Panel revisits devastation of Hurricane Katrina
Top: Randall Feldman, of the Rotary Club of New Orleans, moderated a discussion with Kathie G. Short, of the Rotary Club of Pass Christian, Mississippi, and former Rotary Scholar Kathleen Koch during the second plenary session. Bottom: Patrick D. Chisanga also spoke about the role of Rotary in Africa. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
A former Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar from Mississippi, USA, and local Rotarians revisited the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Rotary’s response to the disaster during a panel presentation at the second plenary session of the RI Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 23 May.
Randall Feldman, of the Rotary Club of New Orleans, moderated a discussion with former Rotary Scholar Kathleen Koch, an award-winning broadcast journalist and author of a book about Katrina, and Kathie G. Short, of the Rotary Club of Pass Christian, Mississippi.
“The devastation was massive, something I’d never seen before. Our town and our home were completely destroyed,” Short told the audience. “But I’ll never forget how Rotarians were the first to be there to help out.”
Short shared the story of how her late husband, Rotarian D.H. Short, traveled to clubs across North America, asking for funds to help rebuild Pass Christian. He collected nearly $2 million.
“He had this favorite quote he said all the time: ‘I belonged to Rotary before the storm but became a Rotarian after the storm,’” said Short. “Rotary kept Pass Christian afloat, and I want to thank you all.”
Koch, who wrote Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered, talked about how gut-wrenching it was to see her hometown destroyed while she covered the hurricane for CNN.
“My hometown, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, was completely flat,” said Koch. “In the midst of all the devastation, I saw such generosity and grace. Neighbors helping neighbors with whatever they had. It was astounding.”
Koch told the audience that Mississippi ranks last in the country for per capita annual income, but first for per capita philanthropy. “The people with the least, give the most. That speaks volumes about our state’s generosity.”
Feldman asked the panelists what Rotary can learn from their experiences.
“We need to get professionals who are better equipped than we are to organize relief efforts,” Short said. “Rotarians deliver food, water, and clothes when they can, but I think there needs to be a system that coordinates it all.”
After the panel, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu took the stage to thank Rotarians for their efforts to rebuild the city.
“Rotary has been a great gift to us,” said Landrieu. “You helped raise $19 million toward Gulf Coast recovery and $1.9 million for the Katrina Relief Fund. You have done such unbelievable work. Your motto, Service Above Self, burns in the heart of the people of New Orleans.”
Rotary's role in Africa
Later in the second plenary session, Past District Governor Patrick D. Chisanga, a member of the Rotary Club of Nkwazi, Zambia, and vice chair of the District Governors Review Committee, spoke about Rotary’s role in Africa.
“The first club in Africa was chartered in 1921. Ninety years later, there are approximately 1,094 clubs. Rotary in Africa has grown significantly, but not sufficiently,” said Chisanga. “With a Rotary membership of just under 26,000, Rotarians are just too few to tackle the continent’s vast challenges.”
Chisanga noted that in 2008, the Reach Out to Africa Initiative was launched. “It focused on some of the most critical needs in Africa,” he said. “Over the year, phenomenal strides have been made to advance projects in six areas: water, health, literacy, economic empowerment, child welfare, and disabilities.”
He praised a variety of Rotary efforts that have made an impact in Africa, including PolioPlus and Rotarians for Fighting AIDS: A Rotarian Action Group.
But Chisanga said he would like to see more: “As we move through the 21st century, I want to implore our partners to understand that we Africans are reliable, energetic, and trustworthy. There is no better place for our Rotary partners to put their faith and money than Africa.”