Tuesday, March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010, Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

By Mariposa Stormer, Detroit MI
Client Service Coordinator for St. Bernard Project

As a twenty-something non-profit volunteer in New Orleans, people are constantly asking me why I decided to move here. There are the self-evident reasons, I saw how Katrina devastated a unique American city and left its citizens to fend for themselves and I read that the projected recovery of the city was ten years away. I came down to help rebuild because I could not sit by and watch the city slowly, painstakingly, recover when I could do something to help.

However, there are more personal reasons for moving to the Big Easy. I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by local Detroit musicians. My childhood was heavily influenced by the jazz and blues music that traveled up the Mississippi River and created the Motown sound Detroit is known for today. I knew the names of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton before I could find New Orleans on a map. My parents taught me a little bit about the history and culture of New Orleans and the reasons it became the birthplace of jazz. I was drawn to New Orleans for many reasons. The European architecture, the laid back character of the city, and the jazz resonating in every corner, made New Orleans seem like my kind of city.

Before moving to New Orleans to volunteer, I had been living abroad in New Zealand. In discussions I was often the de-facto American ambassador and many people asked me about New Orleans and the recovery efforts around Hurricane Katrina. I had to field difficult questions from people all over the world who were continuously asking me why New Orleans was still not rebuilt.

The most honest reason I can give for moving to New Orleans after Katrina is I refuse to live in a country where people do not help one another in their time of need. I came to New Orleans to volunteer because if the United States cannot help itself, how can it claim to help the suffering of other counties?

At the St. Bernard Project we often talk about the problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as “solvable problems.” I’m volunteering in New Orleans because we’re not trying to cure cancer, end hunger or find world peace. I’m here because a hurricane damaged a city and the residents need help rebuilding their homes and lives. I can help people pick up the pieces of their lives and return home.

New Orleans is a great city, and no question about it the city will recover. What I didn’t realize before I moved to New Orleans, is how much I would receive from the city in return. In the past ninth months, I have had the privilege of living in one of the most festive, historical and unique places in the United States. Now, I am still here rebuilding New Orleans because I believe the culture and history that is unique to New Orleans needs to be preserved. In fact, I challenge everyone to come to New Orleans, volunteer and get to know the amazing people and traditions that make up this city.

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