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Katrina Relief -- Update
Sunday, 30 October 2005 00:00

Life in the New Orleans area of Louisiana continues to be surreal. The physical destruction and the quiet in the air are scandalous in a city renowned for its vivacity. The residents are now scattered around the region, and in fact the entire country, living in trailers, motels, or in the best cases with families and friends. The distance forced among family members is perhaps the hardest thing to bear. The sense of belonging and solidarity in one’s neighborhood is a resource which is hard to replace.  The other heavy legacy of the disaster is unemployment; at the end of October around 500,000 individuals were out of work according to official registers.


For all of us not close enough to open our homes directly to the families affected by Hurricane Katrina, AVSI USA and friends are providing the opportunity to make a simple gesture of solidarity with the families displaced by the disaster and to share a reason to hope. The initiative has two fundamental characteristics: first, it seeks to provide direct financial assistance to help poor families in difficult circumstances as a result of the hurricane damage, and second, it offers an opportunity for families or groups to establish direct and on-going links with displaced families through the Adopt-a-Family Campaign which is run by volunteers in such a way that assistance can be managed via human relationships and not via the bureaucracy of an institution.


AVSI USA, together with the Adopt-a-Family Campaign and with support from AVSI Italy and AVSI Uganda, has begun collecting and distributing funds to displaced families in need. Through contacts in the affected areas, the Adopt-a-Family Campaign received around 50 requests for assistance, making use of a standard form which provides a profile of the family and their situation of need following the hurricane. AVSI USA will complement the outside donors and groups of donors which have “adopted” a number of the families requesting help.


Sixteen families received checks from AVSI USA at the end of October, with subsequent rounds to be arranged as necessary and possible with the funds received. The distribution of funds is being determined based on an assessment of the urgency and gravity of the families’ needs. Priority criteria are unemployment, number of children in the families’ care, health conditions, and the presence of elderly or disabled. Secondary criteria are damage to the families’ homes and status of home mortgage burden. At this time it is possible to provide resources to all of the families which have requested help through the Adopt-a-Family program.


This relief campaign has sparked a number of public statements and fundraising events which reflect the provocation of individuals and groups who have begun from their personal experience, rather than an ideology, and have been moved to action. In the US, there has been a bake sale in high schools in Brooklyn, New York, and in Washington, DC, meetings held in parishes in Pasadena, California, a concert with local bands in Manhattan and a dinner, “The Taste of New Orleans” held in Crosby, Minnesota, all to raise money for the Katrina victims. Similar events in Italy have generated resources that have been a great help to the campaign. AVSI Uganda has also witnessed a great enthusiasm of the people of Uganda, even among those who have been displaced themselves and live in deep poverty and vulnerability, to support the effort. High schools, community groups, and parishes have all mobilized to donate what they can.


The families being supported by AVSI have suffered greatly from this tragic disaster. Most have been forced to leave their homes and are now separated from family members and their normal support networks, not to mention their places of employment and schools. Many are sick and in urgent need of medical care. One man has lung cancer and has been forced to postpone treatment until he and his family can secure housing and some form of income.


Often, many members of the same family had their lives turned upside down due to the hurricanes. They didn’t have flood insurance, as nothing in their area ever flooded so they will have to rebuild the house themselves. Their child receives physical therapy and they will need to continue those services. Most of [husband’s] family was also flooded in Mississippi, so they can’t stay with family. [Husband] is not working and is looking for a job with FEMA until he can go back to work.

Another young couple is expecting a baby, and others have taken in displaced family members, in particular elderly parents and even neighbors. My fiancée is 5 months pregnant.  She needs to see a doctor on a regular basis and takes pre-natal vitamins.  Her son is starting kindergarten this year.  We are both unemployed at the present time.  Things are hard but we believe things will work out and our lives will be complete again.

Beyond the daily needs of shelter, food and medicine, these families also other unanticipated expenses; many still have mortgages to pay off despite not having a home to live in. Even those whose homes can be saved have lost most of what was inside due to water damage; most all personal possessions including documents, photos and clothes have been lost. 12 feet of water in one story house. No flood insurance, so have lost everything. In hotel in Jackson, MS. One may return soon to N.O. for work, but no place to stay – will have to rent. No furniture. Have no winter coats, jackets, shoes. Lost books that are needed for work soon.

Resources from government agencies and the Red Cross are being distributed, yet while the help is appreciated they are not reaching all of the victims and can never fill all the gaps. Not qualified for FEMA $, waiting for assistance from Red Cross. Their flood insurance will cover the mortgage payoff, but they will be left with nothing to begin life again.

It is clear that the assistance provided by AVSI USA and the Adopt-a-Family Campaign will not solve the problems faced by these families, yet it is hoped that this gesture will be a reminder that life, and all it brings, is a gift.