As fall begins, those of us at Catholic Relief Services headquarters can look over an eventful end to a summer that brought us everything from an earthquake that rattled our building to hurricanes that drenched us and forced even the smallest of streams over their banks. This all came as we marked anniversaries in this country: 5 years since Hurricane Katrina and 10 years since the attacks of September 11.
As I watched the rising waters here and throughout the East, my thoughts returned to Katrina. I could not help asking a simple question: What if the levees had held?
Certainly, Katrina would still have been a powerful hurricane, producing extensive damage and disrupting many lives—perhaps tragically losing some. But it would have been nothing like the devastation in New Orleans 5 years ago.
I had other questions: What if security services had caught the 9/11 hijackers long before they boarded an aircraft? What if the buildings in Haiti had been built to codes that kept them from collapsing in the 2010 earthquake?
So many of you look to help people—in partnership with CRS—when disaster strikes. And we respond when tragedies occur. That is what we are doing right now in East Africa, where drought and famine have created the world’s largest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Thanks to you, we can help so many.
But you need to know that, throughout the years, when there are no disasters in the headlines, you are also building “levees” through CRS. They might be wells in Ethiopia or dams in Kenya, new agricultural practices in Tanzania or health clinics in Vietnam, savings communities in Chad or trees planted in Guatemala.
Whatever specific form they take, your levees do what those in New Orleans were supposed to: They help keep people safe. When the rains fail to fall, or when they fall too hard; when hurricanes hit or the earth shakes; when disease snakes its way through a community or the vagaries of the global markets wreak havoc on local economies—whatever the disaster, your levees offer protection.
If the levees had held in New Orleans 5 years ago, the heroes would have been engineers and laborers. You would never have known their names. You would not even have thought of them as heroes, but as people who did their jobs. Yet they would have saved many more lives and much more property than any of those who responded after flooding hit that city.
It’s the same way with disease. We often laud—rightfully so—doctors who cure the sick. But too often we do not give enough recognition to the public health workers who administer the vaccines that keep disease at bay so people do not need to see those doctors.
Every day of every year, you are building levees through CRS. Many people in East Africa right now are surviving this drought because of what you have done. People in South Sudan are living in peace because of what you have done. And people all over the world whose suffering is not in the headlines or on your TV screen have been helped by you to survive storms of all sorts.
It is because of you that CRS can build so many levees. Thank you for letting us be of service.
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