A week ago today I was experiencing my last full day in New Orleans on one of Saint Rose’s alternate spring break trips. The trip was amazing– and hard to describe. Actually, this is probably the hardest part of the trip (aside from coming back)- describing what I’ve just experienced. Having gone on the trip last year, I’ve twice now come back from the trip and found myself struggling with how to explain the trip to others.
You might be wondering why this is, so here is my best attempt to try to explain. When one comes back from a week of a typical vacation people tend to ask, “How was your trip?!” I typically respond with something like, “It was great! Gorgeous weather- check out my tan lines!” With an alternative break, people ask the same thing, except the answer is SO much more complex. I want to respond with something like,
“The trip was absolutely incredible. It is devastating to see that six years after Katrina so much work is left to be done. There are so many empty lots, and houses that still stand are in ruins. There aren’t enough schools or businesses in the lower ninth ward to sustain the population that once existed, so many people have not returned. We did what we could though! We worked so hard on different projects- roofing, painting, weeding, composting- it was a great mix of work. Our group of students was amazing- they were so dedicated and passionate about the work they were doing that they didn’t want to stop at the end of each day! You should have seen them- climbing ladders, hammering, lifting. They were unstoppable and inspiring! They all took the time to chat a little with the residents and long-term volunteers to learn more about why the mess in New Orleans still exists. It’s so sad to get to know these people for a week and then have to leave them. I can’t wait to go back.”
There are a few problems with a response like the one above. First, people generally ask about your trip in passing, so you have ten seconds to say, “It was great! Can’t wait to go back!” Which, of course, explains nothing. Second, I’m afraid that people will focus too much on the negativity of the response (“devastating,” “ruins,” “worked,” “mess,” “sad”) rather than the fact that I have been inspired by what I’ve seen and feel a need to do so much more.
So, here I am, doing my best to explain in a blog post supplemented with a video (find the full album of photos here). If I have to get one message across right at this moment, it’s this- New Orleans still needs our help. You might think of New Orleans as Mardi Gras and jambalaya, but there are other parts too- check out the video and hopefully you will get a glimpse of what I mean.
A couple brief shout-outs:
To the 13 students and two other staff members who joined me on this trip. Students– you all committed yourself 100% to everything you did in NOLA and you’ve made an impact that won’t be forgotten. Ken & Elvis– I couldn’t have had a better staff support group, you guys are awesome! **Brenda’s Story**
THANK YOU to Camp Restore for your hospitality and a great place to crash at the end of a long day.
THANK YOU to lowernine.org for your organizational skills in getting our team out and working throughout the week, as well as your direction, patience, and guidance.