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!

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