Gulf Care: interfaith work on human ecology

April 26th, 2011 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

by Erik Schwarz, managing partner of Interfaith Works, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that is the incubator for Gulf Care, an interfaith recovery initiative formed in the wake of the oil spill

This entry is part of our interfaith series of reflections and calls to action around the one year memorial of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and BP oil spill disaster. Find resources to commemorate the memorial here.

Now that we are just on the other side of the one-year anniversary of the spill, this is a good time to survey the field and see who continues to stand with the impacted communities along the Gulf Coast. Among many responders, faith groups have distinguished themselves as the most persistent agents for recovery and restoration. After the media have left the scene and the politicians moved on to other talking points, faith groups remain. Since the early days of the spill, these groups reached out to care not only for their flocks but for the larger communities in which they are embedded.

Coastal Louisiana was hit particularly hard, but faith groups there had been prepared by their experiences with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike to respond effectively and cooperatively. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists and others were already networked in a groundbreaking organization headquartered in Baton Rouge called the Louisiana Interfaith Disaster Recovery Network (LIDRN). Shortly after the spill, my organization – New Orleans-based nonprofit Interfaith Works – partnered with LIDRN to build a response initiative named Gulf Care.The Gulf Care initiative includes faith groups such as Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Methodist Disaster Response, ICNA Relief USA (a.k.a. “Muslims for Humanity”), the Baha’i Assembly and others. Other “faith-friendly” though not faith-based partners in the Gulf Care consortium include the Louisiana Association of Non-profit Organizations (LANO) and HandsOn New Orleans. We have also connected to national faith community and policy scene through the “After the Spill” initiative and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Disasters, whether natural or human-made, have many linked dimensions: ecological, economic, medical, psychological, social, political and more. These groups and many others have done heroic recovery work on their own and in various collaborative efforts. Gulf Care provides an opportunity to come together to seek funding and cooperate around a particular recovery focus: human ecology, i.e. restoring the small coastal communities devastated by the spill and its aftermath.

In its coverage of the oil spill disaster, the media showed oil-soaked birds and marshlands, beach clean-ups and berms, but devoted less coverage to community impacts. The effects of the spill were compounded by the subsequent drilling moratorium, as incomes plunged and social indicators from domestic violence to school truancies spiked. These recent impacts overtopped communities struggling with long-term coastal erosion and environmental degradation. The highly traditional fishing and working people along the coast, with roots extending back to the 18th century (and much deeper in the case of Native Americans), are resistant to any interventions that imply “social engineering,” even to such basic tools as case management.

Faith groups are among the few trusted institutions, and the Gulf Care partners have been able to do innovative community resiliency work thanks to funding from the Gulf Relief Foundation. This work includes land restoration and family-scale agriculture in Grand Bayou, a partnership with Heifer International, as well as community suppers and healing conversations with  the “Talk It Out” program. Arts programs for kids are about to launch with Bayou Grace and Young Audiences of Louisiana, as is a journaling project with Lutheran Disaster Response.

We ought not minimize the disaster and its continuing effects, but we should hold up stories of hope and models for positive change one year after the spill. Gulf Care and its partner groups will continue to work towards full recovery alongside the impacted communities for months and years to come.

One Response

  1. [...] By Erik Schwarz Managing Partner of Interfaith Works (Originally posted on AftertheSpill.com) [...]