Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hamline continues to send students to New Orleans for disaster recovery because, despite what we hear on mainstream media, New Orleans is not healed. 

Today our whole group volunteered at Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO) cleaning cat kennels and walking dogs. I was also at the site on Tuesday and had a great time caring for the animals and working with the staff. Today I walked a dog named Connor, who was going to be put down because of his two tumors before ARNO rescued him earlier this week. Connor was the calmest dog I walked between my two days at ARNO, and it was great to give him some love and attention after he was abandoned by his original owners. It down poured this morning, and Connor and I were soaked after walking around the flooded neighborhood streets and grassy alleys together.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work on Bruce's roof for the first time. I have a little construction experience, but this was my first time working up on a roof. I learned a lot about roofing and Daryl, the director of United Saints, stopped by to show us how it gets done. Daryl is a really experienced, goofy, and energetic person, and at the tail end of the work day I found myself working with him directly. He, Megan, and I put down tar paper with a staple hammer and made sure the roof was water proof for the night. I asked Daryl about working in construction and what it's like to have volunteer groups come and go all the time. I'm glad I could help make some major headway on Bruce's roof, and chatting with Daryl was definitely a highlight of the trip for me.

Along with the service work we've been doing, we've also been growing closer as a group and working up to more in-depth social justice conversations. I definitely felt this during our reflection tonight where we each wrote down questions we had about equity, privilege, and how these topics fit into our experiences in New Orleans. What I liked about this activity is that each question started a dialogue where we offered personal insight. Even in this short span of time working together, I've witnessed our group grow in our individual ability to have hard conversations with a diverse group. We are learning to navigate the intersectionalities of diverse conversations within diverse groups in a way that creates a space for people to speak from their perspective. Setting up this safe space starts with some uneasiness, but with a group that trusts each others and understands there is no judgements being made, the conversation that happens really allows people to grow. I personally shared an experience I had on the trip being a witness to mircroaggressions and some of the ways New Orleans seems to be gentrified. A really important quote that has come up in two of our reflections is "we are human beings even if we are not always humane."

It's been a long 4 days, but were here at Mr. Bruce's home, where there's been and exorbitant amount of rain damage.  For each of the days that I was participating in my service work, he'd come outside greet us with a friendly smile and ask how we were doing, and thank us for coming out to help his family.  As you can see by the photos Mitch taught me how to use a circular saw with precision. Brendan and I were the point persons for all the cutting on OSB, Plywood 1/8 and 3/4 board. They are amongst the ones who returned to New Orleans after the levees broke.  His dad, Mr. Sam the students referred to him as "Pops" spoke with the students after clean up on our last day there, he told them that when he was a kid in Algiers, LA there were only four families that owned cars.  Algiers is located southeast of where we stayed at the First Street Peck & Wesley United Methodist Church, as it so happens that Rev. Dr. Martha Orphe is colleagues with our very own Chaplin Nancy Victorin Vangerud.

Are you aware that Fats Domino lived in the Ninth ward? Kone, our social justice tour guide shared with us that the Ninth ward residents owned 85% of their homes before the levees broke and that 20% of that population some 120,000+ has yet to return to New Orleans.  We toured the entire area and we found so much devastation like there was a baby's car seat that was turned on its side in the middle of a yard.  We were told that when homeowners didn't return that the local government started to fine them in upwards of $500 a day.  Which has caused them to virtually lose or forfeit their homes. We visited St. Augustine Church were witnessed art, art of fact, art of pain, art that was created to heal humanity in 2004, dedicated as a shrine.  

As a staff member this was a wonderful opportunity for me to participate and watch these students grow becoming immersed in social justice and being the change that they are seeking.  They witnessed micro-aggressions at the top of our journey, and during the week.  They been able to absorb the world around them, they've adapted, adopted, they've changed, they have grown.

I had the opportunity meet a fellow untraditional student, Betty from the University of Colorado, Denver, and Casssandra who recently moved here from Albany, New York.  We had been discussing going out for dinner together when "Pops" from the church who had prepared all our meals interjected that we should ask him to prepare a pot of Gumbo for $30.00 because if we went out one small bowl would cost us $10.  Well he made us Gumbo like promised and it was great!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday March 23rd

Vin and Cindy's Day

Today, we worked on the siding for the house of a man named Brandon. We weren't sure what to expect or what to do; neither of us had much construction experience, so we learned as we went. The United Saints folks who helped us out were Rachel and Brian. We learned how to use saws, nail guns, staple guns, and other such tools, as well has how to handle and climb ladders safely. Besides the learning experience, it was really awesome to see our accomplishment at the end of the day.

Cindy worked on the trim on the windows with a band saw; this was a special type of saw used for wood with cement inside of it. Her group started out cutting them too small and had to adjust to the measurements, but soon got the hang of it. She also had to deconstruct a fence in order to make room for the tarp to be stapled along the wall, and she really liked the stapling as well as the nail gun. It helps let out pent up aggression and is also super fun.

Vin worked on really tall ladders (that were also super scary!) and stapled the tarp into place. After that was finished, her group began nailing wooden panels into place for the siding that had been previously cut by Cindy's group. There were a lot of technical details that took some getting used to, like handling the ladders, measuring exactly, and holding the wood perfectly level while someone nailed it in place.

We took lots of short breaks for water; it was very hot! The day was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it to see our progress.

After an amazing dinner (Thanks Pops!) we had an informative team building exercises that brought our already tight-knit group closer. As this week progresses we know that our group will only be stronger catalysts for change! ;) *I had to say that


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

NOLA Day 4

Today was our second day working with United Saints. Ariya, Anthony, Jordan and I (Abby), went to Bruce's house again to work on the roof. Ariya and I started off working on finishing the porch roof. We used a nail gun to nail panels of plywood to the roof and actually finished covering the porch today. It felt really good to get that project done. After lunch I went up onto the main roof and worked with Anthony and Jordan to remove nails and shingles from the wood of the roof. The whole surface of the roof was covered with rusty nails and holes, but we managed to finish the job pretty well. It was scary being up that high at first, but we got used to it and got some good work done.

I started today more confident in my skills then yesterday, and by the end of the day I was even more sure of myself. Ariya and I have gotten very good at measuring and using a nail gun. We're all  also much more comfortable on a roof, and getting up and down the ladder then we were. Bruce's house looked very different by the end of the day and I'm really glad I went back to see the project through. I did get super sunburned, so I'll need to be more careful with sunscreen tomorrow, but the day was really rewarding. I wish I could stay and see this house through completion, because I feel very attached to Bruce and the house at this point. All in all, it was a really good day, and I'm really glad I got up on the roof yesterday.


Today was a really good day. My group went to Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO). It is a no-kill animal shelter that was started after hurricane Katrina. They rescue cats and dogs from all over the city. Our jobs included cleaning all of the cat "condos" and cages. It was a blast because the staff encouraged all of us to play and cuddle with the cats while we were cleaning. The people who weren't helping out with the cats were walking dogs and cleaning their kennels. Helping out at ARNO made me realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to put the pieces back together after a disaster. I hadn't really thought about all of the stray cats and dogs that were a result of Katrina until today. This experience has inspired me to adopt a pet because there are so many animals that need a home.

Our reflection time today was insightful and empowering. This trip has exceeded my expectations because the group dynamic is really strong. We have great discussions and the vibe is energetic and fun. I feel comfortable around everyone and this matters when discussion serious topics such as race, poverty, politics, etc. I feel heard and inspired by everyone on this trip and for that reason alone I am so happy I decided to go on this trip. I can't wait for the days to come.


Monday, March 21, 2016

New Orleans: Day 3

Today was our first day working with United Saints. We woke up at 7am to eat breakfast, meet another group of volunteers, and split into different teams. Our group worked on two different houses, building and fixing roofs and painting.  We got to meet one of the homeowners, Bruce, who was very welcoming and seemed grateful that we were volunteering to help build a new home for him. He brought us cold drinks and checked to make sure we were doing okay.

Abby and I (Ariya) worked on the lower roof of the house, fitting and nailing plywood to the studs. It took a while to get accustomed to the height, but once we were comfortable, time went by quickly (despite all the splinters!). Anthony and Jordan worked on removing damaged plywood and shingles from the upper roof and got very dirty and tired. The most difficult part of working on the roof was actually getting on and off of the ladder. There was nothing to cling to, so it felt like we could have easily fallen off. But the view was beautiful, and we felt accomplished seeing our progress at the end of our work day.

Cindy and I ( Farhiya) worked on painting the house red and yellow, Mitch joked about how it was nicknamed the Ronald McDonald House. At first we were pretty confused about what to do, but we caught up after lunch and managed to paint the entire side of the house. We were fortunate enough to be in the shade unlike some people, who got very sunburnt *Ahem Ahem, Ariya and Brenden*. Although painting was very tedious, knowing that we were helping Bruce create memories with his family in his new home was motivation.

After we finished working on the house for the day, United Saints served us an amazing dinner of baked and fried chicken, red beans, rice, and salad. The red beans had andouille pork sausage mixed in, and the chicken was seasoned perfectly. It was delicious. We ate so fast that we weren't able to get any pictures of the food.

Many of us plan to work at the same place tomorrow to finish our projects and see how much progress we can make on the house. We will also have the opportunity to work with pets affected by Hurricane Katrina. We're looking forward to tomorrow!

-Ariya and Farhiya

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day 2

Today we started our Sunday by attending First Street United Methodist Church, the local church here. It is a historically black church that was voluntarily built by slaves. As we entered the church, we could feel the joy and happiness that locals have been fostering there since the 18th century. The congregation greeted us with open arms and smiles and reminded us that they were familiar with Hamline University and that they appreciate our volunteer service.

After church we had the pleasure of being able to take a city tour with Konè, a passionate man who is extremely knowledgable about the matters here. During this time, we were brought up to speed on the many issues that plague the city of New Orleans. Our hearts were touched while reading about New Orleans, but seeing every sight here was just that much more impactful. Even though the residents of New Orleans are facing racial issues, gentrification, and a onslaught economic injustices, people have not given up hope, and it is truly inspiring.

During our reflection time,  the most impactful moment or location was learning about the "chained" cross at St. Augusta Church; we believed this because there was over 100,000 unnamed slaves that were wrongly buried throughout all of New Orleans. Another important topic we discussed was the poetry event we attended run by Hamline Alumni, Tony Wilson. We all believed that the event really put racial issues into perspective; there was extremely powerful phrases said that really showed the pain and suffering that everyday citizens, not only in New Orleans but the entire country, face and have to find ways to overcome all this adversity. Overall, our reflection time today was really deep and we all were able to share our ideas, and surprisingly we all had around the same thoughts on certain issues and topics.

Our first full day in New Orleans was full of surprises we weren't all that ready for; we saw the REAL New Orleans and all the problems that were suppose to be fixed but never seemed to happen. We believe that seeing what's really going on here will give us that much more motivation for us during the week for work and to tell people back in Minnesota about what's really going on and to not trust the media. If we can spread the word of the lies being told about this once beautiful city, we believe that it could lead to some type of spark to get more action to make this a beautiful city again.

-Brenden + Jordan

New Orleans - Day 1

We're finally here! Seeing our planning in action has already been really fun to experience. We landed in NOLA at about 12:30 yesterday and went to United Saints right away. We got a tour of our apartment and got to know United Saints a little more. Our apartment has two rooms, a bigger one and a smaller one with bunk beds filling a majority of the space in the room (it makes it cozy). We have a kitchen and a bathroom, and two outdoor showers. There are also two stray cats that hang out at these apartments, we got to see one of them yesterday. Hopefully we'll be more aquatinted with them by the end of the week :) We unpacked and went to Walmart to get some food for today. Shopping at Walmart in NOLA was a lot different from shopping at Walmart in St. Paul. There was alcohol available throughout the whole store, which is something that doesn't happen in Minnesota. Shopping let us begin to figure out and experience the culture and people of New Orleans. 

After Walmart, we went to Popeye's for dinner. When we were shopping for food, we were all super hungry so finally getting a chance to eat was exciting. After eating, we went back to the apartment and hung out for a while until we had our first reflection. At reflection we talked about how this is the time that we will unpack our experiences of the day and learn from what we saw, heard and did that day. After reflection, it was still pretty early in the night. The whole group (except for Yvonne) decided we wanted to go out and explore the more touristy areas of New Orleans. We walked down Bourbon Street as a group, which was quite the experience. It was a Saturday night and a lot of people were out and about having fun with their friends and trying to get beads from the people standing on balconies. We made our way to Cafe du Monde and had beignets (YUM). It was really fun going out with the whole group and getting to know each other a little more. 

-Megan + Anthony

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ready to depart

Welcome to the 2016 Disaster Recovery blog! We're currently at the airport getting ready to depart for NOLA at 10 am. Thanks for checking us out, stay tuned for more!

- Megan + Anthony