Volunteer Experience with Hurricane Katrina (Part 1)

New York, N.Y. In August 2005 I was watching Hurricane Katrina’s television broadcast with a terrible despair and deep sorrow. I wondered if there was anything I could do and wanted to know what the local people really feel and what they needed, I decided to go to Houston.

Volunteer experience seeing the truth of America’s poverty

I went To Houston where 45 thousand people were evacuated

I volunteered for two whole days without taking sleep. There were 45,000 evacuees rescued from New Orleans in Houston. I rented a car and drove from the airport. By the time I arrived, the evacuees to Astrodome the evacuees accepted by neighboring facilities had reached 35,000 people. Everything is unbelievably huge for little me in Texas. It seems that gymnasium is about half the size of Manhattan. I was driving without knowing where to go, but for some reason I was able to arrive to the right location smoothly.

After volunteering with the Astrodome for few hours,  I went to a temporary communal sleeping room. There were 24 thousand cot and I got dizzy just to look at this sight.. The number of people coming into the facility seemed to be so large that it was overwhelming. All the evacuees I saw were all Afro – American black and I did not see any e white persons The Red Cross officials told me to sort out a huge amount of clothes piled up in large quantities. I was sweaty with this harsh labor in the bad smell. But it was an urgent and important job. No evacuees had clothes and, of course there was no washing machine, so everyone was wearing the same clothes for over a week.

They left New Orleans wearing only one set of clothes, and most of them, with no shoes. They have made a long line to choose clothes to wear. There were  shoes, but it may not have been enough. We waited for a lot of trucks carrying donations to arrive and our first job was to divide this mountain of clothes by gender and age. In the afternoon, I went to the medical center and helped doctors and nurses to register evacuees. The doctors and nurses came from various parts of the world . The number of volunteer doctors was enough, but the number of nurses was not enough at all. I worked there until dawn as nurse aid..

Then I was sent to the “quarantine room” where the sick people were. I also went to the semi “quarantine room” where the patient have to stay until the doctor check and give permission. They looked all healthy, but I had to talk and comfort them so they would not just  leave till MD gives OK. They were stopped in one place, filled with anxiety. Later on I was assigned to counseling the people suffered from trauma> My job was to assess the degree of mentally unstable people and give reports about them. It was very important job.. I was very happy because I got the opportunity to talk with them one on one. I comforted them and give them my compassion with  a hug. I spent September 6th in Houston on my birthday and came back to New York the next day.

The truth of wealthy Americans and the poor Americans

A several things I felt. In Houston.

The refugees I met were very poor people. They had no car and even no money for transportation  so they could not evacuate before Hurricane Katrina hit.. But now, in Houston, they can start a new life with the help of the government, volunteers and people’s kindness.

America is the wealthiest country in the world. But most American rich not even “rich” but normal middle class people do not know anything about  this Afro American, desperately poor people . The rich or middle class Americans do not know how the poor live in the slum behind the south of New Orleans.  These poor people can not find the opportunity to get out of the poverty . The wealthy and the poor are completely separated. When Katarina hit suddenly, Of course  No one from these poor area could go downtown by bus to get help..

Asked the police officers where they were and how to get out there, they only said they could receive money from FEMA (the US federal emergency management agency,). The point I am making here is that these people don’t have any means to get out of their poverty, not just because of Katarina  Katarina made this problem surface and clear. At the time of sudden Katarina disaster, when they were in New Orleans, they did not have enough money to even get out I now realize this is NOT one time problem of Katarina. The poor people do not have means to get our the area to begin with. The poor people are stuck in that area for good, and we don’t know …

 Katarina now made this problem surface!!.. At least now their lives were saved and safe.  In Houston I observed that they are rather happy and cheerful! However, I felt deep sympathy for these people being separated from family, best friends and pets. More than 100 people came to borrow my cell phone, but no one could talk to someone who called.

(Continued on next time)

Originally published as Vol. 27 in Weekly Biz, May 19, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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