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Join the Hurricane Katrina Relief Initiative

Ali Wyne

The level of devastation that Hurricane Katrina has inflicted on the southern regions of this country is almost incomprehensible. It is a painful reminder that Mother Nature, even in her infinite bounty, is capable of pitiless destruction, against which neither the bravest of peoples nor the mightiest of powers can defend. More importantly, however, it affirms our obligation to others, as human beings.

Even as millions, if not tens of millions, of Americans are contributing to relief efforts, many are not. Their choice to be uninvolved can likely be ascribed to one or both of the following beliefs: namely, that (i) they do not have friends or loved ones living in the impacted areas, and, as such, do not feel a particular need to assist those who are; and that (ii) the scale and extent of destruction is so immense that they believe that whatever efforts they might put forth would have a negligible impact.

Both arguments are easily refuted. As for the first, we should all seek to inhabit a world in which conscience wields greater influence than practical considerations. Even as human civilization has endured great tragedy throughout its progression, it has been spared far worse horrors because of people’s altruism and benevolence. A world in which people did not wish to be inconvenienced by others’ suffering would be, to quote “Leviathan,” Thomas Hobbes’ famous tract, “nasty” and “brutish.” Indifference to others’ plight, especially if we are capable of alleviating it in some measure, cannot be pardoned.

The second argument appears more plausible, but, thankfully, dissembles under scrutiny. It is true that no one individual can discernibly change the situation in Louisiana or Mississippi, but the potential of a group of individuals to effect visible progress is nearly unlimited. History abounds with illustrations of this principle — the success of the suffrage and civil rights movements are two classic examples.

The important point here is that if we believe ourselves capable of producing change, then change is possible. Do not get the impression, however, that I harbor idealist or utopian visions. I have long dispensed with those and recognize the affected areas’ return to normalcy will be a daunting effort, one that could take years and quite possibly decades. However, I am what you might call an “optimistic realist” — hardly, in my judgment, an oxymoron.

Consider, for example, the Hurricane Katrina Relief Initiative (HKRI), recently established by a small group of MIT students. At HKRI’s first meeting, only five people participated. At HKRI’s second meeting, over 40 people participated. The energy and enthusiasm in the room were infectious and translated into a concrete plan of action. Indeed, within a little over one hour, we generated myriad ideas, created subcommittees to address different priorities of hurricane relief, and, most critically, devised a list of tasks that needed to be completed in the near and intermediate future.

We endeavor to host a benefit dinner in the forthcoming weeks, in line with a similar event held by the South Asian Association of Students to raise funds for tsunami victims. HKRI will also coordinate ongoing efforts, including fundraising events, food drives, and clothing drives. We will work with the Public Service Center to allow teams of MIT students to visit the impacted areas, to tutor children, rebuild infrastructure, improve sanitation of water and sewage systems, and otherwise work to restore the livelihoods of those affected by this tragedy.

Whether you contribute one dollar at a fundraising drive or serve on one of HKRI’s subcommittees, you will contribute to the progress of a vital initiative. What is most important is not the amount of relief that we contribute, but rather, a fundamental recognition that, even at great physical and emotional remove from the site of this disaster, we retain a moral obligation to its victims. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently affirmed this notion: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” The HKRI is an earnest attempt to uphold this principle, one that we hope, and expect, will galvanize the MIT community.