Friday, March 15, 2013

About Our Last Day Trip

    Today is our last day here in the city of New Orleans. In the morning, we got to visit the Louisiana State Museum, which is located by the French Quarter. The first floor of the museum covered a brief introduction of hurricanes in New Orleans' history, and what happened before, during, and after Katrina hit the town. I was first upset and angry about the government inefficient work in the whole rescuing process. Then at the same time, I was moved by all the ordinary heroes who emerged in the whole process by having put tremendous effort in. That was the time I started to realize that no matter what kind of difficulties human beings face, there will always be a chance to recover as long as all people are willing to work together.  What impressed me most during the recovery process is the culture formed because of one of the most serious natural disaster in American history. People made music in memory of lost fellow citizens and used rainstorm protecting material as fabric for Mardi Gras Parade costumes. The second floor exhibit showed more historical background of Mardi Gras. Tracing back to the roots of the festival can help us better understand the mixed and unique culture of New Orleans.
We actually got exposed to the famous French Quarter after we finished our museum tour. Even though it is called the “French” Quarter, most of its architecture was built during the time of Spanish rule over New Orleans, and this is reflected in its design. Riding bikes with Michelle and Nicole around the French Quarter was the best experience ever! Today’s weather was gorgeous. Like the bike renting store owner says, “You can never find a day better than this for a bike tour!”
    We went to the French Market after about a 20 minutes’ ride.  In contrast to the typical medieval European style building around it, the market can give you a better idea how globalized this current society is. Not only are the visitors from all over the United States and other parts of the world, the business owners there are also from quite diversified backgrounds.  I bought sunglasses from a Chinese lady, and looked for a hat in many different Indian stores which are all owned by white people.  On the street next to the French Market, I chatted with an artistic store’s French owner. The city of New Orleans is very diverse!
For some people, doing business in the French market is not all about money; it is more about a dream. An example of a successful New Orleans owner is the artist Russell Gore. He grew up in poverty. He now creates successful, colorful jewelry. His business is called Made in the Ghetto. He also helps give back to his community through service projects.
    I really enjoyed the trip and enjoyed being around ALL the people on this trip.

PS: Thank Daniel Schekorra for helping me finish this blog before 2:00 am! You are such a nice friend~ 

Ruiling Li

Day of Relaxation ...or Day of Contemplation?

After 5 days of travel, learning, and difficult service work, today was designed as a day of relaxation and reflection. First on the schedule was visiting the Hurricane Katrina museum. After that, the afternoon was ours--we were going to break up into groups and tour the French Quarter. Fairly straightforward, right?
However, today was the capstone of my New Orleans experience in ways that I could never have expected.
I walked into the Katrina museum and, seeing a destroyed grand piano lit by eerie blue light, knew I was in for a riveting experience. I drifted through each captivating slide show and exhibit in the museum and was taken back to that summer of 2005. I followed the news like any good 6th grader back then, but reading each piece of information through a college student's eyes made me appreciate all the work I've done this week. Furthermore, I found that the upstairs portion of the museum (which was dedicated to the cultural history of the city), made me understand how my perception of the South has changed during my week in NOLA. Honestly, I had always pictured myself living along the east or west coasts because I held unfounded presuppositions about the southern way of life. But, I learned during my week here that the south isn't just about kind manners and good cooking. The second floor exhibits showed me that people everywhere can learn from how well New Orleans balances hard work, celebration, and cultivation of beautiful art.
I was allowed to experience that beautiful art during the rest of the afternoon as 3 friends and I wandered through the Quarter. My favorite part of our travels was visiting the Armstrong park. I absorbed the distant music of street artists while looking at the dark metal sculptures of famous musicians and knew that this wasn't going to be the last time I'd visit New Orleans.
I know it sounds cliche, but I'll seriously travel home tomorrow as a changed person. The Katrina museum reminded our group how easy it is to forget catastrophic events after just a few years. These events still need our support, but local service work is also unending. I'm making a promise to myself to get involved in more service work at home at my closest available opportunity, so the lessons I've learned here don't simply fade into oblivion.

--Tom Pesek

Race, Class, and Inequality

Part of the Katrina Exhibit in New Orleans

Sustainability and Hurricane Katrina

Today was our last day of volunteering and my group chose to spend it helping out at the Green Project.  The Green Project takes everything from recycled paint to used doors to tiles and sells them back to the community for significantly marked down prices.  They are most well known for recycling old paint.  If it weren't for their efforts in that a lot of paint would end up going down the drain, which is incredibly toxic.  I spent the first half of our morning there going through tiles and throwing away the broken ones that had no chance of selling.  I thought that this was incredibly interesting, as I came across a plethora of designs and shapes.  Each tile made me think about who had previously owned it and what kinds of trials they had gone through.  The second half of my morning working with the Green Project I helped out in the lumber yard.  Four other volunteers from our group and I worked on moving huge piles of lumber from one point to another, as well as rearranged some roofing tiles.  I immensesly enjoyed this and the fact that moving the lumber was physically strenuous.  To be honest, when I imagined this trip beforehand, that kind of labor is what I had been expecting.  Therefore, this was my favorite part of the whole trip (other than being a master cutter of insulation).  I am very thankful to have been able to help the community of New Orleans, even if what our group did was nothing more than housekeeping.  I truly believe that every little bit counts.

After working at the Green Project, one of our advisors, Patrick, took us on a short tour of a few key spots in the Katrina incident.  For me, this was an incredibly interesting and beneficial expedition.  I saw all the images and news that flashed across my family's television when the hurricane slammed into New Orleans.  However, having seen the part of the flood wall that failed, and having heard about the true reason behind why New Orleans was so badly affected, Katrina has been made so much more real and concrete.  It's horrifying for me to think that human negligence is the explanation for so many annihilated homes, so many lost lives, and so many displaced families.  It angers me that it was pure carelessness which caused such a large amount of pain and suffering.  However, I believe what happened that infamous day in New Orleans' history has served as a great wake-up call to those who made the flood wall.  A lot of new construction has been done in improving the wall, from using a different kind of wall that has better support, to installing a flood pad to avoid erosion of the protected side of the wall.  I'm very happy to see so many people coming together to try and create a better life for those who chose to come back to New Orleans. 

Overall, this trip has been an incredible experience for me.  Thinking back on what I had been envisioning this trip to be, it has turned out to be nothing like what I anticipated.  It has been so much better than anything I could have forseen.  I feel much more connected with the community of New Orleans, and want to continue helping everyone here when I can.  Should anyone ask me, I would tell them spending my spring break in NOLA, rather than raging on the beach in South Padre, was the best possible choice I could have made.  I am not leaving this trip the same as when we started our drive from Missouri.  Helping these people who were affected by what happened during Katrina is amazing, and I love knowing that my group's combined efforts have made a difference.  I would do it all over again in a hearbeat. 

-Julie Irene Barnum-

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Christine's Thoughts

It is always an interesting experience to see what a small group of people can accomplish. Before this trip I had volunteered for numerous organizations but had never done anything quite like this. Our small group of 14 came together to help rebuild a house that had still not be repaired since Hurricane Katrina hit. We helped to put insulation in, tear down the ceilings, lay tile, and many other tasks that would seem pointless to some but it meant the world to this family. Our group had some help from some of the volunteers from Wisconsin. These men have taken time off work and time away from their families in order to provide service to this community.
When we first came together we hardly knew each other, some of us knew one or two people, but besides that we were all strangers. I feel that after this week has ended we will be walking away with not only memories and having done service for the community of New Orleans, but we will be walking away with friendships that we had not expected. It is amazing how strangers can come together to do something so meaningful for a community that is not even their own. Along with volunteering for the community of New Orleans, we are helping out in ways that many people would not expect to make much of a difference. When talking with the homeowner, Cynthia, whose house has yet to be completed since the storm hit eight years ago I was able to really get an insight into how much her life had changed due to what had happened. She has had to live in various locations while her house is being worked on and has had to make so many life changes for her family. It is amazing to see that she still continues to push forward knowing that everything will come together soon. I was also blown away by the fact that her husband, is the man who provides the coffee for Camp Restore, has spent the past eight years providing service to this camp instead of only focusing on himself. He has spent the past eight year volunteering at the camp instead of spending time trying to rebuild his house. This selfless act shows character and that there is more to life than just having objects. It shows that there is more to life than trying to possess materials and objects, that life is meant to be more than these things.

Christine Hannis

Day 4 - The Green Project

Hello everyone!

Greetings from New Orleans. The weather is wonderful! Today was day number four for us in the city. We volunteered to work at The Green Project. 
The Green Project is a recycling organization that provides eco and cost-friendly options for basic housing items. Some examples of items they recycle include paint, doors, shelves, tiles, roofing, wood, etc. It has a warehouse setting, but consumers who are looking for home-improvement opportunities can come in and make purchases. In a city that is still rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, The Green Project allows for a cheaper homebuilding option using used materials.
We were broken up in to four groups that worked in different areas. My group went up to the top floor and sorted through shelves and drawers through the warehouse and storing them in designated areas. The second group worked in the lumber yard, which was really physically strenuous on them! The next group worked on pricing items. The final group worked outside moving items in the driveway.
After our volunteering was finished, our advisor, Patrick, took us on a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward (which was one of the areas hit worse by Katrina). He took us to three separate sites and explained what caused such great devastation by Katrina. I wish I could give some information on what caused the wall to break, but I wouldn't be able to do the story any justice! 
There were two things that I found to be very interesting in driving around the more economically-challenged neighborhoods of New Orleans. 1) People who lived directly next to the flood walls have moved back to the same spot. Many of the houses were rebuilt by Brad Pitt's donations (Google it). Personally, I don't think I would ever feel comfortable moving back to that area. 2) The large amount of abandoned houses left in New Orleans. There are so many homes that were damaged by Katrina that remain in the state that they were post-storm. 
To finish off our night we enjoyed beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde. They are basically fantastic powdered doughnuts. 
The trip has been such a great time. All of our volunteering opportunities have been fun, and all of the other students and advisors who came are awesome!

---Jonathan Daniel Schekorra---

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Video Blog - Marshall Jones

Marshall Jones provides some insight into the service project that has been completed in the past two days: