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.