We are all vulnerable: Ending the Stigma

13 Nov

As everyone with a television (or ears) knows, the devastation that Hurricane Sandy has left in it’s wake, both in the Caribbean and all the way up to the Northeast, has been unthinkable. Certainly in the greater New York City area, preparation for such an event was severely lacking, and response has been labored and incredibly challenging for the thousands of souls working to assist those affected. After volunteering for a week with the American Red Cross, helping to start up operations on Staten Island just days after Sandy hit, I wanted to write a post in The League about how this event highlights a mutual susceptibility to devastation in the face of climate change. Low and behold, through the INEE listserve comes a message that I could not have written better myself. I pass along the words of INEE Director Lori Heninger from an email entitled “We are all vulnerable: Ending the Stigma.”

Dear INEE Members,

As most of you know, Hurricane Sandy recently hit the Caribbean — particularly the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba — and then rode up the eastern coast of the United States, leaving death and destruction in its wake.  I have two reasons for writing this message.

First, on behalf of the INEE Secretariat, I want to thank everyone who has sent emails, made calls, and thought about those of us in the Secretariat based in New York. These messages were deeply appreciated by the entire Secretariat, and we are very grateful for such a committed, caring membership.  Although power is still out in some areas, the Secretariat made it through the storm relatively unscathed.


Hurricane Sandy over the Caribbean, en route to the United States. 

Photo: NOAA National Hurricane Center

Second, this storm has driven home the fact that, as with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan, all of us — no matter our stage in development or geographic location — live in situations of vulnerability.  Earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis have no care whether they impact a “developed” or a “developing” country: when the ground shakes, or the water floods in, or the wind rips the roofs from schools, we see that nature is not biased.

And it is not just nature that makes us vulnerable. Having experienced first-hand both the events of New York City during 11 September 2001 and London during the 2005 bombings, I am clear that violence is not just something that happens “somewhere else,” but can happen anywhere, at any time, and can take many forms. In all instances, schools were closed due to disruption or destruction.


People walk on a street full of debris after the hurricane hit Santiago de Cuba.

Photo: Desmond Boyland/REUTERS

In New York and New Jersey, many students returned to school after a week of closure; transportation systems were disrupted, schools were flooded, there was no power, or schools were used for shelters. Sound familiar? A major difference is that in New York, most schools opened after only a week of being closed. School closures in other situations, for many reasons, can and do last much longer.

Yellow cabs line a flooded street in Queens, New York in hurricane Sandy’s wake.
Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

Here in the eastern US, we have developed infrastructure, contingency planning, and resources to deal with crises; however, people still die, homes are destroyed, and schools close.  This situation of course cannot compare with the recent floods in Pakistan that killed over 400 or the devastation in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that affected millions.  My message is simply that the stigma of vulnerability as something that happens in “other places” is false. We are all affected by crisis, conflict and the results of natural hazard.

The sooner and more deeply we can see how these occurrences link us, rather than divide us, the sooner we can work together to ensure that as much is done as possible to prevent crises and minimize destruction so that lives, and education, are disrupted as little as possible.

Sincerely,
Lori Heninger, PhD.
INEE Director

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