“I was scared, I already knew I had Jackie, a 24/7 job. My sister would have never survived in a home. They wouldn’t have given her the care. Plus she was my sister. I was probably 12/13 when I learned to feed her, change her diaper. I wasn’t seeing her go nowhere… I had my hands full. I had a little meltdown. But I was strong. I had to be,” Pam says. “We do what we got to do. We survived it. We survived it. We’re alive. We’re breathing.”
Meet Pam Lewis. Pam was one of the many heroines of Hurricane Florence. Despite having a disability herself, Pam ensured her sister with cerebral palsy who is unable to speak or walk, and her son, who also has a disability safely evacuated the floods of Hurricane Florence. When Pam’s host was hospitalized, Pam and the family returned to their flooded home. Mold was present, the air conditioner was destroyed, the electricity was not working in some areas and acted as a fire hazard throughout the house. Pam waited and actually watched FEMA walk by her house. When she called FEMA later, they said her house was inaccessible.
Pam navigated broken promises, bureaucracies, and a host of other challenges with dignity and grace, always insisting that her loved ones be treated with the respect they deserved. Older adults and people with disabilities are much more likely than the general population to be killed as a result of a disaster. Institutionalization adds to the vulnerability. Pam understands this intuitively, and has insisted on being her sister’s caregiver, come hell or high water.
Vanessa Bolin, an indigenous organizer with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief painstakingly scrolled through comments on Facebook attempting to find people overlooked. Vanessa found a comment written by a friend of Pam’s and reached out. Soon after, Vanessa organized two people to go with her: Gerome and Jimmy, to check on Pam and her family.
Jimmy and Pam quickly became friends.
Jimmy too has a disability, although he quotes the Icarus Project in affirming that madness is not a disease to be rid of, but a “dangerous gift” to be cultivated and taken care of. Despite being diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia, Jimmy is an active volunteer and coordinator with Mutual Aid Disaster Relief. In Jimmy’s words: “We don’t have visions by accident. We have visions so we can see them through into existence. When a seed breaks open, it can feel like death. But really, it’s a coming into life. Sometimes devastation, loss, and trauma, can act in the same way. Sometimes it’s only through disasters that we unearth a power within that cannot be measured or contained.”
For both Pam and Jimmy, they have found hidden strength in their vulnerability.
Over the next couple weeks, Jimmy and other Mutual Aid Disaster Relief volunteers cleared debris, brought requested supplies, networked with other individuals and organizations to get the necessary repairs done on Pam’s house to make it livable once again, assisted with mold remediation, and paid for a hotel room for Pam, her sister, and her son until they could safely return to their home. But the friendship and connection that was established was perhaps even more meaningful to both Pam and Jimmy.
Solidarity is different from charity in that instead of “powerful” givers of aid, and “powerless” receivers of aid, all participants recognize their shared oppression and stake in each other’s survival and wellbeing. It is a transformative, mutually beneficial, and soul-filling process. Solidarity is about creating authentic relationships and friendships.
“We thought Hurricane Matthew was a once in a lifetime event,” Pam notes. Hurricane Florence flooded her home even higher than Hurricane Matthew did two years ago. “They say things are just gonna get worse. All I do is take one day at a time and do the best I can.”
Pam’s vehicles were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew two years ago. Pam had collected Barbie dolls, still in their cases, throughout her life. Her whole collection was destroyed by the floodwaters of Hurricane Florence. “They’re just things,” Pam says, with a courageous strength and wisdom.
They are just things. In truth, nothing can be taken with us in the end, except the knowledge that we have been there for each other. It may get worse. There may be more floodwaters and disasters of all kinds with such great magnitude and scope that we don’t know where to start. For us, it helps to just jump in and do one thing, however small. And suddenly, we find others doing one small thing and another and another. These drops, very slowly, become an ocean. We invite you to do one small thing too.
Please send Barbie dolls with a note of encouragement to Pam to replace these lost items and show her that we recognize her quiet strength, determination, and beauty. Packages can be addressed to:
602 S Willow St.
With love & solidarity,
– Mutual Aid Disaster Relief