I was affected in many ways by our trip to New Orleans. I made 28 new friends, learned
how to gut a house, and got to experience New Orleans nightlife firsthand. What
sticks out most for me, however, are the people we helped. We were lucky enough
to touch the lives of 18 families within two weeks, and each of these families has
their own story to share about how they were affected by the hurricane. What made
the trip so special to me was knowing that we would stand out to them as people
who helped them begin to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Many of the families shared horrifying stories with us about their personal experiences
before, during, and after Katrina. One woman’s story in particular stands out to
me as one I’ll never forget. We went to a house in Gentilly during the first week
in New Orleans where we worked on an elderly couple's home. The husband was 80 years
old and had bone cancer throughout his body. Because his immune system was so weak
from the illness, he wasn’t able return to New Orleans until the atmosphere improved
and obviously was not able to work to restore his home. Not only was this lady’s
husband terminally ill, but her mother died recently after surgery related to a
car accident during evacuation before the storm. She hadn't seen any of her neighbors
since the storm and knew nothing about their whereabouts. The neighbor with whom
she was closest drowned during the hurricane. Now, her entire family is scattered
throughout Texas and Louisiana, and she is living with her husband in an apartment
in Lafayette, LA. She just recently was able to furnish her apartment with the help
of some nurses she met in her many hospital visits; prior to that, she and her ill
husband had to sleep on the floor for weeks.
This woman’s story shocked, appalled, and, most of all, upset me. I couldn’t believe
that after as much as she and her husband had to deal with, it took weeks for someone
to help her find a bed for she and elderly, very sick husband could sleep in. The
only thing that made me feel better after hearing her story was knowing that I made
some small difference in helping her get her life back together. I couldn’t change
the past or make her husband healthy or find her a nicer apartment to live in, but
I was able to help her make a small step towards the future.
I feel like we did that for all 18 families on our trip. Some of the work wasn’t
fun, and it was a long day to those of us who aren’t used to doing manual labor
for eight hours a day. Still, there isn’t anywhere I would have rather spent J-term.
I learned on this trip that giving really is more rewarding than receiving. I can’t
imagine anything I could ever get that would make me happier than the looks on the
homeowners’ faces when we were finished. Many of the families I spoke with were
already coming up with ideas for rebuilding their homes. They were obviously sad
but were strong people who were just trying to move on, and it’s great that we had
the opportunity to help them do that.