Monday, March 26, 2007


We're back in MN. Today a student came into my office and said during her sleep yesterday, she dreamt repeatedly that her group was busy preparing to go plant trees in the ninth ward. I'm still in New Orleans, she said.

My group, the La Vang group, went a last time to the lower ninth, on Friday afternoon. We walked around the silent, empty streets separately. There was a community park, deserted. There's lots of tall clover and some cat tails. I stood at an interesection and thought that this devastation occurs every day in America. Yes, a year and a half after the levees broke, there is not a coordinated and well resourced effort to rebuild this place. Yes, everyday there are people and neighborhoods devasted by US policies and history.

Yes, there are people, like us, who care and who work for justice. This is a daily affair.

In the lower ninth, Kelsey heard a gurgling water sound and found a water pipe that had burst spurting a small fountain that was soaking the block.. We called Common Ground and they were sending people over to stop up the water. We then spent some time at a tree that an artist decorated with pictures of birds. We talked about the journey for freedom, for justice.

We talked about how odd it was to feel, for several of us, at this moment, at this juncture, a sense of peace. Odd, to talk of peace in this place of devastation, but true. The work, the evolving conversations, the acknowledgement that so many, many students and others contribute, all these aspects helped us to leaven the grief, anger, despair, numbness, and pain so that we could indeed speak of peace; the peace, the shalom, that helps each of us to continue in whatever ways, our acts of solidarity.

Sharon Jaffe
Coordinator of Service-Learning

Sunday, March 25, 2007

You tube videos--spread the word!

New Orleans 18 months later:

Video on Hands On New Orleans, one of the sites Hamline students' sites:

Please send this on to your friends and family! The need is great and the issue is important. Contact your legislators, too, and see how you can help them support the rebuilding of New Orleans.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

One Week

***This blog was written last night after 1am and I was unable to post it till now***

One Week

For starters, the style in which I blog is random--which ever comes up when
I'm thinking is what is going to be typed.

It's amazing how people often take for granted how one week can really
change individuals into people that they are meant to be. And for the past
week, the respective individuals who were here in New Orleans, we have begun
that process and as individuals, we have a better image of ourselves that
ever before. This week has been filled with physical labor,
cooking/cleaning, watching children, monitoring hallways and misc. jobs.
Throughout the process, we have heard stories from the citizens of New
Orleans. Their struggle to fight for their home has truly inspired me to see
how a home should really be looked at, because too many of us forget that
sense of home.

Everything this week began at 6am, which is earlier then I would get up for
school, and we're usually on site and working by 8am. It's also strange
that I find it harder to wake up early for school but here I'm able to get
up without as much of struggle as I normally would have. Sleep here is
different, especially with bunks in a large room with all the other
volunteers, and being woken up by 6am with whomever had that job, and they
got to wake everyone with their choice in music is a smart concept.

I got several different experiences with the variety within the work that
was available. Of the many that I had gotten the experiences from, the one
that I really enjoyed the most was from today's work day. We had gotten
there around 8am and began working. Shortly after, the other Hamline
students and I were told about her story and we were just in disbelief in
the manner in which individuals take advantage of those who already lost so
much. And it didn't just happen once, it happened three times to be exact,
each from different contractors--plumbing, electrician and overall
construction. We finished putting up the drywall and mudded what needed to
be done and that covered our overall day. The homeowner who was on site most
of the day cooked us the most amazing lunch with variety in all. It was, for
the most part, amazing due to the fact that for everyday for the past week,
we had been eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was a good finish
to our week of work.

Originally, we planned on visiting the lower ninth ward yesterday, but due
to unforeseen circumstances, we delayed it to tonight. The lower ninth ward
was the hardest hit area, by hardest I mean flooding. They were at the base
of where the levees broke, and if you could think about a neighborhood
filled with houses and activity, there was nothing but broken down houses,
empty wide fields and no children on the playgrounds. There were many
arguments about whether picture taking was a good or bad idea, and after
thinking about it most of the week, I decided to take a few. I felt that it
would be beneficial because it could be useful if I was to ever tell that
story to someone who really wanted to learn more about the trip that I a
part of for a week.

An hour was the time that we were given, and it was really challenging to
spend that entire time there. I had difficultly with most of it because of
my cultural and religious beliefs and knowing that there were unsettled
spirits within that area really made me think about the wondering spirits
that were still there. I found myself shaking and speechless with little eye
contact with the individual that I was with. We were walking for sometime
when we heard a baby cry in the background and when that happened, we found
ourselves thinking about how many of the lives lost were children, crying. I
thought of my little cousins, family members that I would give the world to
and just picture that I was unable to do anything and to have them lost
forever was really hard because it's something I couldn't imagine handling.
From there we found ourselves silent, as we left the lower ninth ward,
little words were spoke, but we all had in our minds the lives and stories
of the untold individuals who were lost.

It's hard to say where I truly stand on the issue. Even after all this week
and everything that has come from it, I need time to process it all. It can
vary from just like that to a week or so and I don't know yet when I'll be
able to comprehend what is needed and how I can be a part of that. I often
found myself wanting more time, time to be here and do more than I have
already done because I felt as if our week here, that we have only done a
little in what will seem like forever in the efforts of rebuilding New

With that in mind, I am off to ponder the world and challenge myself in a
new light.

Teng Lor
CSI Group Leader

Friday, March 23, 2007

turning point

Our two HONO groups and one UMCOR group went to the lower ninth ward and walked the desolate streets for an hour, trying to get our minds to accept the images they were presented. It was so deathly quiet. I've never believed in ghosts. Until tonight. I kept thinking about a comment Lindsay made yesterday about the social fabric, and how Americans tend to cling to a kind of rabid individualism without recognizing the larger whole.

It's Friday night, and I kept hearing the voices of families and neighbors gearing up for this beautiful spring night -- on front steps and in back yards, next to vehicles with the bass cranked up perhaps, with three or four generations of folk at one barbecue. I heard all of this, and children shrieking and dogs barking.

Except that this isn't the reality of ninth ward today, or ever since Hurricane Katrina, the broken levees (caused by governmental neglect -- the army corps of engineers was found responsible this week . . . did anyone see that in the news? Doubtful beyond the Gulf Coast), and the thirty foot waves that came crashing down upon this already poverty-stricken neighborhood.

The reality is a ghost town that goes on beyond how far my eyes could see -- with only a handful of FEMA trailers in sight. I shudder to think where everyone aside from the 1600 who died there has gone. Generations of people scattered across the country, in exile from the home and people they know, with a government and fellow citizens who are not helping them because they are poor and black.

Tuesday night the staff resource folks and student leaders met to regroup and check in. David mentioned something about those doing the work related to Katrina relief being the second wave of freedom riders, and Tony aptly pointed out that this is a turning point for our nation -- what we do with New Orleans says a lot about who we are as a people.

Because there's definitely planning going on, but that planning (by people far whiter than the general demographic of the city) neglects a lot of public housing, a lot of social issues.

I haven't even etched the surface of processing this week, and this night in the lower ninth. But I have learned one very important thing already -- that I need to follow my resistances and see where they lead me. I didn't want to come to New Orleans, but didn't have a very well articulated reason why. But now I know it's because I didn't want to see all of this so up close and personal, the failure of our country to come together to change a system, to heal people, to heal ourselves. This is just the beginning.

Samantha Henningson
OSLV Staff

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I am with UMCOR 2 and we have experienced many different emotions. Through our experiences we have become very close. While gutting houses we have had many laughs and fun. However, we have also found time for conversations, and we have all expressed questions and frusterations we are having. I keep wondering why, 19 months later, it seems like nothing is being done. We went on a tour of the levies today with a Professor from Tulane. He brought us to all the spots where the levy breached and explained to us what had happened. At one point, while riding back to Tulane, he told us about how he had started giving tours a couple of months after Katrina and how interest grew and more and more people wanted to see it. He then said that he was asked whether he would take his j-term class, which talked about natural disaters, on the field trip. His response was that it depended on whether there was still things to see. 19 months after the storm he is still giving tours because there are still things to see because things have not gotten cleaned up. For me, that is one of the most frusterating and discouraging things about Hurricane Katrina.


It has taken me awhile to blog because I've been suffering from writers block. I feel like a sponge and I'm thinking in adjectives. However, not even the adjectives fit. This FABULOUS city of New Orleans has brought out feelings in me that I have never felt before, which makes it harder to process and comprehend. My group has been great at pointing out many perspectives of multiplicites on many a subject. Hands On is a wonderful organization and I've had the best experiences here doing many things from painting, gutting, and chaperoning first graders on field trips. Again, it's so much to process, but it is welding together slowly. The city brings questions to my mind and comfort and compassion to my heart. There is hope down here that is only understood if one sees it with their eyes. I had not expected that. So that brings a smile to my face and happy hopeful, joyful tears to my eyes. Unique as an adjective only brushes the surface. I love it down here....the people, the food, the laid back atmosphere and the learning experiences from Hands On!

New Orleans Smiles

Blanco is out. The Army Corps of Engineers is guilty. My hands are torn to pieces and itchy from insulation. And New Orleans and I are sharing a smile—as she (in French it’s Nouvelle Orleans—which is feminine so in the gender constrained world of language New Orleans is a woman) often does.

I’m nearing the end of my stay here (though I know it is not going to be my last—I’ll either be back as volunteer, tourist or both) and to this point I haven’t been able to find the words to put to paper. I’ve heard so many stories and met so many people my head and heart is swimming. I’m still not sure that I have found any words but let’s give it a shot—

On the whole there have been a lot of smiles in New Orleans—and as far as I can tell this place has been upbeat and resilient even before all hell broke loose with Katrina. My group, the Hands On group, have been talking a lot about how it’s nice to stay positive and to see the beautiful auras that surround people the people of New Orleans. It’s inspiring.

But I don’t feel healthy doing that (seeing the positive) all the time. You have to see the negative. You have to engage it, you have to reflect on it. You have to see the blatant racism. You have to see the failure of our government—the failure of the institution exists to keep us safe…

Right now I’m sitting Dryades YMCA, which is also a charter school, sitting in the halls making sure elementary aged kids stay in their classes to take tests to determine if they can advance in school. One test. One test tells ya if you can move on or not.

Earlier in the week our group took a bustour of New Orleans and the devastation that Katrina brought. Our bus driver, Sylvester, like most of the people of New Orleans I’ve met, can tell one hell of a story—needless to say my eyes and mind were always outside the bus and in the streets of New Orleans, thanks to Sylvester.

Sylvester was once a teacher, a very popular one. He was a good teacher, but his own daughter had a lot of problems getting into kindergarten thanks to one entrance test. He said that one of the questions had a picture of goulashes. His daughter and the other students taking the test had to decide whether or not the picture showed goulashes or boots. Seriously. I’m almost a college grad. An English major, a world traveler, and I have no idea what the difference between goulashes and boots is, let alone decide from a picture which one is which. Now this is a bit of an overstatement, but I wonder if I would have even made it into this kindergarten…

I just walked out of a class that is done with testing today. I met a young six grader. She saw her cousin pull a man who had fallen off a roof while waiting to be saved. She said her cousin pulled him up from the water. “He was all just skin and bones, just barely skin and bones.” She’s in sixth grade. If life isn’t easy, then school isn’t and that means tests gotta be hell…

So what’s my point here? Like I said my group, whom I really love, has been talking a lot about how great and inspiring it is to see these people persevere. And lord knows it has re-energized my life. It’s that inspiration that gets me up every morning here at 6am and keeps me sleeping in a giant room filed with 80 or so other 20 somethings.

But we’d be cheating that spirit, denying that inspiration if we forget about the negative.

If we don’t talk about and reflect upon the atrocities that happened here all the smiles will be in vain. Pardon my language—but shit went down here that can’t be forgotten, and we as a people, all of us, need to make sure this shit never happens again.

I hate to advocate anger (interesting sentence), but you have to be angry about what happened here.

You need to be frustrated, you can’t get lost in the smiles and Bourbon Street and all the beautiful people you meet.

You have to be angry at the system that caused all this suffering.

That’s how change happens. With a sharp critical eye on the status quo and hands willing to be scarred from heavy work and action.

OK. So I’m not much of a pep-talker...

But for now, this is what I’ve got—
Sun Burnt,
And covered in insulation
In the Big Easy,

Sean Bailey

Struggling against the tide

I've been in New Orleans for five days now. I've scraped old paint and primed a house. I've torn down walls to help with gutting another house. I spent another day doing odd jobs and roofing projects for HONO, and two more as a hall monitor at the charter school around the corner while the kids are in LEAP testing. I've also been spending most of my free time wandering around the city and getting a feel for the neighborhood we are in, and how the city stands 19 months after Katrina hit. I have to say that New Orleans has given me much to think about. I've been truly inspired by the people I have met down here and am sincerely regretting that I will be leaving in so short a time. Through our reflections and large group meetings I've realized what a strong pull the city and particularly HONO have on me. But at the same time I have felt incredibly frustrated that it took me so long to get down here. And that despite the size of our GDP there is still so much money needed to rebuild and that despite our population of over 300 million, there still aren't enough volunteers (I won't speak about the government) to rebuild the city in less than eight years.
I think our culture is to blame for this. Individuality. As I sit here in NO reflecting and praying about what I've seen down here, I find myself more and more disgusted with this most fundamental of American cultural traits. It is this individuality which tells us to fend for ourselves, and while we care about the people of New Orleans, we do nothing. It tells us that it is someone else's job to pick up the pieces. It makes us harass the people of New Orleans when they come to our cities and seek help from our system.
Most of us who have been raised in this country have not been brought up to see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own lives, and so most of us don't get involved unless it affects our own lives. I say this not to reprove the people who aren't here with me, but only to vent my frustration that what should unify us as a country is actually what divides us. New Orleans has taught me that there is no us and no them. Despite the differences created by distance, or culture, or economics, we are the same.
This city and its people suck you in, they make you feel at home when you're not. You begin to care about the people like they are your family, and you want to help your family out. You want to come to their aid when the city breaks a pipe in the sidewalk, causing the sweet old lady who lived there to have to pay a $700 water bill, and then doesn't fix the damage. Hands On fixed the damage for her, and the people who did it were happy to do it. But who is going to hold the city responsible for looking out for their own interests rather than the interests of the people they are supposed to represent.
Well, all these musings really have no point. Like Annamarie said, I can't answer all the questions. And constant blame-shifting does not get the people of New Orleans back into their homes. The essence is that more needs to be done. By everyone. Government and citizen alike. Because the people of New Orleans are not just those people down there. They are us. Americans. Human beings.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Question of Why

So this is the musings of a reflective and slightly frustrated volunteer here in the Big Easy-where the rebuilding of it hasn't been so easy...Tonight we had a meeting where we reflected on what made us happy and what frustrated us. What frustrated me the most personally, was the fact that I cant do enough. I just cant. I dont have enough hands to do it all nor enough time in the day to get it all done. I have been here at the wonderful Hands On organization for 5 days and have worked for 3 of those days and I feel like I havn't done enough to help- that I have just been (metaphorically speaking) sitting on my bum. I havn't done enough in that I can't help the people that need it; I can't help them with their pain and hardship so that they can live without worrying about how much longer they can have the FEMA trailer-that is if they even have one-or how they are going to pay the bills or get the insurance money to help them rebuild or move on or even helping them with the courage to pick up the pieces of their lives and their past and move on.
The past few days I have helped out with gutting a house and painting/working on murals. The house that we gutted (and are almost done with) was for a man who was from Colorado and bought the house from a woman who had lived her whole 58 years in that house with 3 generations of family and priceless memories. It was hard gutting that house-I mean think- I'm tearing down the last vestiges of her home, her past and I couldn't understand how I was helping out-I was destroying what little was left from Katrina and the flooding. And in our reflection, other people's sentiments echoed mine-we all didn't see the connection between doing something so insignificant like being a hall monitor during standarize testing at a local school, could make such a postive impact-so much so that everyone thanks us-whether they verbalize it or not, and its not just for the people that we did the volunteer work for. It was also complete strangers; kids, neighbors, as well as the people we meet at the local "Hamline hangout" spot outside of Walgreens. So despite our frustrations, we do see the hope and the passion and the community feel that is (not of) New Orleans in the smiles, tears (happy tears/ tears of gratitude) and the genuine heartfelt "Hi, How are ya?" of the people on the sidewalks to the people that we clean up a yard full of debris for. So I leave you to some of the questions that has been floating amongst us for the past few days.
Why is there not enough people to help out? Why is it that it is mostly college (and some highschool) students that is helping to rebuild New Orleans? (granted it is a life lesson and gives great satisfaction in helping out a fellow human being) Why is it that it takes a disaster to make people help each other out? Why is there all this hoopla of who is to blame instead of helping the people who need it? Why is there nothing on the news about New Orleans and the help it needs? Why are the African-American and the Asian-American community of New Orleans not being helped like they should? (and by that I mean why is there such a socio-economic racism as well as ethnic racism among people) Why isn't the government not really helping out? Why is it taking so long for New Orleans to recover? Why are people still having to live in FEMA trailers when they should be back on their feet? Why are the people who were just able to move into their FEMA trailer have to return it so soon? Why is this not only a natural disaster but also a man-made disaster? and I want to know why there are no answers to these questions and more. Why there even has to be these questions-and with no answers nonetheless. I mean can you answer them?....

~Annamarie Hebdon

operation reach 2

Besides touring the area and working at the Operation Reach office, we've been working with students at Fischer Elementary School on the West Bank. Our main project is running an afterschool program for students in grades 3-8. Each afternoon from 2:30 to 5 or 5:30 we supervise 15-20 students, playing indoor games, working on art projects, and playing outside. This setting makes it pretty easy to speak with the students one-on-one or in small groups.

During the day, we've been chaperoning field trips. This week students in grades 3-8 are taking the LEAP tests, a standarized test that determines if students can progress to the next grade. Wanting a quiet atmosphere, the school administration has arranged field trips for the younger kids. On Tuesday, we accompanied students to the Louisiana Children's Musueum, today to the Audobon Zoo, and tomorrow to Chuck E. Cheese (fun, fun!). Each student's experience has been really different so far. Some are in charge of five or more kids, while others have three students to supervise between two chaperones. It has been challenging, but lots of fun, too.

Our trip has allowed us to confront and explore a number of issues. First, our work in the schools has challenged us to examine the differences between the lives of many of us on the trip and the lives of some New Orleans residents. For example, disciplinary techniques are quite different from those we may be used to, and it takes some time to get used to the ways teachers and parents speak with the students. The children's play is also much more violent than many of us are used to, and we had a great debate about cultural relativism and individual values. Another topic of discussion is race, class, and the impact of the storm. A brief visit to the lower 9th ward, especially when contrasted with the other areas of town we'd seen, made it very clear that Katrina was not merely a "natural disaster," but rather a perfect illustration of the ways in which our nation has distributed power unequally. That same visit brought up issues of voyuerism and tourism in New Orleans and caused us to seriously question our motiviations and intentions, as well as our sensitivity to residents and survivors.

We look forward to our last few days in the city and we plan to take a couple of tours, see a play about Hurricane Katrina, and enjoy our time in this wonderful city.

See you soon!

Hannah and Allison

Operation Reach Blog 1

I know it took us a while to get to this whole blogging thing, but I am going to try and briefly recap what we have experienced so far here in New Orleans working with Operation Reach and each other.

Allison and I flew to NO on Saturday, while the rest of the group was at the St. Patrick's Day parade on Magazine Street. After acquainting ourselves with Ashley, Tony, Alex, Natalie, Greta, Katie and David, as well as the Xavier University dorm we are staying in, we hung out and talked until bedtime.

Late Sunday morning we drove two hours to Biloxi, Mississippi. We took the scenic route, which was the first time I had seen a great amount of damage. The beach we stopped at was right across the road from what used to be a highly populated resort area/tourist destination with some huge mansions and even bigger casino/hotels. It was strange to see Waffle Houses what seemed like every block, but houses much less frequently. Obviously, a lot of people used to frequent the area, but other than the mega-casinos, barely anything was up and running. The beach was clean, though, and had a magnificent view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday morning we showed up at Operation Reach headquarters in downtown NO, only to be told we were needed on the opposite bank -- the same bank as Xavier. Once there, we were told what the rest of the week would look like, what they needed us to do for them (mostly administrative work), and we headed over to Fischer. The next day, David, Tony and I went back to the OR offices in a small community center while the rest of the group went to Fischer for a field trip. We made phone calls and stuffed envelopes, work which was continued by Natalie, Greta and Ashley today.

The work seems tedious, boring, and at times pointless, but as a nonprofit organization barely over a year and a half old, every little bit helps. The more OR staff can delegate menial tasks to other people, the more free time they have to get the bigger, more important things done. We talked extensively about how we are here for them, we are here to do what they need us to do, not what we think is important.

I think some of us are realizing that working with schools and an organization meant to help youth supplement their public school education is an infinitely important use of our time. We have noticed other volunteers around the school and we hope we are making a difference in the lives of the children with whom we interact.

Hannah Kuether and Allison Chapman
Operation Reach


So this morning it was harder than usual for me to get up. I listened to an alarm clock go off five times and although I was wide awake, I just could not bring myself to get out of the bed. I knew what we were doing today, and I had to ask myself was I really up to the task? The ride over the bridge was strangely quiet. I think all of us were preparing ourselves for what might possibly be our most trying day yet--cleaning out drain pipes right in the heart of the lower 9th ward. We were here two days ago, for about an hour, but today we'd be here all day. I've wrestled with thought of spending an entire day here since we came two days ago. There's an uneasy feeling in the lower 9th. There are at least 1,600 restless souls wondering New Orleans, all spirits of those who were robbed of their lives right here in the neighborhood that I'm typing this from. How is the city going to reconcile that? There are homes in this city that are absolutely breath taking, yet here on the Deslonde Block it looks like the hurricane was yesterday. Emotions here run high as we work hand in hand with volunteers from across the nation. But at the end of the day, the spirits here are restless, and there is still retribution to be payed.

Monday, March 19, 2007

From Two Communities To One Family

The sun rose on our small volunteer house in New Orleans, and no one in our group knew what wonderful experiences the day would bring us.

Today the group got up at the bright and early time of 7am. We packed everything up and headed over to the Uptown UMCOR Station for an orientation. We were there the same time as a group from Iowa who were also in New Orleans helping with the recovery/rebuilding process. It's great for me to see people from other parts of the country (not just the South). It really gives a sense of hope to the people of New Orleans, and lets them know that they are not being forgotten!

After orientation, we headed over to our house which was located in the outskirts of Uptown New Orleans. We met the homeowner there and she was a very nice woman. I was only able to speak with her for a few minutes as there was much work to be done! Everyone suited up and entered the house. It was similar to a house I had gutted when I came here in January. All of the furniture had been removed and most of everything else had been taken out as well, with the exception of bathtubs, water heads, sinks, drywall, cealings, floors, and a few wall decorations here and there. Tearing down the walls was the fun part, but there was a lot of other work to be done as well. We had to clear out everything we had ripped down and place it in designated areas near the curb. We got quite a bit done, but tomorrow we will need to do a lot more clean-up jobs and make sure all the nails are out of the studs. I'm hoping that with this trip, people will look past the difficulty and unpleasant-ness of the work and realize that we are helping people in a way that they may not be able to help themselves.

It's neat for me to see the city's progress, since I grew up coming to New Orleans at least once a year. Katrina was hard for my relatives, and it was hard for me to witness it. I knew right away I wanted to get down here as soon as I could to help as much as I could. I've been down several times, but it's great to come down with people from Hamline and hear everyone's opinions and views about the city, the progess, and the work being done.

After the work at the site, we got ready to head down to the Ninth Ward to a place called Goin' Home. It was almost like a soup kitchen, where people from the community can come and have meals. The establishment is a non-profit organization run by donations. Volunteers work with them and help out around the community. We ate dinner there, and it was a great chance to meet people from the community. It was a bit uncomfortable to be there, because it seemed like the meals were made for the members of the community surrounding it, and for the volunteers with the organization, but not just for any volunteers. The workers there told us that we were welcome, but implied that it wasn't exactly appropriate we were there. As uncomfortable as it was, it was still a good experience.

Katie, Steph, and I sat down at a table with a student named Rob who was filming the other man at our table, who called himself Chance. He lived in the Ninth Ward pre-Katrina, and had lost his house. He mentioned that he was living on the streets and went to Goin' Home every night he could for a meal. He was a very friendly man, and was very eager to tell us that no matter what, good things will happen to those who walk with Christ. Chance was a strong Christian and prayed with us and for us several times throughout our short visit and I could see the kindness in his heart. He told us about how he had struggled with drugs and alcohol in the past, but that now he was staying away from it, and that he could only do that with the help of the Lord.

The time came for us to leave Goin' Home, and we said goodbye to Chance, right after he prayed for us again. He asked us to keep him in our prayers, and we assured him we would.

I am hoping that we can meet more great people like Chance later on this trip, and I hope that we will show the people of New Orleans that we have not forgotten about them, and that the community here and the community of Hamline University is no longer two separate entities, but one big family.

- Liz

3rd day in New Orleans......

It was bright and early this morning around 9:00am, I got out of bed and got ready to do a days full of work with the Vietnamese Lady La Vang Church. Our group did community work around the Lady La Vang Church such as painting fences, cleaning up the area, and gardening the past days that we had been in New Orleans and we continued with the work this morning through the afternoon. It was certainly a long and hot day, everyone was doing their work very tentively and working together cohesively. For me today I mostly helped out with Ming who is a lady from our Lady La Vang Church to garden along with other people from our group. These past few days that we had been in New Orleans at the place where we stayed at. I have been connecting and working closely with Ming. Ming is her American name, was what she told me, and Huong is her Vietnamese name. I personally like to call her Huong, because it is a beautiful name and she actually prefers Huong instead of Ming; however if people call her Ming, she doesn't mind either. Something about today that really moved me was everyone helping eachother out and working together to help rebuild the community that we were settling in. As tired as we are with the work that we were doing, we all stayed focus and made the best effort as we can. The church also has been very generous in our stay at the house owned by the church and also with providing us food as well. We always tell them, no thanks, we don't make this to be a inconvenience for you; however they still go out of their way in feeding us, because they are grateful for our help with the church and are glad to have us their with them. It makes me happy that we had put a smile on their faces and made their life a bit more blessful after Hurricane Katrina. These people have been through a lot and had lost a lot of assets and they have worked hard since to rebuild and revise their community, but it does take time to go back to where it was or at least to renew it. So for us coming there to help them as much as we can, they will be forever grateful and appreciate it a lot.

Another thing I learned today from the church was talking with Ming. She is actually a really sweet and genuine person. She is not actually from the church, but she had been helping them for 14 years now. She loves to garden and keep herself busy at all times. I notice that she is a very hard working Vietnamese woman. With so little that she has, she is very strong at heart and in mind. She voluntarily helps with the church at least three to four days a week and she also a job that she goes to too, which is her own hairdressing business that she has been doing for a long time now too. She is a very intelligent and wise person. While working with her, she told us stories of when she came to the United States and what she had been doing in her life and everything. While Yen and I was helping with planting flowers in the garden, Ming told us that everytime we plant a flower, we should make a wish and it might come true, because she had done it many times and some had come true, so this is one of those superstition if you believe it or not and it may or may not come true, but it was interesting to know, so Yen and I did make a couple of wishes, so we'll just see if it comes true or not.

Well, it was a very productive and nice day. We finished a lot of work that we needed to do and we got to see an icecream truck today and were all happy that we ate icecream. We had a delicious lunch, which was fried rice and chicken that our Father Dominique from our church who is the owner of the Lady La Vang Church bought for us. He is just too kind and generous to us Hamline people along with Father Antoine who is our delightful father and friend in New Orleans. We are looking foward in working in different places around New Orleans such as Common Ground and another Vietnamese community called Mary Queen. It is going to be a good service learning week.

The 9th Ward

Yesterday (March 18th) was the day that Our Lady Lavang group decided to visit the lower and upper 9th ward for the first time. As we arrived in our 15 passenger van to the upper 9th ward, the difference was immediately seen from both where we were staying and where we have been so far. Houses here in the upper 9th ward looked deserted, missing walls and bricks, debris all around, it was a sight that immediately quieted our van of chatter. As we drove through the upper 9th ward drawing near the bridge of the lower 9th ward, I thought, well this wasn’t as terrible as I had thought it would be, that rebuilding here would take some work but it didn’t seem to be impossible. Then as we drove over that bridge to get to the lower 9th ward, our hearts in that van just dropped, but for more then just the sight did our hearts drop.

The lower 9th ward was a sight that is both hard to talk about and hard, at least so soon, to put all the emotions one feels down. The lower 9th ward has truly become a ghost town in itself, I believe from the six or so blocks that we had walked on this afternoon, we saw one family who was just sitting and looking at what was left of their home, which literally was a house shaped like a V (if that makes any sense). The smell was all around us of mold and toxins that where embedded in the earth below and around us. It was hard. It was hard when you saw toy cars sitting in a pile of rubble. It was hard when you see just stairs leading to nothing. It is hard when you think that 1,600+ people have died in this very place where I now stand. It is hard to think of all the exploitation that is going on here of people of color. It is just simply hard.

The one thing that a few members of our group had was anger. Yes we had anger towards what had happened but what was also bothering us was the tours. To me, at least, this was a place were many died, a sacred place if you will, and here you have people on tour buses to see all of this pain and sorrow. What really got to me was back to that one family who was looking at their V shaped house and all of a sudden this Louisiana Tour Bus pulls up in front of this house, and older white male got out of this bus, takes a picture of this house and these two African American Males, and then loads back on the bus without saying a word. This reminds me of what a sign at common ground says, something on the lines of “Shame On You For Driving By To See My Pain” which really that man should feel nothing but shame for the way he approached that situations. But constantly in the 9th ward there are tours going though here, there are people driving through, people taking a million pictures who didn’t seem to me, respectful to their surroundings. It was hard to see this.

Others in the group felt sadness and pain and hurt. You could see how even if the levees had not of broken, these houses that where here were not great houses to begin with. This all brought us to look closer at the exploitation of people of color especially since the lower 9th ward is mainly working class African Americans. Our group was saddend to see seashells everywhere on the ground, from when the levees broke and the sea ran freely though this area. Members of our group cried when we saw little children’s toys we wondered to ourselves, where they able to get out? How many children have died here? How many Mothers, and Fathers, and Sisters where lost here? And then we wants to shout at the peak of our voices, “WHY?”

All in all today was an extremely hard day for all of us, but it was necessary because for a while I think we lost some sight of why we where here. With one of the first things we did being the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and then the French Quarters, we did not see a whole lot of the overall damage that occurred, but we saw what the media portrays New Orleans as. Going to the 9th ward, for myself and the group, was something that reopened our eyes again to what we are here to do, it opened our eyes to a passion to wanting to work with the 9th ward (which we now have two different days with work in the 9th ward), and it reopened our eyes to all the work that is still needed, especially in the lower and upper 9th ward.
Madison Arkadie
CSI: Our Lady Lavang Group

Friday, March 16, 2007


For some reason every time I tell people who ask what I'm going to do for the next week, and I say "gutting houses," I get this mental picture of my hands to the wrists in a cold, slimy dead fish. I've never gutted houses or fish before, but it seems strange to use the same verb for both. Both are dead, technically, but the houses are going to come back, and their people can hopefully come back if they get the support they need.

Granted, I think the timeline I heard for rebuilding New Orleans going at the same rate as present is EIGHT YEARS, but house by house, family by family. And hopefully people doing the work there, volunteers -- next to New Orleanians -- will be doing more than tutoring students or rebuilding physical structures. We will be getting a close-up view of poverty and race in America, the failings of our government, and the failings of the American public for ignoring the situation on the Gulf Coast. And taking everything we see, reflecting on our roles and responsibilities in it all, and sharing the stories and processing when we get home, even if it's hard.

Gutting, ok. But maybe something more like open heart surgery on a patient who's come close to death and wants to live. And surgeons whose lives are tied up with that survival.

Samantha Henningson
Hamline OSLV staff

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Welcome to the March community service-learning investigation trips to New Orleans.
The OSLV, office of service-learning and volunteerism, organized 60 Hamline University people to work with four different sites: Hands On New Orleans; UMCOR, United Methodist Commitee on Relief; Operation Reach; amd Mary Queen A Vietnam Church.
We invite you to journey with us as we blog our way through hurricane relief work towards understanding the life long work for JUSTICE.