On March 1 the Cape Fear Chapter tweeted an intriguing question: “What is your favorite experience with the Red Cross?” After almost nine and a half years, it’s difficult to think about a favorite experience. Perhaps handing out hot chocolate at the Brooklyn Bridge on the last day of the 2005 New York City transit strike. We’d just heard that the strike was over and transit would be running again the next morning, so it took on a party atmosphere. It was cold that evening, but the hot chocolate and the end of the strike made it better. Then a young woman came down the ramp from the Bridge, cell phone clasped to her ear, and squealed into the phone, “It’s the Red Cross… and they have hot chocolate!!!” (We don’t always get such immediate gratification on the larger disasters.)
While Google and China were wrestling over issues of free speech, censorship, intellectual property, global communications technology, and e-commerce, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere suffered a terrible blow: a magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti near its capital, Port-au-Prince. The city, planned to house about 400,000 to 500,000 people, held approximately 3.5 million prior to the earthquake. Many lived and worked in substandard, often unsafe, buildings. Unreinforced concrete structures crumbled, other buildings collapsed, and over 200,000 people died. (More have died since due to a hurricane and cholera outbreak later in the year.)
With an adult illiteracy rate of close to 40% and inadequate infrastructure, censorship of Google searches is not an issue in Haiti. Text messages are about as much as most people have access to or have a need for. Following the earthquake, those who had a mobile phone had great need for text messaging and voice communication.
Yesterday I attended a TEDxWomen event in New York City. With a group of other women (and a few men) I watched a full day of TED Talks by and about women—and by a few exceptional men. I wanted to blog about it, but it was too much to put together overnight. Eventually I’ll write about the day, either singly about some of the Talks or collectively about the event. But the penultimate Talk has inspired me to tell a different story.
The next to last speaker was Caroline Casey, a woman who lived the first seventeen years of her life not knowing she is legally blind. Somehow her parents were able to make her believe she could do anything that any of her fully sighted friends and classmates could do.
I happened to attend a college that had an unusually high number of disabled students. Once upon a time, before the Americans with Disabilities Act, Marist College built most of it classroom and dormitory buildings to be wheelchair accessible. After a while it became background. The first time I saw a student who had no arms in the cafeteria, it was a shock. After a while, it became routine. One night in the campus pub he beat me at a video game. Still later, I realized there were students with disabilities that were not visible.
Watching the rescue of the 33 workers at the San José Mine in Chile, I was amazed at how well organized it was. I probably shouldn’t have been after reading about the earthquake in Chile earlier this year and how few deaths (relative to the quake’s magnitude) resulted because Chile long ago instituted building codes to make structures more earthquake resistant. But the mine rescue was truly spectacular–it wasn’t just good, it was something unique in history.
In light of these two emergencies that became examples of good management instead of tragedies, I’ve been wondering if Chile is close to becoming a First World country.
First, a little history: the terms First World and Third World originated during the Cold War. The United States and its allies were the First World. The Soviet Union and its allies were the Second World. Everyone else–the “non-aligned countries” were the Third World. It was partly a coincidence that the First World included the most technological and economically advanced nations and the Third World the least advanced, yet toward the end of the Cold War and ever after those have been the definitions most people used. (The term “Second World” was never used as frequently and faded away with the Cold War’s end.)