|Posted by ny2no on August 6, 2008 at 9:19 PM||comments (0)|
Day 1 & 2:
Upon arrival in New Orleans, the group was immediately struck by the images of destruction throughout the city. Later in de-brief, a communal meeting in which we all reflect on our day, many members expressed shock and grief when confronted with neighborhoods that looked untouched. We went to Cajun Seafood, a cheap and delicious food joint, to enjoy our first dinner together and then returned to meet each other, converse, and settle in.
Today, we had orientation with the New Orleans Survivors' Council. Kim Mosby, the volunteer coordinator, began the orientation by discussing the history of New Orleans and its demographics, the events leading up to the storm, the government's negligent response, and the struggles survivors still cope with--displacement, insurance/contractor fraud, rebuilding, Road Home and FEMA woes, few, inaccessible schooling options, and poor/no medical facilities in certain areas.
She then went into the history of the NOSC, a bottom-up organization that is led by the residents. Their approach towards reconstruction is that the most-devastated people in New Orleans should lead the rebuilding movement. Focusing on community building rather than community service, NOSC advocates for residents to come together, convene over issues, and form solutions following a consensus-based, egalitarian process. While we are here, we will be splitting our days between manual labor in the morning (yardwork, work on the future community center) and canvassing to residents. In canvassing, we will forge personal connections with residents, but most importantly, refer them to the NOSC weekly Council meetings. Our job is to identify what problems residents still struggle with and then advocate for the meetings, where they can empower themselves in a solution-oriented space.
Lastly, everyone went on a levee tour throughout the Lower Ninth Ward, Lakeview region, and French Quarter. We noticed extreme disparities between the structures that were supposed to protect the various regions of New Orleans. In the wealthier, commercial areas, the levees were strong, earthen, and even beautiful, but in the Lower Ninth Ward, the levees were laced with air bubbles, barely twelve feet high, and lacking proper steel rebar. We discussed the possibility of the government blowing up the levees as they have in 1927 and 1965, the intense feelings of betrayal that residents have, and how to work in solidarity with the bottom to uplift an entire society. The day was heavy on information, but soon, we will de-brief and hopefully be able to process it all better.
While we stayed at Camp Hope last night, we anticipate moving into the Old Pathways Baptist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward as soon as possible. We are currently reaching out to parents to ensure that there is total consent for this decision. When we had a group de-brief today, the entire group agreed that the church would be a better living environment because it allows for enhanced bonding (Camp Hope has many rooms, lounges, etc which leads to cliques and separation), a closer connection to the residents we work with (we work in the Lower Ninth Ward, the organization we work with is based in the church), and saved money and time on the gas (it's about an hour from Camp Hope to our worksite).
If all goes as plans, we will move in tomorrow morning. Everyone is healthy and happy.