I’ve done so much since I’ve been here, and will definitely give a little timeline of what I’ve been up to for my next post (so I guess expect it to be long). For this one, however, I wanted to focus on a frustration I’m having right now.
Five of us are working at a house that just needs some finishing touches. We’ve been painting baseboards, installing doors, and doing some other small tasks around the place. Today we did so while watching electricians, who work for the St. Bernard Project, install lights and ceiling fans. It’s definitely nice to see a project come to completion. My problem, however, is with the family we’re doing this volunteer work for.
Now let me explain, I don’t want to come off as sounding harsh. We have been there for two days now, have met the father, the three kids, even an uncle (tomorrow we meet the mother, as well), and none of us have heard a single thank you. I’m frustrated that I’m being treated like a paid worker who isn’t doing her job properly, instead of a volunteer who is trying to help.
While here in New Orleans, we have met people who have practically nothing, and are still homeless. They don’t even know where to look for help like that which is provided by the St. Bernard Project. I have met people on the street, the bus, in restaurants, who have asked what I’m doing in New Orleans. When I tell them I’m here to volunteer, I get a pronounced thank you, and these people are so nice, most of the time they begin a pleasant conversation. Usually they tell me, and the others I’m with, about what they went through during and after hurricane Katrina. These stories are very touching, and hearing them makes me realize even more that we’re all here for a very important cause.
This family whose house we’re working on now has barely spoken to us. I have heard that this could be due to shyness, or a large sense of pride, but honestly, I’m not so sure that’s it. Their house is gigantic, and has been raised about 20 feet (which apparently is a very costly thing to do). Underneath their house, they have a hot tub, two ATVs, and a dirt bike. Their daughter even owns a horse. Superficially, they do not seem like a family in need of our help – or at least not in the immediate need that so many others are. Perhaps this family really does need the help – apparently the application process to be eligible to get help from the St. Bernard Project is very extensive – but it is definitely hard to appreciate their need when they haven’t been very welcoming, and have so many expensive assets.
This experience of working on this particular family’s house has made me feel like those who really need the help aren’t getting it. Sure it may be an issue of outreach, and the fact that many don’t know about the resources that are out. Yesterday, though, the city councillor of the St. Bernard Parish came to talk with us and answer our questions, and he says there’s about $400 million available to the city of New Orleans for recovery from Katrina. The only problem is that it can only be allocated to blight removal and economic stimulation. I don’t understand why this money isn’t being used to bring the people back into the city, and help them get their homes back.
So yeah, frustrated.