Rebuilding New Orleans, nine years later

By Lindsey Smith

Two weeks ago, sixteen senior Park Scholars departed from Ithaca to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana. We spent our time rebuilding homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005. I approached the week with an open heart and an open mind, but I was speechless minutes after landing in New Orleans.

I first encountered our shuttle driver, a Louisiana native who described the 64 parishes that make up the state. His voice filled with pride as he told us that we were going to drive through four of the 64 parishes on our trip to Camp Hope, our home for the week. Camp Hope, located in St. Bernard Parish, is an old school that was converted into lodging for volunteer groups who come to help rebuild the city.

The shuttle driver described the storm as sweeping a morbid tone onto their flourishing city. To assist in the rebuilding, we volunteered with, a non-profit organization dedicated to training residents and volunteers to bring the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans back to life, primarily through house construction and rebuilding. I expected to see numerous groups working on houses in the area, but was the only group I saw all week. A few scholars and I walked back and forth from Camp Hope (about 1.2 miles), but did not run into any other volunteer organizations.

Throughout the week, we worked on four houses in the Lower Ninth Ward. I spent my time scraping paint, sanding, and repainting both the inside and outside of the home. Other scholars cleared wood, cleaned up trash-filled lots, and other tasks to accelerate the rebuilding process. We learned the homeowner provides the materials and donates the labor. The rebuilding process is often slow because many homeowners cannot afford to buy all of the materials at once. We even had the privilege of briefly meeting the homeowner, who expressed her appreciation through kind words when she dropped off paint.

At our work site, we chatted with the other volunteers, including a teacher from Germany and three French students. The students, who all came to New Orleans separately, had three-month visas allowing them to volunteer before returning back to their home country. While working together, we talked about strategic, preventative methods of building and compared it to our house construction. The area is still reacting to the storm, rebuilding their culture, and attempting to create a community. Long-term sustainable planning does not take top priority over returning people to their homes.

Every aspect of the city was affected by the storm, and everyone has his or her own story to tell. In conversations with a tour guide, a waitress, and taxi-cab drivers, all mentioned the storm and its affect on their family and friends. The city has done an incredible job preserving its culture, through food, jazz music, and art, but the storm has cast a shadow. Even nine years later, there is still so much more work that needs to be done to rebuild this city if it wants to survive another Katrina.

New Orleans showed me hope in action. We were able to impact the development of a specific parish, but the area still needs for support. As quiet as St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward were, I will never question the infinite hope filling the area.


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