Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Read This-It'sCool

This past year I volunteered with Spring Break Outreach and traveled to Biloxi Mississippi and New Orleans to participate in the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. I didn’t really know what to expect of the trip when I signed up. I had never successfully built anything in my life, partly because I have never been trusted with a hammer before. I was also worried that I would not get along with the strangers I would be living with everyday for a week.

Luckily, however, the trip was not only fun and successful; it was easily the most life changing experience I have encountered. Our group lived and worked with a Christian based community service program. Every morning at 6 am we would wake up, put on our boots and get to work. None of us had any experience in construction but we worked side by side with qualified plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. We learned a lot from them but I think that they also learned from us. Although they had far more experience then we had, when we were faced with a problem, we both worked together to find a solution. Whether it was how to sheet rock the ceiling without a ladder, or how to balance on the roof to restore the siding, we worked in unison, skilled and unskilled labor, to reach a common goal.

In this way we directly mirrored the townspeople in The Whale Rider who worked to save the 200 whales that had beached themselves. Young, old, rich, poor, men, women, criminal, law enforcer they were all able to set aside their differences for a day to achieve their objective. We were also comparable to Koro and Kahu in this way. Although Koro and the skilled workers had all of the conventional wisdom that comes with age and experience Kahu and our service group offered fresh new perspectives to contribute to that wisdom.

After our physical labor was completed in Biloxi, we traveled to New Orleans to meet with hundreds of other volunteers from all over the country to discuss Hurricane Katrina and the political atmosphere in the areas that it hit. I have always heard that New Orleans was infamous for its corrupt government, but I never could have imagined the racism that the people of the city experienced. We read articles that showed two pictures from an online newspaper. One picture showed a white male carrying food through the storm and the other showed a black man doing the same. In the article, however, the white man was described as “finding safety” while the black man was described as a “looter.” I was also shocked to discover that around 90 percent of the people who were unable to get out of the city during the hurricane were black. The rest was made up of the elderly and the poor. Lastly, we drove through the shambles of the 9th District, a predominantly poor black neighborhood. This town was hit the hardest because the weakest levees were built in this area. And, almost two years after the hurricane hit, all of these homes are still completely uninhabitable. While just a few short blocks away white people’s homes are up and running.

Before this I would not call myself an ignorant person, but after learning that this kind of injustice is still occurring on a level of this magnitude in America, I knew that my eyes had been opened. And, although people are homeless, the government is still unable to help rebuild these areas. It is the faith based communities, like the one we volunteered with, that are doing all of the work. And, although I consider myself a religious person by no means, I am proud that I had the opportunity to meet and work side by side with the people who have dedicated their lives to bettering the lives of others.

What I learned most from all of this is that like the main characters in The Whale Rider, we are all struggling for a common goal, and although at times we were unable to see each person’s individual skill. When the time came everyone steeped up to fulfill the role that was needed. Each person in our volunteer community worked hand in hand for a common goal and our world is a better place because of that.

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