people still in it, struggling to survive. Meanwhile, they found their apartment heavily damaged, with many of their possessions ruined from the flooding. Needless to say, the scene was a disaster.

Most places to eat and grocery stores were closed. We had to stand in lines for hours for just one roll of toilet paper, a few bottles of water or cans of food,” Hans said. “My father, a scientist, had years of research destroyed because the basement of the lab he worked in was flooded. All of our food was spoiled because the storm took out the city’s electricity. Our clothes were destroyed because mold grew all over our house due to the water seeping in, and we had to stay in our damaged house until it was fixed four to six months later.”

Hans’ family began their recovery. Throughout that time, they were grateful for any help they could get. Hans acknowledges that they wouldn’t have recovered as well if it weren’t for the aid of the numerous humanitarian organizations providing relief throughout the area, including the American Red Cross and Sewa International. The latter, a Hindu humanitarian organization based in Houston, supported Hans’ family with food and financial aid as they attempted to get back on their feet.

[pullquote align=”right”]”Most places to eat and grocery stores were closed. We had to stand in lines for hours for just one roll of toilet paper, a few bottles of water or cans of food.” Kanchan Hans, freshman[/pullquote]

For many, including Hans, the work of these organizations not only provided immense relief but also helped them recover and regain their stability. Kath Mayne is the Disaster Program Manager for the Central and Northern Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross. She has tended to numerous regional and national disasters, including the 2013 Missouri River Floods, wildfires, ice storms and the EF4 tornado that struck Washington, Ill. on Nov. 17, 2013. Mayne believes the process of providing aid is a big responsibility, and she elaborated on the help that her team provides.

“Most of the actual work is done by volunteers, and so my real role is to get the volunteers and get them trained up. We provide food and shelter, and that’s the first thing because in a natural disaster, the first thing to do is to get people safe and get them fed,” Mayne said. “We also provide casework, which is when we begin passing out individual money so people have a couple of days to get back on their feet and figure out what to do next. It’s not enough to pay off their damages or anything, it’s just for immediate need.”

For Mayne, the most significant natural disaster she tended to were the 2013 Missouri River Floods. In her several years of experience in dealing with such catastrophes, she said each one was truly eye-opening, and she continues to be motivated to help the people who fall victim to disasters, whether it’s a tornado, flood or hurricane.

“Each disaster site I’ve been at has its depression that it leaves on your soul. There were all these people who were struggling to put their lives back together,” Mayne said. “I’m just pretty motivated to help people. I’ve always been one of those people, and my parents did a lot of service and activities when I was growing up. Even now, my siblings are doing that as well. It’s just part of what we do.”

Other organizations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), provide humanitarian aid in a more international scope. Although UNICEF heavily deals with developmental assistance to struggling mothers and children in third-world countries, they have issued humanitarian responses to several natural disasters in the past, including Katrina. Junior Hannah Potter, president of the UNICEF club at RBHS, stressed the importance of realizing how much of a blessing it is to have never been involved in any humanitarian crises, including natural disasters.

“I think we need to do all we can to help those in any sort of distress. Of course one single club can’t do everything, but helping just one person can make the world a better place,” Potter said. “I think it’s very important that we recognize no matter how bad things are for us, that many people have it much, much worse in other places.”

Fortunately, Hans and her family were one of the people who managed to recover from Katrina. After getting back on their feet, they later moved to Columbia, Mo., and now live much more stable lives.

Although Katrina dissipated more than 11 years ago, Hans hasn’t forgotten just how difficult of a time it was for her family and is eternally grateful for the existence of humanitarian organizations in times of such tragedy; not only did they provide immense relief to her family in the aftermath of Katrina, but they continue to provide aid to those in a similar position as they were in that time.

“If not for them, we would not have recovered as well,” Hans said. “We really cherished any help we could receive in that troublesome time.”

Do you think humanitarian organizations do a good job with disaster relief? Let us know in the comments below. 

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