We returned from New Orleans yesterday. I've been talking to family members about my trip and I've been realizing some of the things that really stuck out to me.
It was amazing to get to do so many projects with Hands On. Neighborhood clean-up, painting murals to go into a high school, working with elementary school kids, and so on. Throughout the trip, the people I talked to in New Orleans felt that the volunteers gave them a lot of hope. They talked about how even though there are many things that separate us, people coming down to try to help the community and learn more about the problems they face gave them a lot of hope.
The biggest thing I feel I learned on the trip is how incredibly complicated Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is. When I got down there, I got the sense that everyone was searching to pinpoint the answer or the cause of why it happened. It happened because the levees were faulty or because global warming is creating stronger hurricanes, etc. I do not believe there is any one cause, rather it was a multitude of problems working together to create one massive one. In some ways this feels completely overwhelming. But at the same time, I think it gave me hope. If everyone works on their own part of the problem, specializes in that and works together with others, I think a lot can get done. For example, we saw a large homeless population living under a bridge when we were down there. So if someone is really interested in issues of homelessness, they would be helping New Orleans. Katrina obviously had many ties to racial and class discrimination, so work to help fight discrimination would help New Orleans. The school we went to needed more teachers, so helping children would help. And so on and so forth... I really began to think that as long as people are doing something to help the problem, it's really all the same battle. And that gave me a lot of hope.
There are a lot of things that I don't think I'll forget (and I hope not to). People talking about friends they lost, the kids at the elementary school we worked at, and especially the lower ninth ward. Overall, I feel fortunate that I could go to New Orleans to help out and to learn new things about something I didn't know very much about going into.