Nashville, Tenn. -- Efforts to help Tennesseans affected by spring storms and flooding have been aided by strong inter-agency and inter-faith cooperation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) see partnership among all relief sectors as key to a successful recovery.
"I'm just so impressed by how well organized some of these charities have become over the last few years," says Federal Coordinating Officer Gracia Szczech. "They got on the ground here very quickly and clearly intend to be here for the long-haul."
United Methodist Disaster Response Coordinator Dave Henderson had teams of Christian volunteers working in Tennessee even before flood waters fully receded. Once he saw the extent of the damage, Henderson called in reinforcements, inviting a Jewish charity he'd worked with in the past to send volunteers into Tennessee as well. The two groups worked side-by-side clearing mud and debris out of homes in Smith County.
Nonprofit agencies often bring unique skills to the public/private partnership during a disaster. As flood waters receded in early May, the Muslim charity Islamic Circle provided volunteer translators to help FEMA get Arabic- and Kurdish-speaking flood survivors registered for assistance.
"I was able to help some Egyptians translate their needs from Arabic into English," recalls volunteer Maria Salhi. "My husband and my daughters also volunteered, and we worked with Christian groups and Jewish groups. When people need help you just have to lay your differences aside. It was a wonderful experience for all of us."
Faith-based agencies tend to focus on the most vulnerable populations in a disaster area. The Jewish relief organization Nechama (Hebrew for comfort) brought dozens of volunteers into Tennessee and concentrated their efforts on the state's most marginalized citizens.
"We worked several days in low-income apartment complexes with residents of largely Hispanic and Middle Eastern backgrounds," recalls Nechama Field Coordinator Dan Fields. "At one point we partnered with volunteers from a Muslim charity. It was just such a moving experience to see the two groups working together."
"This level of cooperation among the many groups assisting in recovery efforts is important," says TEMA Director James Bassham. "Non-government partners are critical in helping a community return to normal from disaster."