The Disaster Resilience Learning Collaborative offers space for one United Way employee to feel whole again.
My name is Veyda, and I am an AmeriCorps member in the Confluence Environmental Program working as a Disaster Resilience Coordinator for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. I was brought in to help with many projects in the organization’s Disaster Resilience team, but the one I was the most excited to help with was the Disaster Resilience Learning Collaborative (DRLC). The DRLC is an amazing space created by United Way, Oregon Health Authority and Trauma-Informed Oregon. It’s meant to help make connections between community-based organizations in the state of Oregon that are culturally specific and culturally responsive of natural disasters. We brought together a total of 14 organizations for weekly learning circles where we discussed pressing issues in disaster preparedness within their communities. My main role included taking notes on the discussions, and I am also working with Christy De Rosa to do an evaluation and report of the project.
When I first came into this space, I realized that I was not only there as a facilitator, but also as a participant. Any and all were welcome to share their experiences and thoughts since this space was very focused on helping every member feel welcome and helping them heal. Although healing is not a linear process, the hope of the DRLC was to create a space where people of color and organizations that centered people of color felt seen, heard and safe. The first meeting was an extremely vulnerable one for me, and I believe others as well. We were to pick an object and share why that object had meaning for us. For myself, this question brought to mind a very special photograph of my mother and me, as a baby, in Mexico. It’s my favorite picture of me and my mom in Mexico. Our faces are burnt from the sun, and there is a tired look in my mom’s eyes, yet we are both smiling. I have this picture up in my room to remind me where I come from, and how far we have come together.
Normally, I wouldn’t share something so personal. Since this space was full of people that shared my cultural background, and all looked like me, I immediately felt comfortable enough sharing this photo and why it meant so much to me. Growing up in the US as an immigrant from Mexico, it was very difficult to find spaces where I could feel how I felt in the DRLC. My high school did not have a solid Latinx Club, neither did my college or university. I was the only person of color at my first job as a lifeguard. I am disappointed to say I had never found a space that helped me feel this seen or safe. But throughout the DRLC process, whenever someone spoke about their experience as an immigrant, a person of color or a single mother, I found that I connected with every story. What I felt in those learning circles, I can only really describe in one word: healing.
I was re-connecting with who I became when I moved to the United States, with who I left behind in Mexico. I felt I was becoming whole again.
To learn more about the Disaster Resilience Learning Collaborative, check out our earlier blog detailing their efforts here.