Patagonia Volunteer Shares Experience in Grand Isle

Guest blog post by Christie Dobson, Patagonia Volunteer, Grand Isle, July 25-31, 2010

When Patagonia announced they were going to send employees to the Gulf to volunteer, my Southern roots felt the immediate need to be involved. Having grown up in the hills of Tennessee my family spent many weeks on the Gulf Coast soaking up the sun, eating great seafood and enjoying the natural wonders that this area had to offer. Not only was this a great escape for me and my family but also for many locals and tourists that often vacation in this area. Sadly this was also home to a thousand varieties of fish, fauna and fowl. It was an ecological haven until the recent BP oil spill.

As the TV continued to show live footage of the oozing oil and Obama and BP promised to do all he/they could – I couldn’t help but feel pity for the local residents and even more so for the animals, fish and birds that inhabitated this area. The media, the President and many critics reamed BP publicly for their actions. Meanwhile, I packed a bunch of hot weather clothes and sunscreen for a visit to the area to lend a hand.

Our host organization, The Lousiana Bucket Brigrade was amazing! I had never heard of this group and was excited to learn about their connection to the area and the work they’ve done previously in these communities. We were quickly brought up to speed on the spill and what our role would be in helping with this crisis. Primarily we were going to survey people in the Grand Isle area and help to create a crisis map that would pinpoint where the worst hit communities were. This information would then be used to get proper relief, funding and assistance to the communities that needed it most. Grand Isle must be on the top of this list.

I had no idea what to expect. Was there going to be dead fish on the beach? Were locals going to respond to our tough questions and sensitive survey? Would I see tar balls and oil slicks that might make me sick to my stomach? What I found was impressive. BP had definitely cleaned the beaches and I never saw any oil there. There were no dead animals and we saw dolphins and birds carrying on normal active lives. The most impressive thing was the people. I expected locals to be angry and defeated. What I found was a community that was resilient and positive. These people have been battered by Katrina and then “slicked on” by BP and their drive and hope to rebuild was stronger than ever. Yes, they were disappointed that the crabbing was not going to be good and that their families and grandchildren weren’t coming to the area for the annual summertime activities. But their positive attitude and dedication to rebuild their communities was incredibly loud and clear.

Our Patagonia crew beat the heat and the streets as we walked from door to door surveying the locals. At a time when you would normally find the beach littered with children and fun, the only thing to see was boom and tire tracks on the beach. This saddened me greatly and I found myself standing on the opposite side of the restricted fencing praying for a beach and a community that had been so terribly damaged and battered.

My grandmother use to say, “Christie, that which does not kill us, only makes us stronger”. She couldn’t be more right on. And this was the type of attitude that I found in the Gulf amongst the worst hit communities. Maybe that’s why the human race has lasted so long, because in the worst of times we pull together and work on fixing the problems at hand. As I wrapped up my week in Grand Isle I felt good about our work, but more so, I felt encouraged by a community that had seen more hardship and pain that I may ever know or witness. We were warmly welcomed in to these people’s homes as they poured out their hearts and feelings about the entire situation. And while they reminisced about times gone by, I couldn’t help but hope they would find these joys in the area again soon.

I’m confident that the people and wildlife in the Gulf with bounce back. I still can’t help but shake my head at BP and our own addiction to oil. This experience will encourage me to walk more often, bike when I can and avoid unnecessary trips in my car in the future. I promise to volunteer more often in my own community and when other communities are under fire – to offer a lending hand because honestly, we are all in this together.

Finding spare time in your calendar? Volunteer! Get out and do something for others…because you never know when you might be the victim.

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