On Wednesday, June 30, I attended the Mississippi Gulf Coast Disaster Recovery Summit at The University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast. It was a gathering of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), religious organizations, businesses, and community leaders to tackle the largest ecological and technological disaster this country has ever seen: the oil spill resulting from an explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Representatives from along the coast came to learn, express their concerns, and collaborate on resources. The South Mississippi Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SMVOAD) organized the event.
I attended the Summit as a kind of “outsider.” I grew up in the Midwest and don’t try to claim that I understand life on the Coast. The fishing, the ecology, and lifestyle are all foreign to me, and it was difficult to fully grasp the implications of this disaster from afar. Thus, for me the Summit was about education. I learned how people’s lives are tied up in the Gulf and how this technological and ecological disaster is also an emotional disaster. It not only affects people’s jobs but their livelihoods. This came through in people’s questions for panelists and their sometimes emotional responses. People can rebuild after a hurricane, but this disaster is fundamentally changing life along the Coast.
Though emotions were high as speakers would take us from hope to despair and back again, despair in the uncertain future was not the word of the day. Instead, there was hope in unity. The Summit focused on the things we can control. This was epitomized by the “Neighbor Helping Neighbor” program that SMVOAD is implementing. It is a call for individuals, NGOs, churches, and businesses to work together in responding to this disaster. When people come together this way, there is no telling what recovery might look like. An event that took a realistic look at the difficult long-term effects was also an event that united organizations to work for the good and maximize resources.
As an outsider, I was not only impressed with the response, but I was touched by the way people care about this Coast, their communities, and the future recovery. The Coast will recover and it will happen because people and organizations like IRD are working together. NGOs, churches, businesses, and community leaders are all resolved and determined to face the challenges that lie ahead.