The disaster, hardship and pain faced by the people of the State of Texas in the United States has once again revealed the mindboggling effects of hurricanes on the lives of people. Hurricane Harvey has left its mark in the saddest ways possible.
We need only to think of Hurricanes Gilbert, Hugo and Ivan that had devastated Jamaica, Montserrat and Grenada respectively to remember that we too in the Caribbean have had our share of the most devastating hurricanes in the month of September.
Historically, September is the most active part of the hurricane season. This month has infamously recorded some of the most deadly hurricanes as noted above. September should therefore also be a time for active soul-searching with respect to volunteerism.
The fury of nature and its impact on communities must always be met with the values of selflessness and compassion in a spirit of volunteerism that comes to the aid of the weak, the traumatised and the helpless. People coming together to help strangers in need is the moral stuff of volunteerism. Volunteerism is an individual taking personal responsibility for assisting another without hope of anything in return.
The scenes of human tragedy and loss in Texas during and after Hurricane Harvey, although painful, have been illumined by the hope of human beings helping others human beings. Volunteerism is hope amidst a natural disaster.
A natural disaster should never be seen as an opportunity to prey on human weakness and vulnerability. Acts of volunteerism neutralise selfish acts such as looting, price-gouging and sheer sale of “assistance” and “labour”. It neutralises the present culture that asks the question: What is in it for me?
Volunteerism is needed to pull one another out of and, through a tragedy. This value must never be lost in a society. This is the hope that pulls a nation through hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides and floods. When we seek to help those in need we give hope and light amidst darkness and desperation. A nation can rise above any tragedy through selfless assistance to others regardless of creed, colour or race.
Having said this, the spirit of volunteerism is something that is inculcated long before a natural disaster strikes. The spirit and culture of volunteerism should be inculcated in families, schools and communities.
We should teach our children to help one another without any expectation of payment and reward. It is what is already happening in police youth clubs, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and national clean-up campaigns.
Yet, more has to be done via a national volunteerism campaign. Hurricane preparedness includes education about the importance of freely giving to others in need.
As we go through hurricane season 2017 and sit in an active earthquake zone, there is no greater gift we can give to our future generations than teaching our children that the best preparation for natural disaster is combatting the human disaster of selfishness and individualism.
Building a culture of volunteerism in Trinidad and Tobago intersects with the gospel call of Jesus Christ to lay down our lives for one another: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”