Day #1: January 4
It’s funny how time flies. I’ve been with this group for a little more than 48 hours and I feel like I’ve been here for weeks. Things that I thought weren’t going to be familiar are becoming easier to understand (i.e. how to get around, how to use the keys to our buildings properly, getting over the fact that we are not at some fancy hotel, etc.) and all the days are blurring into one.
My background information about New Orleans is that my parents lived in New Orleans for numerous years and my sister was born here. I have visited New Orleans at least five times, however, since Hurricane Katrina, I have not been here. My parents have many friends that still live in New Orleans and when I visit, I am used to staying in their beautiful homes in the Garden District. I guess you could say we get treated like royalty when we come to visit because it is so infrequent. My parents know vast amounts of information about New Orleans so when I visit with them, they are like my tour guides.
This trip has been a completely different experience for me already. I flew from my home to the airport in Syracuse in near-blizzard conditions. My plane from Syracuse to Washington was about an hour delayed due to various issues (deicing, broken baggage carrier). Therefore, I missed my connection to New Orleans and missed out on some bonding time and adventuring with the group. However, I felt caught up within hours of being here.
Yesterday was the first day of our service project. I had so many expectations of what it would be like to see the lower 9th ward as well as actively helping people recover from the damages of Hurricane Katrina. While we were driving through, I heard some people say that they were surprised how built up everything was already. I was shocked that they could even think that. It has been over five years since the storm hit and there is still a lot of work to be done, not only in people’s homes but in the community of the lower 9th ward. You would think that living in the United States of America would mean that if a natural disaster hit your city, the recovery would be quick; five years is not quick. Many houses still have the date that they were entered and how many people were found dead on the house. Perhaps it is because these people could not afford to rebuild their homes or because they chose not to come back to New Orleans. Whatever the reason is, it is devastating to see and difficult to be able to handle both emotionally and physically.
Larry, our group’s bus driver, was a resident of the lower 9th ward pre-Katrina and gave us his story as we drove through his former community. Due to his experiences with Katrina and with the destruction of his former life, I find it interesting that he chose to drive busses of volunteers that are here to rebuild his life. Is it coincidental or is it for a purpose? Does it provide him with closure or happiness to see what is changing and what we as volunteers are doing for his community? I would really like to know and think that he is an extremely valuable resource for our trip that most may overlook.
On Day 1, our group split up between two different projects. The group I worked with did work for a new project in the lower 9th ward called Global Green. It is a non-profit group that is working to build green, energy-efficient homes in the area. Our job for the day was to go through scrap wood that had been already used for former builds and get all the nails and screws out of the wood. While this may seem like a minimal task and something that really is not going to make a difference, it is the complete opposite. After spending over fifteen minutes on one screw, you will realize that pulling rusted, broken, twisted, mutilated screws and nails out of tarnished pieces of woods is quite a job. At first, I thought that I would never be able to pull any nails out but after a few tries, I started to get the hang of it. By the end of our work day, we had it “down to a science” and were helping each other with our areas of “expertise.”
Another thing that I noticed was that EVERY single person we have encountered, regardless of the relationship we had with them, made sure to thank us for the work we were doing and expressed how grateful they were for our help. At first, I thought that the home owners had been told to say thank you as well as the other community members, but that changed when EVERYONE started saying it. The people of New Orleans truly need help and understand that we could be doing anything right now and we chose to be here. It is so gratifying to feel appreciated and needed. However, it is also difficult to comprehend because you would think that after five years, they would no longer need this help and perhaps not be as thankful. Nevertheless, this is not the case. Until then…Sophie.