When Disaster Strikes: How to Help

In light of the country's most recent natural disaster, Hurricane Matthew, and the mounting tolls of death and destruction it has taken, many of us are asking ourselves, “What should I be doing?”

I currently reside in Orlando, FL, one of the cities that Matthew struck. Thankfully my city wasn’t left to bear any serious consequences, but we are a rare case. Other cities in Florida, as well as Haiti, Cuba, and North Carolina were not so lucky. Some people were able to evacuate, but are left without a home to go back to. Haitians, however, never even had that chance. Now the country is left desperate for aid from all of us willing and able.

We are not all directly affected by Matthew. Still, while there are no explicit obligations holding us accountable to aid in the recovery, we should feel obligated to help. As fellow human beings, we would all want unsolicited assistance in a time of need. It may not be the most convenient course of action, but it is unquestionably the right one.

I still remember all the heroic stories aired on the news when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana. People from around the country traveled to the affected areas to find lost loved ones, provide food and water, and help rebuild. But why is it that only certain natural disasters bring out the virtue in us? There are disastrous events occurring around the world every day, but when it comes to hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, et cetera, we suddenly feel responsible to help the victims. Dr. Hanna Zagefka, a psychologist at University of London, conducted a study and found that these disasters “switch on the altruism button within us because we perceive victims as the people somehow less to blame for their circumstances.” Realistically, natural disaster victims are just as innocent of what’s been done to them as the civilian collateral damage of war, so are we not just as responsible for providing them relief?

This is not meant to say that we are all terrible people for not constantly aiding all the victims in the world 365 days a year but rather a consideration of all that we are responsible for as human beings. As much as we may want to save every innocent from a warzone or clothe every child who lost their closet to a hurricane, we may only save a few. Recognizing your privilege and using it to help others is the first step. 

If you consider yourself somewhat of a humanitarian, and aren’t presently facing any sort of financial or personal burden of your own, what’s to stop you from putting forth even a small amount of help? If not to Matthew victims, then perhaps victims of abuse, or sex trafficking, or war crimes  take your pick. As considerate human beings, we are responsible for looking after each other in times of need, and that time could be any time.

If you'd like to assist victims of Hurricane Matthew:

Help the children in Haiti

Give blood

Or give to UNICEF

feature photo by Inge Maria via Unsplash