Hurricane Alex & the oil spill Wednesday, Jun 30 2010 

A couple hours ago Tropical Storm Alex became Hurricane Alex. It’s not on track for New Orleans so I only need to worry about winds and rain; and there have been a lot of that in the last couple days.

But it does have an impact on the oil spill. Clean up is delayed; small crafts cant be out right now. The oil is being pushed further on to the shore; every so often my phone lights up with a “coastal flooding” warning because I have it set to give me critical weather alerts.

I’ve been building my hurricane survival kit piece by piece as I get money. So far I have two flashlights, two gallons of water, some strike anywhere matches, a couple portable BBQ kits and a container to keep it all in. Not much but as hyper vigilant I am about monitoring the weather, I’m sure I’ll have enough time to add in some canned food etc. from the pantry.  I’m making sure I always keep gas in my car (I tend to let it get close to empty before filling usually) and I can lay my hand on my passport and wallet in 5 seconds.

Today I saw a cool weather alert radio and a hand crank flashlight. Those and some extra gallons of gas are likely the next purchases I will make when I get money.


G20 and BP Friday, Jun 25 2010 

If I was back in Toronto right now, I’d likely be on the street protesting the G20. Instead, I am thousands of miles away reading about it online at the Toronto Star’s live blog.   Already, there have been arrests including an acquaintance Dave Vasey.

Tomorrow I am heading out to a “Hands Across the Sand” event in Mississippi – likely the one in Pass Christian which was one of the earliest spots that dead turtles and tar balls started washing ashore back in early May.

There are events across North America – please try to get out to one if you can.

I can’t help but think of the connections between the two events.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on April 20th continues to spew oil out into the gulf. No matter what methods – top kill, cap, burn off – the oil is filling the gulf. There is a potential hurricane brewing right now; and a heavy season expected. If it looks bad now, just wait til a hurricane lifts the oil and throws it several miles inland. BP is involved in providing response and recovery. It continually throws money at the problem; at the same time it controls media and public response. Volunteers and BP contractors are under a gag order. Kindra Arnesen is one of the locals not afraid to tell it like it is. (I heard this speech and it is great!). BP has spent about $2 billion in relief efforts (and pledged $20 billion into an escrow account for income loss).

The G20 (and G8) meetings which occurred this week in Ontario bring together world leaders to discuss key economic and development issues. The theme for the summit is Recovery and New Beginnings and is intended to discuss recovery from the recession and moving forward. 7 LCBO (liquor) stores, the PATH (underground corridors), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the University of Toronto, the CN tower (ironically included in the G20 icon) are all closed. Many businesses and organizations downtown – including the Professional Writers Association  of Canada of which I am President – have shut down for the day or are having employees work offsite.

$1.1 billion has been spent on the security and set-up of the summit; that’s just the amount they have told us about. From the fake lake to the security fence to over the top amounts of security police the summit organizers have turned Toronto into a police state.  The information that gets out will be as spun and controlled as the truth about the oil spill.

The protesters at the G20 aren’t just complaining about the cost of the summit. They’re there to talk about women’s rights, immigrant rights, health care, poverty, job security and climate justice.

The latter is where the biggest connection (after the outrageous security and media control) come into play. Environmental issues are critical. At the same time that the oil spill occurred and President Obama declared a moratorium on offshore drilling, Prime Minister Harper relaxed Canadian laws.

The oil spill is the fault not just of BP or governments but the fault of all of us. We have an over-dependence on gas and oil; it stems from our desire to drive, and consumerism. I include myself in this. As someone with a disability I depend on my car; I live in a community that has hardly any transit so my car is necessary. I don’t ever shop at Wal-Mart but the substitutes here – at least for low cost – are Family Dollar and Dollar General. That means that if I don’t want to spend a ton of money I need to buy cheap plastic products, likely made in China. I’m doing my best to find local sources, shopping at local non-chain stores, but its still a challenge.

What the G20 should be talking about this weekend is oil. It should be looking into clean energy options on a global scale. They should have a serious talk about the environment and the need for climate justice. I don’t have any faith that it will happen in any way but I wish it would. Maybe then the world would start heading in the right direction.

If you’re Canadian, on Facebook and want to show your support for residents affected by the BP oil spill, please join Canadians in Support of Gulf Coast Residents.

New Facebook group Sunday, Jun 20 2010 

I’ve launched a new facebook group today – Canadians in support of Gulf Coast residents – check it out here

My goal is 1000 people by next Sunday. Spread the word – show your support!

Oil Spill – Grand Isle Wednesday, Jun 16 2010 

Omnipresent in the minds of all down here is the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from April 20th 2010. We’ll likely never know how many gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico but it is in the multimillions.  By conservative efforts about 40 million as I write this post or by super generous over 230 million gallons. I use the handy oil spill calculator to figure this out.

Today I went out into the Gulf of Mexico with a few others to see the oil. We left out of the Sandpiper Marina in Grand Isle, Louisiana with Captain Robert Vegas at the helm.

We wanted to see oil and boom, and we weren’t disappointed. We also saw dolphins, most swimming freely but one that was in distress; in too shallow and with oil on its dorsal fin.

We saw birds, most ok, some covered in oil; brown pelicans so a little hard to tell.

The beauty of the Gulf is being marred by this tragedy. It will continue to be destroyed for months and years to come.

This tragedy is best explained through photos.

The signs are everywhere…

But sadly, so is the oil….

The coloured booms trap the surface oil from coming ashore. The white booms absorb the oil. If they are placed properly, if there is enough (there is a shortage), if they don’t drift or wash ashore.

When the oil gets through because the booms aren’t there or aren’t working, animals and birds get hurt.

This dophin was covered with oil and thrashing because it was caught in shallow waters. We tried calling the number for reporting oiled animals – it was a BP sub-contractor in Houston who didn’t even know where Grand Isle – one of the largest hubs of response – even was.  Eventually we reported it to the Coast Guard and Fisheries & Wildlife and they went to rescue it.

Some of the birds had oil on them, but note the stained grass – the brown is oil that has washed up on the nesting grounds of the brown pelicans. Only recently removed from the endangered list I wonder if they will get added again soon.

All in all a very interesting and intense day.   Soon I hope to go out from Venice to see another area that has been badly affected by the oil.

Alyssa Tutay – Post-trip blog time Thursday, Jun 10 2010 

June 7, 7:25 pm.

It is really nice to feel a great amount of respect from friends and family after participating in humanitarian relief efforts like rebuilding homes in New Orleans. Kind of like being reborn into Toronto although not much has changed here. A breath of fresh air might be a better description.

Yet it’s so nice to be back in Toronto with my homies, kicking it on our free time. There is still a bunch of silly moments of Louisiana coursing through my head. Photos uploaded to Facebook keep them running. (:

I want to go back! I want to be a part of humanitarian relief efforts forever. Being on this trip allowed me some personal freedom which I’m very grateful for. I’ve recommended to everybody that they visit the South sometime.

I will never forget Darren, one of the homeowners we met, and how he pleaded to get us back for the second work week. Darren is a laid-back, cool man. I loved that his neighbour called him ‘lazy’ for making us build his house for him, which briefly and temporarily shifted my understanding of Darren’s coolness. His neighbour rocked, and had two cute daughters, as well as two cute dogs that would talk to us at the back window through a crack in the fence.

I feel blessed to have made friends with people who live outside of Canada (yeah!) and to have been under such care at Camp Hope and by Tanya and Pascal.

Things are starting to hit me now that I’m back in Toronto, such as: having to stay up-to-date with daily  happenings; thinking ahead for meals; seriously considering jeans and long-sleeved shirts instead of shorts and a T-shirt; and the overall difference in pace and lifestyle.

That wraps up how I feel now that I’m settled in again and back on the grind. I’m looking out for opportunities to do more housing projects, possibly starting here in Toronto!

All love to the second crew of CINT 912!


Chivons Final Blog Sunday, Jun 6 2010 


The poem that I wrote was inspired by a presentation that was done at the volunteer dinner when a man spoke of his experience of Hurricane Katrina. He spoke highly of the volunteers and showed how grateful he was to have angels come to New Orleans to help him get through such a tragedy. I was touched by his words and decided to write this poem for our Ryerson team.

It was no coincidence we were sent to New Orleans

One by one we came closer to our dreams

As soldiers we stepped up to the battlefield

No one could stop us we refused to yield

The people were in great need

Tanya and Pascal took the lead

It was no coincidence we are in New Orleans

One by one we came closer to our dreams

Transitions were tough felt different inside

Although we stumbled we continued to ride

At times it was hard to cope

Yet we held on to the hope

It was no coincidence we were sent to New Orleans

One by one we came closer to our dreams

Residents spent many nights kneeling

Waiting for a sense of healing

Smiles, laughs and love filled the air

As the residents confirmed that someone still cared

It was no coincidence we were sent to New Orleans

One by one we came closer to our dreams

As we wept and cried many tears

We remained strong as we faced our fears

It was in our hearts we couldn’t cease

To help bring forth faith, love and peace

It was no coincidence we were sent to New Orleans

To help the residents fulfill their dreams

 Peace to Ryerson Team Two

NT – End Wednesday, Jun 2 2010 

So now that I have left N.O. I feel right in writing my final blog. The two weeks there have been fun and didn’t seem to go by quickly (Thank God). Who would really want to leave NOLA if you had the people you want there with you.  NOLA is a beautiful place. Within that place are many beautiful people. I had the chance to talk, walk, eat, and aid many of them. In hearing their  stories and seeing their faces I see resistance, happiness and life.  I have enjoyed every bit of it…well for the most part… When working on houses I felt a connection to the families but not as much to New Orleans. I feel the most connection I got from New Orleans is through the people and walking downtown. That is where the true evaluation of its culture and heritage set into my cranium. It hurts to see the rusting of brass so beautiful, but it’s happening and NOLA’s people continue to thrive and stay alive happy and well. I mean I’ve seen some people who were beaten down, but they smile. With them facing extreme issues of employment, food insecurity, a deteriorating health system and all the “isms” there are getting by. I Love NOLA and the people.

I have gone home with so much love and joy in my heart for NOLA. I truly feel as if I will go back. I will go back for fun and to help. I have realized that no matter where you go help is needed. Just some places more than others.

Key People From NOLA That Made My Experience:

  1. Sean
  2. Lucian A
  3. Mary W
  4. Trey
  5. Kenny

So farewell, for now, my sweet NOLA

Nicole Thomas

Goodbye, NOLA! Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

So we’ve been back in Canada for a few days now. It’s so nice not to feel hot and sweaty all the time! And I love that my bug bites are finally going away! But it’s weird not waving to everyone I see passing by or saying random hellos to people I don’t know. I miss the whole Toronto group, you guys were so much fun! It was awesome getting to know you over the last two weeks. I miss the AmeriCorps leaders – they were a blast! I guess I kind of miss bagles with cream cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, and rice and beans… but only because it was so funny that I ate it every day!

That was definetly a very fun trip! I would go to New Orleans again, and visit some other places I didn’t get to see while I was there. Thank goodness we got to see the Mississippi, Gulf of Mexico, and Swamps before the oil hit it. So sad to think that those beautiful places are going to be wrecked now. ):

Thanks for the amazing experience, Pascal and Tanya! You two are awesome (:

– Julea

It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

As the song suggests “it’s so hard to say goodbye”. Goodbyes are definitely one of the hardest things to do in life. As I sat and ate my last meal with the people that have become my best friends in the last 2 weeks I was overcome with mixed emotions. Just thinking back to the day when we first did our first introductions and how timid and unaware most of were to the last day on the job when we were basically perfecting our dry-walling skills and working so assiduously to make someone’s life and community a better place. It was a great experience to be part of an amazing team and working cohesively for the common goal of bringing families back home. There are so many memories which I really don’t want to let go of but I know it’s very important in moving forward. One of the most important things that I have learnt from the trip is that the work does not end today or the day we live New Orleans. The onus is on us as individuals who have had firsthand experience and knowledge of the situation as well as the displacement there to spread the word to others in order to develop an awareness of the situation at hand. I definitely believe that a better understanding will lead to more support for the people of the area.

Every aspect of the trip was marvellous from the wide variety of dishes that I ate and the warm culture which openly accepted us. To all the other volunteers who I worked with as well as the site supervisors it was all good times. Interacting with the locals from St. Bernard and hearing their different experiences during and post Katrina was also a force to reckon with. As I drive out of Louisiana I am quite sad but I will definitely make an extra effort to remember all the things I learnt and the people that I met and also to never forget Nola because even though the city has come a long way there is still a lot of work to be done. In closing I leave you with the Saints pledge of allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the Saints,

And the city of New Orleans,

And the Super Bowl,

Which we will win,

One city, under sea level,

With Mardi Grass

And alcohol for all

AMEN  & Who Dat?


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