by Tanya Gulliver
This is my fifth trip to New Orleans and my fourth time working with St. Bernard Project (including once in Ottawa at BluesFest). Every time I visit I fall more in love with the city. So much in fact that that I have rearranged my life, packed my bags, and relocated to Arabi in St. Bernard Parish. I’ll be living on what one of the locals refers to as “volunteer row,” a street where numerous volunteers and others working to rebuild New Orleans live.
I am doing my PhD in Environmental Studies at York University studying issues related to post-Katrina recovery and environmental disasters. The longer I am here the more my ideas change about what I might study, but I know I want it to be useful to this community. My enthusiasm for New Orleans is contagious. Last year I managed to convince the university that I work at, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, to allow me to create a field-based course on New Orleans entitled “Community Development: International Perspectives – New Orleans Field Trip”.
Twenty-three students traveled to New Orleans to volutneer with me and we worked with St. Bernard Project Common Ground, Lower Nine.org, and Bayou Rebirth. The students fell madly in love with Southeast Louisiana and want to come back as soon as they can! This year the contagion spread. I brought on a co-instructor and we now have two classes who are working with St. Bernard Project.
Some excerpted thoughts from their blog: Toronto2NOLA
From Femi (Criminal Justice student): “So today is day , and I feel like I could call New Orleans home already. …I really enjoyed the bus tour; I was pretty amazed that I was actually in the same place that we once watched get destroyed on every major media station. It was really humbling and satisfying to know that indeed we were here to make a difference and I’m glad I am going to be a part of that cause. The people living here are pretty cool folk, and now I truly know the real meaning of southern hospitality.”
From Joanie (Social Work student): “Okay so today is day 4 of the trip and day 1 for volunteering with St. Bernard project. Today we were assigned to do demolition work at an elementary school that had up to 12 feet of water! While working in this school I had a mixture of emotions which included discomfort, excitement and concern. I was discomforted by the fact that this was once a place where students in the community attended where they made friends, did crafts read books and had teachers to look up to as role models. After Katrina hit the school, everything was destroyed physically and emotionally for the children and families and associated with this elementary school.”
From Rachel (Criminal Justice student): “The weekend flew by with a couple of tours: it’s a really eye-opening experience to be down here. It’s one thing to watch films and look at what was in the media, but a completely different story to be here seeing it for yourself. It’s sad to see that almost 5 years later there are still homes that are really damaged and families that can’t return home…Today was the first work day, everyone gave it everything they had and we got a lot done, which was totally worth it even if we’re feeling it now. Even with the minor injuries I got today (second group, if you’re using a shovel to take out a wall, keep a close eye for rubs on your thumbs, they aren’t fun...trust me.) I’m super stoked to see what tomorrow brings. With each day that passes I’m more and more excited I decided to extend the trip ‘til the end of the month. [Rachel will be working with Common Ground Relief, along with Amanda, one of the students from the 2009 trip for the last half of May].