We brought on the new year with a lot of noise, but not the type most expect. The roar of table saws and the scream of the drill press drowned out all the dance music. This year there was no lavish party in a fancy hotel—just a small cardboard tent and porter potties, in the dead of winter during a thunderstorm.
This January, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Program gave me and a group of fellow Bonner Community Scholars at the College of New Jersey the opportunity to rebuild homes in New Orleans. Upon arrival, every comfort I have ever had was at once stripped away from me. My body quivered, my lips were purple, my hands and toes were ice. I was hundreds of miles away with a strange group of people eating food I had never even seen before. The days were long and physically exhausting. But most of all, I was emotionally and mentally distraught.
Over the last three years, I’ve watched with a blind eye at all the “progress” that has taken place in New Orleans and all along I’ve thought that things were getting better, not really knowing what “better” was. I expected to see the last phases of recovery in effect. It looked as if Katrina hit yesterday, because all the once vibrant parishes still look like ghost towns. The only thing indicating how much time had passed was the mold that progressively creeps up the sides of the rotting walls.
It was not so much the failed rescue attempts, the slow response and the meager rebuilding effort, but rather it was the exposure of the societal problems that are rampant in society that were the true tragedy to be seen. The war in Iraq costs America $1B a day, but those at home suffer from illness, malnutrition, and exhaustion. Every day, politicians divert hard-earned taxpayer money overseas instead of helping those at home.
Since my trip, I have helped build more homes in my local town and contacted several government officials to find ways to mobilize community members. Though I was taken out of my comfort zone, I realized sometimes self-sacrifice reaps the greatest payoff. Until we take an active role, homes will remain gutted and mutilated on every street and every corner.