Saturday, June 28, 2014

How do you learn how to do disaster relief?

(I put this up last week but the system rejected it.  I think "the man" was involved in keeping it off)

There was an argument made in the class that I was taking this week that USAID (United States Agency for International Development) was a cover for the CIA.  Between their commitment to long-term development, their focus on building democracy while wearing civilian attire, and their questionable relationship structure with the Department of State, they smell a little suspicious to some.  But the two workers in the front of the room promised us that they are not working for the spooks.  They seemed nice enough, so I’ll trust them.

(Side note: I’m currently reading Ian Flemming’s Casino Royale, so I trust them but only a little bit)

Within USAID, there is an office called OFDA: Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance.  This week’s official Joint Primary Military Education piece was Joint Humanitarian Operations; wow.  I now see the world of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in a whole new light.

At this point, I have to tell you; on behalf of all those who do disaster relief.  When you get that urge to donate items, restrain yourself.  Send money.  Especially (and these are real examples) when you feel compelled to send used yoga mats, canned meats, things from your pantry that you can’t identify, leftover/partially eaten fast food, water bottles.  Just send money.

The process by which we (meaning the US) get into foreign assistance is truly fascinating.  The number of steps that need to be taken (sometimes simultaneously) to get USAID into a disaster zone are incredible, and then to involve the military!  We (now I mean only the military) will only go in if (1) we are asked, (2) we are filling a need that cannot be fulfilled by the country that is in disaster, (3) it looks good for us to go in, and (4) we provide a unique contribution that nobody else – like Ospreys.  Only if all 4 of those requirements are met will we be in a disaster zone.

But it's so hard to stay out.

Not because we’re the military and we enjoy infiltration, but because every one really wants to help.  The USAID people talked about “disaster tourists” – people who sign up for aid missions because they want to help, but bring no real skills.  They arrive, cry at the suffering, and hand out a teddy bear.  They are nice people, but not necessarily what you need in Haiti after a huge earthquake.  As my boss summed it up, “Far too often too many people get spun up far too quickly.”  Truth.

But the question I left class with and thought about all the way home: “Is there really such as a thing as too many people helping out in a disaster?”  I’m still a little torn.

Friday, June 6, 2014

PCS season

When you live a military life, saying goodbye to friends is inevitable - but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If anything, the constant cycle of people moving in and out of each other’s lives makes some people hesitant to get attached to friends at all. When we first arrived on Okinawa, I remember coming to understand that while being a part of a transient community meant that people were welcoming and helpful to newcomers, it also meant that those same people were not necessarily looking to develop new friendships. Sometimes it’s easier if there are fewer people to miss when you (or they) leave.

That being said, very few people go three years without making any friends. And so at some point, you have to say goodbye. To accommodate school schedules, many people in the military community rotate over the summer. In the military vernacular it's known as PCS (Permanent Change of Station) season. In the past week alone, I’ve said goodbye to two people I was friendly with and one with whom I was very close. Another close friend is leaving in a week and a half. I was a rare and lucky PK who never had to move growing up, and I didn’t really have any friends that moved away either. So this is new ground for me.

With notable exceptions, most people try not to be maudlin about these unavoidable and constant shifts. Having to move every 3 years is just one more thing about being in the military that is beyond your control, and so you accept the fact that your friends will leave and move on. Of course that doesn’t mean you aren’t sad, or that you’re not upset they’re leaving, but people (myself included) try to leave things with an air of “I hope we meet again” as opposed to “I’m going to cry myself to sleep every night because you’re leaving.” But while I admire (and try to embody) that attitude, I also try not to get bogged down in only thinking about people that way. I don’t want to turn into someone who decides it’s easier not to invest in friendships just because we won’t live down the street from one another for the rest of our lives. I tend to think that there’s a middle ground somewhere. In the meantime, I choose to love my friends while they’re here, to keep loving them after they’re gone, and to be thankful for them even if they’re not in my life every day. I’ll also try to make an effort to make some new friends – although it took me a while to put together the small collection of friends I have currently. We’ll see how that goes.