Here in Padang, I’m sitting with a mixed team of over 30 people from all over the world and around Indonesia who work for various Caritas entities from different countries (CRS is part of that international network of Catholic charities devoted to reducing poverty and campaigning for social justice). We are sitting in a hot cinder block building which I understand is a Sunday School building under normal circumstances. Off on one side, roasting spices make us cough as some women are constantly cooking to feed the crowd. The group meets every night at 9:30 p.m. to review the day’s activities: traveling to distant villages to see how the earthquake affected them, receiving shipments of tarps, or distributing hygiene kits to affected villages. Most work past midnight, and begin again early the next day.
Since joining the CRS Emergency Operations team in January, I’m working on my third emergency, and working on the Indonesia earthquakes is the first time I’m in the midst of the early days where relief agencies are trying to respond while still trying to understand the full extent of the disaster.
While my friends are amazed at my visits to interesting places across the globe, I actually end up sitting in an office and don’t see much of the country. The field operations are left to national staff (workers who are native to the country) and partners and my role is to support them. But I have had the same impression every time of how proud I am of our staff and partners for the dedication and thoughtfulness they put into their work. I might reluctantly leave my husband and two small children for three weeks, but many of my colleagues are away from home for several months, working long days with very few breaks.
Having been on the side of being a helpless observer of a distant tragedy, I often felt that a small donation to organizations like LWR (Lutheran World Relief) or CRS may be an insignificant contribution. Even as part of the response team, I don’t feel like I’m doing much. But I have seen all of the human resources that are mobilized to respond as quickly as possible, while being very thoughtful about reaching the most vulnerable with the best assistance. And I’m only part of the Catholic response! I saw ACT (Action for Churches Together) member organizations on the same plane as me, and there are a host of other NGOs and government entities doing their part. It feels crazy and confusing to a novice like me, but there are many experienced hands and it’s amazing to work with them. We’re all a part of a greater effort and every little bit counts!
Loretta Ishida is the technical adviser for Emergency Monitoring and Evaluation with Catholic Relief Services. She served on the LWR board from 2000 to 2006. This blog first appeared on the LWR website