Monday, March 17, 2008

A New Perspective

Quote of the Day: “When you do the work for yourself you may cut corners. So we follow the grandparent rule. We do the work like it is for our grandparents. We don’t cut corners and we want to make sure we get it right the first time.”

-Zach, co-founder of St. Bernard Project

Today the group travelled through the 9th Ward to reach St. Bernard’s Parish. While the first few days of the trip had been very meaningful and the group did a lot of great work, it was not until 8am this morning that the lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina was truly felt. Due to flood waters, there was not a single home for the 65000 pre-Katrina residents that was considered to be habitable. With 75% home ownership and unemployment rate below 4%, this was a vibrant working class community before the storm.

Today’s work was organized by a fantastic grassroots organization called St Bernard Project: The organization was started by volunteers that came down to New Orleans to help and felt like the community needed more support. In the past two years they have built 111 homes, are currently working on 25 homes, and have a waiting list of 200 homes. Each home takes approximately 10 weeks to complete and costs about $10000 to rebuild with volunteer labor.

Gann was sent to two separate homes. One group worked on putting up siding on a home and the other painted the interior of another home. The siding crew will continue to work at their site for the remainder of the week, while the other crew will be brought to a new site because the work was completed ahead of schedule and some supplies had not yet come in. Everyone put in about a 7 hour work day. With 21 volunteers, one day’s work was equivalent to 147 hours that the resident would need to do on his/her own on their days off.


Today we went to the St. Bernard’s Parish and we painted a house. Marcus, Ari, and I were having a great time painting the bathroom, while Tali and Nancy were in the other room listening to music and singing…not so well! There was a paint fight that broke out with almost all of the group which was really fun. Tali, Nancy and me all ganged up on Mikey with some water. Once the whole house was painted(it was really a two day job but we finished in one) we were on the way back to where we were staying and we drove through the 9th ward, which was something indescribable. We saw so many homes that were falling down and that had the markings from when the people went through to check for people. The feeling in the van was intense and you could feel the surprise that people were feeling when they saw the homes. I couldn’t stop looking at all of the homes that were still not fixed and there were totally not livable. There were so many that when you would look down a street you could see them all the way down. I didn’t think that it was still going to be as bad as it was. Seeing all the homes that hadn’t gotten fixed and thinking about all of the people who lived there made me very thankful for what I have. I can’t wait to help with more homes while we are down here and I want to come back to help again when I can.


Yesterday was my fourth day in New Orleans. Last night we had dinner at a family friend’s of the Avery- Peck family. After a really good---delicious meal and some fun play in the yard we snuggled into a living room to hear stories from this family as well as Lev’s former babysitter. This family would definitely be classified as a well off upper class family while Lev’s babysitter was not only middle class but also African American. It was really great for us to hear two totally different experiences from two people experiencing the same devastating disaster. At first the family told us of how they had to leave town and thought that they would only be packing for a long weekend and were very much in shock when they found out that they would be gone for the next three months. They talked about the uncertainty, fear, and stresses (brought about by this hurricane) due to the fact that they were not able to access their bank accounts for some time and were not able to contact relatives or friends to see if they were safe. The family’s stories were definitely impactful but until Earlene (Lev’s babysitter) shared her story we had no idea the extent of the pain people went through. Earlene shared with us her stories as tears rolled down her cheeks. She expressed her anger with Mayor Nagin and the government for not helping quicker and broke down when she started to talk about what happened in the Super Dome. She repeated many times how families were ripped apart and that the national guard where aiming guns at little children and mothers pointing them where to go. Even though all this is so horrific what really shocked me the most to hear from Earlene was that children were being raped in this place that was there to save people; the irony of this was baffling to me. Earlene’s story was truly incredible and eye opening to me but the contrast between the two stories was even more intriguing to me. Earlene and her granddaughter, who also spoke, spoke a lot of the racial separation brought about from Katrina. They didn’t by any means deny that there was racism before but they talked about how the intensity between races had increased by a lot. I know I’m rambling but one more thing that truly truly surprised me was something that Earlene’s granddaughter told us. She said that despite what most people think that when everyone was in need the African American’s community didn’t come together to support each other like she would have liked. It came to the point that one time her car broke down and she saw many many African American’s drive by and finally a white person pulled over to help her. Her exact quote was that “if you were standing there on fire and there was a black person standing next to you they wouldn’t go get water to douse the fire.” This was incredibly surprising to me because I had always thought that black people had a sort of connection like Jews do.


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