Laura Olson

Co-Chair, CADAN Training and Education

Location of experience:
Middle East/North Africa (MENA); North America; Africa; Southeast Asia

Type of disaster work:
Disaster recovery; Climate change adaptation; Emergency/disaster management

Primary Interests:
Community recovery from disasters; Climate change adaptation; Livelihood resilience; Migration, displacement, and resettlement; Disaster risk reduction

I was drawn to become a member of the CADAN network due to my work in domestic and international post-disaster and conflict scenarios where I am often called upon to draft recovery plans for communities that have suffered devastation. In this work, I have noted that social bonds, cultural traditions and a sense of belonging bring people together and create solidarity and resilience, or alternately become frayed and can augment people’s sense of loss and trauma after an extreme event. This makes culture a major intervention point that with care and attention allows people to collectively face terrific challenges and overcome obstacles. Definitions of culture that highlight physical monuments, forms of artistic expression, and geographic heritage sites are often seen as synonymous with the idea of culture that needs protection, but it is the intangible and non-physical that often carries a greater — if unseen weight to help heal wounds. CADAN provides me with access to colleagues from which I can learn as I consider how best to include expansive notions of culture in my work with devastated communities. The exchange of ideas and knowledge this group provides pushes me to improve outcomes in my work and ensure I am sensitive and aware of critical cultural expressions that matter to the people and communities I serve in their time of need.