Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16, 2010, Never What I Expected by Cesar Chavez High School Senior Joel Rivera

I expected to see a city similar to that in which I just came from. I mean, we spent all week leading up to the trip discussing the similarities between DC and New Orleans; I just assumed they wouldn’t be that much different. We discussed how ethnicity was similar, how the economy was similar, and more things of that nature. I could not imagine what I saw when the day finally came when I would be going to this grand city. I asked myself, “Am I at the right place?” A storm had devastated New Orleans, but at the same time, I have never seen a livelier city. The market, the quarter: they all presented a sort of vibrant aura to them.

It soon hit me that what I believed to be this great, happing city, actually still had a great deal of pain to hold to its name. We rode down to the most affected part in New Orleans, the lower 9th ward, realizing just how much more still needed to be done. People think New Orleans is all taken care of, but they only feel this way because it’s not mentioned in the news much anymore. That doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved though. Many of the people down here are scared to death that people outside the city have forgotten. That would mean there would be less and less people to help.

I can’t imagine what these people down here must’ve gone through. They must truly be a strong group not only to endure the storm and its affects, but also to not give up on their home. The people in New Orleans haven’t even considered to leave their past behind to look for a new house, because their home is too valuable for them to let go. I remember hearing a man talk about his experience post-Katrina; his house was destroyed, yet he was fortunate enough to have volunteers build him a house somewhere else. Then, a man asked him “how does it feel to be home again?” The victim replied “I’m not home. I have a very beautiful house, but I will never be home.” In leaving his previous house, he also left behind many beloved neighbors and friends that he won’t get to see anymore. A house is an essential need for living because of shelter, but someone will never be complete without a home.

As someone who’s been to New Orleans to help before, my reason for coming back is simple: I wanted to put a face on those that I help. I personally hate being forgotten myself, so I can fully grasp why someone would fear the chance of being left to suffer. My hope is by the year 2015 or so, New Orleans would be restored by more than 90%. It’s getting there thanks to all the great people at St. Bernard and all the volunteers. I want to see this town as it was in its glory days-in a time when it wasn’t scarred by nature. It’s a long, long road, but we’ll get there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this city, it is that it has heart.

Coming here I never would’ve suspected a place could change me this much. Working on all these different homes, I’ve learned to develop a leader in myself, but even more so, I have learned to connect with others and value everyone’s background and story. I have opened myself up and learned to accept everyone for who they are. I guess that is what living in a community is all about, a lesson that a city like New Orleans teaches quite well.

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