Friday, March 29, 2013

The last full day is upon our group. We all spent the majority of the day in La Place, a city about 45 minutes outside of New Orleans. In La Place we worked on gutting a storm damaged home, removing lathe from the walls, cleaning out dirt and "de-molding" the walls and studs. To say the least, this was tough and tiring work.  In fact as I sit here writing this, the entire group is showering or lying down trying to rejuvenate for our planned dinner at Deanie's tonight.
Looking specifically at today's work, I can say that we all feel like we accomplished so much. Seeing the progress we made on the home in La Place is extremely nice after a long day of pounding, sweeping, pulling out nails and scrubbing walls. Even though the trip is coming to an end, the entire group has so much to take back to Hamline. Doing this work has definitely given me the motivation and urge to continue volunteering back in Minnesota.
Tonight is yet to happen, but as I said we are all going to celebrate all the hard work we have done this week by going out to eat and discover whatever we can of this great and unique city. Since our flight is at 6am tomorrow, most of us are going to pull an "all nighter" as we have to leave to the airport by three o'clock. Most of this night will consist of packing and cleaning our apartment. Saying goodbye is always bitter sweet however, the time we have spent here will be forever unforgettable. 
A warm goodbye from New Orleans! See you soon Minnesota!


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Today half the group went La Place and the other half went back to Ms.Jessie's house. I was in the group that went back to Ms.Jessie's house. We had some finishing touches. For most of the time we painted but the rest of time we got the opportunity to get to know her on a personal level. Which just brought more life to this trip. I'm looking forward to coming back to New Orleans and visiting her.

La Place

Today half of the Hamline crew traveled 40 minutes outside of New Orleans to work on a house in La Place.  We were given respirators and other safety equipment to use for the gutting of the house.  Most of our day was spent ripping down walls and disposing of debris.  Some of us also learned how to treat mold and worked to prep the walls for later reconstruction.  After a long day we were caked with dirt and other things but it was well worth it because we were able to see a huge difference from our group efforts.


Connections to Community

Selene gave a great overview of what we did today. To recap, we read with students at KIPP, visited Mary Queen of Vietnam, and attended an open mic heralded by a Hamline alum.

We have met a plethora of people so far in New Orleans, and we have had some unbelievably engaging and thought provoking discussions. All week we have talked about the sense of community down here in New Orleans. It is so alive, so prevalent. Down here, everyone is connected, everyone is recognized as a sister or a brother.

This is something I admire so much about the culture down here. It was even prevalent in the classrooms we visited today at KIPP. When a student speaks or answers a question, other students wiggle their fingers in their direction to send them positive "energy" in order to have the courage to speak up and loudly, and to answer the question correctly. Additionally, students are encouraged to snap when they hear something they agree with, like, or support. This fosters this incredible sense of community within the students. They are all working together to be successful.

I can't help picturing a world that had this sort of support on a daily basis. What if we connected and supported each other in this way? What kind of world would that be? I can't help feeling that it may be a more successful one.

To quote Kone, our tour guide earlier this week: "Compassion is the radicalism of the twenty first century."
Kind of a sad thought, but something to really think about.

Bre'Elle E.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March the 26th

Tuesday was filled with paint, good food, and good times. We began the day as we have each day which has been a nutritious breakfast and a stressful meeting. After making it through the pre-service ritual we started walking towards our site for the day: Ms. Jessie' s house. Ms. Jessie is a sweet woman who has been a friend of the organization, United Saint's,  since Katrina devastated her city. This week is the end of a two-week project on Ms. Jessie's house, which has mainly consisted of painting the entire thing peach-pink. Hamline came to put the finishing touches on it. This has been and most likely will be my favorite day of the trip for a few simple reasons. First, the direct interaction with Ms. Jessie gave myself and our whole group enough positive energy to get through the work in no time. The second reason was the surprise red bean and rice lunch that she cooked for us. Overall, our day painting gave me a strong personal connection with both Ms. Jessie and the city of New Orleans.


Hey party people. Today was one of the best days so far, because we started our day out at an elementary school called KIPP, which I think is some kind of special program here in NOLA. It was definitely different than I expected, mostly because the entire school was oriented towards getting these kids into college. The grade levels were five through eight, but they referred to the students as freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Every kid I talked to was CRAZY smart, and they all wanted to tell me as much as they could about their lives, and asked a lot of questions about Minnesota. I read with a fifth grader named Sha'Breann. She read a book like a bullet train, just rattling off words, and every once in a while she would stop and realize what she had just read, and giggle. She asked me all sorts of random questions, like if I ever got my nails done, and if I had ever been on a rollercoaster. The second girl I read with, Shanay, was at a second grade reading level. She was not very confident, but she was extremely good at sounding out words. When she saw the word 'decontamination', she wanted to give up, but I asked her to sound it out, and suddenly she knew exactly what it was. After a few minutes of reading, she decided she just wanted to talk. Her family is moving to Michigan next year, so she wanted to hear all about snow and the activities that go along with it. By the end of our conversation, she had invited me to Easter dinner at her family's house; sadly we will be flying back home the day before Easter.

Our second experience of the day was at the main office of a Vietnamese organization called Mary Queen of Vietnam, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church. I feel bad, because I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the drive over, and then was really out of it for our talk with the people there. However, it was definitely a refreshing visit. We've been hearing about and witnessing so much suffering lately that it was nice to hear a survival story, and learn about all the sustainable living projects MQVN is working on. They walked us through their greenhouse full of veggies and their fish room. They take the waste from the fish tanks, funnel it into the greenhouse, where the plants suck up the nutrients and clean out the water, and then cycle it back into the fish tanks. A REALLY cool setup.

Our last activity for the day, after a delicious dinner provided by United Saints, was an open mic hosted by a Hamline alum named Tony Wilson at his cafe, SpecialTea. We enjoyed the coffee and the company, but most of all, every poet/musician that performed was phenomenal. One of our own, Seth, got up there and did his thing, and received a resounding stamp of approval from the NOLA poets. He was passionate and fantastic, and everyone in the room was extremely impressed.

Now we're chilling in the apartment, some of us went out exploring, but the rest of us are chatting and having dance parties and showering and getting ready for another beautiful day full of building stuff. Catch ya on the flippity flop~!


Monday, March 25, 2013

Our First Day of Service

Today, Monday March 23rd, we had our first full day of volunteer work with United Saints. The day started early, as we had our morning meeting at 8:00am and went out to our site shortly after. For our first project, we worked on murals and signs for the Hoffman Triangle- an area with many abandoned houses that need to be cleaned/closed up. We worked on many small projects. I, personally, mixed cement and put it into tires to hold signs, drilled sign posts together, picked up trash in the neighborhood, and helped carry materials, among other little things. Other members of the group painted murals and posts, sawed boards, assembled murals, and more related items. By the end of the workday, I felt like we accomplished a lot, and the team leader noted that we had achieved more than they expected.

When we got back to the apartment, I was physically exhausted but feeling pretty good about the effort put forth. One of the most inspiring aspects of today's work was that the projects that we worked on/completed were noticeable, and I felt like we were actually making a difference in a short amount of time, even if on a small scale. It has made me very excited for the future work and projects that we'll be doing throughout the rest of the week. Just this one day has also made me realize that whether big or small, any help you can give is important. It has also inspired me to think about other volunteer/service work that I could do in the future and how I can "make a difference."

After resting up, we went to the mosque again and got to talk to a few of the men- including Musheer and Yusuf who we met for breakfast on Sunday- for an hour and a half. They also catered a nice meal of hot dogs and other snacks for us. During the open discussion, we talked about their personal roles in the community as well as goals for the community. It was extremely intriguing to hear about their efforts in helping out community members, including providing free meals, housing, recovery efforts, and medical care. It is amazing to see what people will do for their neighbors. It's really moving to hear about their real examples.

We also got to hear testimonials about their experiences during and after Hurricane Katrina. A lot of the information is horrifying, shocking, and just plain tragic. It seems like most of the people from New Orleans that we've talked to had either family or friends who died during the disaster. I am astonished every time we hear about this, but it is even more shocking that I am finding out many things about the devastation for the first time, almost 8 years after the event. The discussion at the mosque brought up many problems for the people of New Orleans, such as crime, corruption, violence, and poor health care and education. However, this is not the only time on this trip that we've heard such testimonials. They only reaffirm what we heard on our tour yesterday and from talking to others in the area.

Overall, this was a very long and tiring, yet fulfilling day. I keep learning more and more, and my mind and ideas toward disasters, relief, and recovery are continually expanding. I am excited to see what will come of the rest of this service trip, but I know we will all come back to Hamline at least a little different, and hopefully with new goals for the future.

On a side note, New Orleans is an absolutely beautiful city and the culture is strong and present everywhere. Exploring and wandering in our free time is just magical.\