It fascinates me how, in an age of instant access to information, many of us are ignorant to issues that are going on in our own country -- I know I often am.
When I discovered that my college was offering a service trip to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), I initially questioned the purpose of it. I assumed that we would be working on current issues in education or trying to decrease the high crime rate -- no, I soon discovered that we would be primarily working with the St. Bernard Project on houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
I was confused at first; my mind couldn't (and still can't) fathom the idea that nine years has not been enough time for the city to heal. Seeing as the current status of New Orleans is barely discussed by the media (when it is, mainly the glamorous parts of the city are presented), I didn't often think about NOLA nor did I think that it was still dealing with the wrath of a hurricane from almost a decade ago.
The harsh reality is that it is.
Once arriving in NOLA, I was mesmerized by the explosion of culture in most areas of the city. There's a ton of Afro-French flare, with a splash of Spaniard persuasion, fused with a bit of Southern United States pizazz; it's like a jambalaya dish, full of blended influences, yet very distinct tastes. As most do, I was falling in love with the architecture of the city and the Southern hospitality of the people.
At first it seemed to be the perfect city: there was amazing food, a vibrant culture, gorgeous people and a sense of community. It was not until I visited the Lower Ninth Ward when I realized the purpose of this trip. Riding through this area reminded me of a ghost town; the houses and street-life appeared as dull compared to other areas of the city. This once vibrant, heavy populated area used to have houses built closely next to each other; today, there are plenty of empty lots where houses once stood before the hurricane.
Although Brad Pitt's Make It Right Campaign, The St. Bernard Project and plenty of other organizations are building homes for those who have lost theirs, there is an immense amount of work that needs to be done. Over 6,000 houses were destroyed and only 500 hundred have been rebuilt as of 2013
Let that sink in for a moment -- it's been about 10 years and only 500 families are back in their homes out of the 6000 that were most likely forced to evacuate and flee. Regardless whether the statistics are accurate or not, there are still plenty of people living without their homes into which they invested love, time and their culture.
I do not have politically correct answers for some of the exact reasons why there is still a great deal of recovery, but I have a solution for what can speed up the process -- volunteering.
You can aid New Orleans and other parts of the world by learning about the issues that are affecting the city and educating others on them, or you can simply donate money. But for me, the most rewarding action is going to a place and using my body, blood and sweat to rebuild. One of the best feelings was chatting with a 70-year-old cab driver (whose retirement has been postponed due to Katrina) that expressed his gratitude to us for helping rebuild his home. Knowing that something as simple as me breaking down his walls or painting his walls can help him to retire is a powerful thought. Going to a place, chatting with the people and giving back is greatly appreciated by the residents. The people of New Orleans were some of the kindest and most optimistic people that I have met; why would one not want to feed the positive energy of the city by giving back?
We often think that issues are irrelevant because they do not directly affect us, but we forget that we can easily be the ones in an unfortunate situation at any moment.
Take a moment to disconnect yourself from personal issues with which you consume yourself and realize that there are always people who are in more unfortunate circumstances, but you have the power to ameliorate their situations.
Check out this video I made about my trip to New Orleans.