This J-term trip brought together thirty-two strangers, who came together for two weeks to help change the lives of fifteen different households in New Orleans. I do not think that anyone of us was expecting to get as much out of the experience as we did. We had all heard the horror stories and seen the pictures on the news about how hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. However, we never could have imagined the extent of the destruction, the putrid smells, and the resilient people we encountered while we were down there.
Images on the television screen can never portray the absolute destruction of the city of New Orleans-- you must see it and experience it first-hand yourself. The scene in New Orleans is just simply not the same as the pictures. I remember watching the news and seeing the flooding last August. To me the disaster just looked like a bunch of roofs in a big lake. No big deal. Drain the water and everything should be fine. On this trip I realized you have to go into the houses to see the real devastation. Inside you see and smell months of mold and mildew. Even more poignant, you realize that all your material belongings from your entire life are destroyed --everything GONE.
After seeing and smelling the destruction right in front of my face, I remember thinking as I was walking through the first house: how can these people possibly continue with their lives? Everything that they have ever known is gone; they have to start all over again from square one. How can a family rebuild? How can an entire city rebuild? The destruction is everywhere. But, after listening to these people’s stories for the past two weeks, I began to realize that they all have a lot of hope for the future and they are very eager to rebuild. I remember one woman saying that her family had lost everything, except each other. She and her husband were just going to take a deep breath and start all over again. I realized then that New Orleans is a very special city, filled with wonderful people who are determined to persevere through this disaster and rebuild their city to something even better than it was before Katrina.
This trip to New Orleans changed my life forever and greatly broadened my views on human nature. I was taken out of my comfort zone. I am lucky to have more than enough of the luxuries of everyday life such as electricity, plumbing, a warm meal, a bed to sleep in, dozens of retail stores to choose from, no long lines at the grocery store, etc. After this trip, I will no longer take anything for granted. I may have a bad day, but I think I’ll consider my bad days from a different perspective because nothing could compare to how the people of New Orleans are suffering. In our affluent and successful lifestyle, Americans often take the material riches and comforts of everyday life for granted. We cannot even imagine what life would be like in a poor third-world country. After Katrina, and after experiencing the impact of the natural disaster on everyday life, we may have more of an understanding of living conditions in third world countries. I think the extent of hurricane Katrina’s devastation to New Orleans gave this nation a wake up call. We realized that a major natural disaster has hit home and we were not prepared to deal with the destruction. The world is not perfect. For the first time in our nation’s history, a major American city was completely shut down and for the most part abandoned. Thousands of Americans were left homeless in New Orleans and thousands more lost their lives. Everything was destroyed. Living conditions became incredibly poor, much like in a third-world country. I never thought about these issues before our trip. Now I have dealt with them for an intense two weeks. The experience has shaped my perspective.