The NOLA Part 1: My Inward Experience

"New Orleans leaves people different than how they came."

As stated, this was my first voluntourism trip. Beyond the amazing food, great music, beautiful accents, potent drinks, positive vibes (this list could go on for pages); New Orleans is RICH in history. The most recent, pivotal moment in history, Hurricane Katrina is what brought me to visit the eclectic city.

Sponsored by JetBlue and World War II museum, my amazing business partner spearheaded a trip to NOLA to volunteer with the St. Bernard project (SBP). The St. Bernard Project is a non-profit organization established in March 2006 to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina within St. Bernard Parish, located in Southeast Louisiana. As of April 2015, SBP has rebuilt over 800 homes nationwide, including 600 in New Orleans. Can you say monumental? With the help of myself and about 15 others, we were able to paint a home for a once prominent, political leader in the city of New Orleans.

How did my visit to NOLA make me feel?

If there was a word that could magnify grateful to the 1000x, that’s the word I would use. Strategically, we went on the 10th year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and some houses looked the same as though the disaster had torn through the city just the week prior. Seven foot water marks, homes that had floated to the next block, boarded windows, spray-painted symbols on houses that signified that the deceased had been found in them, it was something that the media couldn’t quite accurately describe without having been there. I have to be honest that I still cannot fathom, how. And the people! The people of New Orleans! I’m sure uber drivers have dry mouths by the end of the day after tourist have exhausted all possible questions pertaining to their accounts of Katrina. I was one of them, inquisitiveness is my thing and if I’m really interested (which in this case, I was), the questions are endless. With every question, they were gracious. With the city being only at 60% of its population predating Katrina, many folks had recently returned. Some returned leaving their families behind in surrounding states - Houston, Illinois, Mississippi were a few mentioned. Let’s take a moment to talk about how not only could natives not return due to the catastrophic damage, but there were no schools, hospitals, and even grocery stores were obsolete.

The watermark for where the water settled for weeks after the hurricane.

I met a woman working at a local bakery (Café Du Monde – a must go while in NOLA BTW). She explained that she had returned within the past 12 months from Mississippi where she left behind her daughter and grandchildren. She advised them to stay because even after so many years, the amenities of the ninth ward were still not up to par.

Another local described the city as divided, as most cities are. The ritzier side of town that encountered less destruction was back up and running while the Ninth Ward, and other surrounding areas still struggle with restoration. A world divided, which was not a surprise to me.

New Orleans needs support, even ten years later.


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