Katrina and American Generosity

The American image around the world has taken a post-Katrina nosedive. "I am absolutely disgusted," said Sajeewa Chinthaka of Sri Lanka. "After the tsunami, our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering." The problem, some said, was "American individualism," with folks acting selfishly.

Hmmm — what about the tens of thousands of American individuals who eagerly responded to the crisis without waiting for governmental or collective directive?

Before expressing disgust with America, please spend a couple of hours reading through Internet postings like this one: "We are a family of five. … We have a very small room with a bed and two small dressers that we will offer to you so that you can get back on your feet. You will be welcome at our family table. … We don’t have much money after the bills are paid, but we’ll happily share whatever we can. We don’t expect you to pay us, and we won’t expect you to leave quickly. It takes time to rebuild, and we’ll give you that time."

Look at all the people ready to donate their expertise: "I am a licensed bus driver willing to go south to haul those folks out. … I am a house painter. … I am fully licensed, have a truck with all equipment and chemicals, and am willing to go down and help out with any pest control problems. … I’m a building and roofing contractor from upstate New York who will donate my expertise and labor. … I am background-screened and fingerprinted for childcare, willing to take in a few kids or a small family. … I speak fluent Spanish and will contact anyone for anybody."

Look at all the medical talent volunteering: "I’m a board certified orthopedic surgeon who is willing to help in a medical capacity. … I am a nurse from Cleveland. … I am a fully licensed general surgery chief resident willing to help immediately. … I am a CPR-certified healthcare provider." (And some specialists were willing to be generalists: "Hi- I’m a registered nurse, my boyfriend is a union electrician. Even if you couldn’t use us in our professions, we would be willing to provide any assistance necessary.")

Look at the many people offering housing: "Can’t get out there myself, but we have a dry, clean living room with space for a small family and their pets. … We only have our hearts and our home to offer, but our home is comfortable and dry! … I am a single mother with a small baby at home. I have an extra room and can house a single parent and/or children. It’s not a lot of space, but I can help with meals, clothing, employment and schooling. … We are licensed, loving foster parents who would be honored to take in a baby/toddler/young child — short or long term."

Look at the people without special training or available space just offering themselves: "I was down at ground zero after 9-11 and can help with any manual labor, rebuilding, medical help, search and rescue, and anything else under the sun. … I cannot offer my apartment for shelter at this time because I have no power/water, and I cannot offer money because I have very little, but I am very able to help out physically. … I have two husky chainsaws, transportation, and complete camping and cooking gear. No PAY required, just a destination and a person who truly needs help."

Television viewers abroad may have seen images of helplessness, but many would-be volunteers showed a can-do spirit: "I can run heavy equipment or operate off-road vehicles and a variety of boats in highly variable and adverse conditions. I have extensive experience in the coastal marshes and swamps of south LA and MS, and have construction, oilfield and welding experience. I can also cook. I’ll do anything to help, and I can bring some supplies."

And many of those who couldn’t provide much material aid helped in another crucial way: "God bless you all. I continue to pray."