NOLA, I will be back I promise! Tuesday, May 31 2011 

Civil Rights MemorialThe journey of a lifetime is now coming to an emotional ending. This was an opportunity that I can’t imagine could have gone any better. I really do not know how I will explain the things I have seen or learnt while down here in New Orleans. This city is captivating, it is magical and completely addictive. Walking around the French Quarter on our last day was enjoyable, but very sad. This reminded me of that wall in New Orleans that we saw on our very first day. The wall where people wrote down what they would do before they died. I know what is definite, before I die I will bring my loved ones back to New Orleans to let them see what I saw.

For me particularly the last two check in’s were the most emotional. What happened in Alabama should definitely not stay in Alabama. I will tell my story of what I learnt everywhere I go. Before last weekend I had a very slight knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement but after leaving Selma that sunny Saturday afternoon, I was well informed. To think that only 45 years ago such hate and oppression occurred sends chills down my spine. The Civil Rights Memorial is a wonderful and creative museum in Alabama that pays tribute to the heroes that died for their rights and for our rights. What struck me the hardest was that so many young people were the ones who died. Young girls praying in church one minute and the next their bodies torn apart by a bomb. A young black boy from Chicago visiting the south for a vacation happened to speak to a white woman, this costed him his life. I could really go on for days about how much I saw in Alabama, but I will leave it to all of you to discover it for yourselves. It is the most powerful when you see it first hand. We had the opportunity to walk under the Edmund Pettus  bridge, where the march took place on Bloody Sunday, March 7th, 1965. When we crossed we picked up pebbles. These pebbles were representative of those 2500 heroes who marched that Sunday, these were the stones they stepped on. During check in I let my friends hear my experience of Alabama. But I also shared my feelings about the pebble I collected in Selma. I told them the next time they feel feelings of hate, racism or segregation towards anyone or thing they should remember this pebble and the people that died for us on those rocks. The heroes were the freedom riders, those who marched and anyone who stood up for their right to vote. It is because of them we can be friends with people of any race and share our lives togethor today. We should remember these brave souls and be thankful for the times we live in and the rights we have been given.

I am so thankful for Alabama, for my educators and new friends. I really did not expect New Orleans to become such a big part of my life. This was truly a defining trip which I will never forget. I have learnt so much from the “fascinating” (Thanks Shannon) people on this trip. Each and every one of them are strong, inspiring and courageous people. The citizens of New Orleans are the ones that defined my visit to NOLA. They are some of the warmest and interesting people I have ever met. My role in New Orleans was defined by the looks on their faces when I started helping them heal with whatever help I could provide. NOLA still needs so much help and recovery. I know that I have truly made my mark there and will continue it at some point in the near future.

Much love New Orleans,

Iryna

do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans? Monday, May 30 2011 

Here we are, at the end of our journey, writing chapters upon chapters about our experiences here in this heavenly place.  I’m writing my last “during trip blog post” a day in advance since we are all packing up and jumping on our planes tomorrow morning.  Let me tell you,  I just got back to camp after having such a lovely day sitting by the water in  City Park listening to Joni Mitchell, playing frisbee and finishing up shooting the last bit of footage for mine and Isabelle’s video! Then we ventured onwards in the thick humidity to this restaurant I suggested to the group after reading about it in a travel magazine. It’s called Bacchanal and was by far one of the greatest dinning experiences I have had in this city. As we sat in the restaurant’s beautiful backyard garden, sipping wine and indulging in fresh toasted baguettes, brie, rosemary and blue cheeses, I couldn’t help but get sentimental and reflect on my time here in this charming city.

I felt swollen with a mix of emotions: gratitude, inspiration, happiness and motivation. Sitting there beside some of my fellow teammates (now people I consider to be great friends) I couldn’t help but feel so proud of the work we accomplished throughout our stay. I also couldn’t help but feel proud of myself for pushing engaging and connecting with the community as much as I did because without this element of my experience, I certainly wouldn’t have grown in the ways I feel I have. Many of us have addressed the weight of the social injustices we have witnessed in New Orleans and how heavy this knowledge can feel sometimes, especially when you are directly immersed in it. Despite the pessimistic nature of these injustices, I am leaving New Orleans feeling hopeful. This place has reinforced (like Caitlin has so poignantly stated) the need for human connection and how beloved community is crucial to overcoming struggle. There is spirit everywhere you turn in the city, even after such trauma. Their capacity for resilience in light of such unfathomable circumstances truly puts things into perspective looking at my own life.

It’s time now for me to figure out how these revelations can be carried with me back home. I intend on doing more than simply sharing the stories of all the incredible people I have met in New Orleans. It’s a matter of discovering how I can transplant what I have learned here to continue contributing to social change, action and recovery in New Orleans, as well as how this new knowledge can do the same thing in Toronto and other parts of the world.

I’ll finish by thanking from the bottom of my heart the group of intelligent and inspiring individuals who shared this profound journey with me. I think it is really special that we now have this collective experience. I will never forget you guys! And to finally conclude, in true southern spirit and as an ode to all the insane live music I have listened to since I’ve been down here, I must share this a gem of a track that takes the words right out of my mouth.

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NOLA…I miss you already Monday, May 30 2011 

The whole group!

Hey y’all. I decided to handwrite this final blog in a beautiful and peaceful spot in New Orleans called City Park. This post will be a reiteration of my thoughts and feelings on Saturday, May 28th, the last day of our experience in NOLA.

During our last check-in with the group last night, I found it difficult to sum up this entire experience. I am still processing all the profound moments, realizations, meaningful lessons learned and the relationships that have been formed with all the beautiful people I have met on this trip. There is not one person on this trip that I can imagine not sharing this experience with. You all have been a part of the collective will to rebuild this city and have contributed to my own personal growth that enables me to continue to want to make social change. Thank you all.

The knowledge that I have gained on this trip does not compare to the acquired knowledge and critical analysis that transpires in the classroom. Although both are important and complimentary, there is no way that I could possibly gain the insight and perspective that I have to begin to understand the man-made destruction that has transpired in New Orleans as well as the utter resilience of the communities. Here are a few people who exemplify this strength:

Tanya Harris – A wonderful, hilarious and courageous woman. Your story inspires me and empowers me to further pursue my social justice advocacy and continue on my path towards community development from the ground-up. Thank you.

Eli…from the Food Co-op. Your passion to attain equality and social justice and to create a genuinely democratic and inclusive space in New Orleans motivates me to give more to the community I live in back home. “Personal responsibility is collective responsibility.” – Eli

Jenny Cunnins and Bobby Wach from the Magnolia School. Jenny, your courageous story has motivated me to strive to overcome my own hardships and abandon feelings of hopelessness. And Bobby…the beautiful and joyful colours of your artwork make it impossible to see anything in a negative light.

I cannot thank these people in particular and all of y’all I lived with for the past two weeks enough for giving me new knowledge and perspective and teaching me about the individual and collective strength that human beings possess. You also taught me how to overcome moments of anxiety and speak genuinely from my heart…

Although most of the people I encountered here were not only extremely friendly and welcoming, but also very conscious about the social and political implications of the disaster, there were a few people I met who were very oppressive as well and continued to blame individuals for their suffering that was caused by systemic issues. For instance, one day I was stuck in a cab with a very racist man who believed that in America, everyone has equal opportunities. As the conversation progressed, I became more and more uncomfortable. Yet, I decided not to tell the man that his comments were racist and highly inaccurate. This is one of the reasons why I chose to share with you above some of the people I met who use their voice and tell their stories to both heal and battle the oppression that is faced daily. These people give me the strength to use my own voice to stop oppression, intolerance and social injustice as well. Here, I must also make reference to two of the most radical and wonderful people I have had the pleasure of getting to know – Pascal and Sarah, who are always willing to use thier voices and act to promote social justice.

“Justice Delayed is justice denied” – Pascal Murphy

When I think of New Orleans and my specific experience here, a few words immediately come to mind: progress, recovery, community, strength, resilience, resistance and voice.

I’m sitting in the beautiful City Park thoroughly enjoying my last day here. As much as I am eager to go home and share this experience with everyone I know, I want to stay here in New Orleans. I will miss you very much NOLA. Thank you.

Peace and love y’all,

Emma

End of a chapter… Saturday, May 28 2011 

Two weeks have gone by with a blink of an eye. I can’t believe this trip is almost over.  I will never forget all the amazingly wonderful people I’ve met, from Pastor Randy who shared his inspirational story with us all to Robert Christie – the homeowner of the house we worked on, who lost his house not only in Katrina but in Betsy as well.  Even the employees at Family Dollar have gone above and beyond their job description to accommodate our needs.  Now I know the true meaning of Southern Hospitality, I only wish the world as a whole was as genuinely nice as the people of New Orleans.

I am truly at a loss for words because the experience here has been incredible and almost indescribable.  Working at the St. Bernard Project, animal shelter, the Green Project, and working side-by-side with inmates for a common goal was something I will not soon forget.  I have learned many things on this journey about New Orleans, it’s history, it’s people and about life in general.  If only I could stay longer and continue rebuilding a community.

I have also learned a few things about myself.  I was not planning on making any new friendships on this trip, my sole purpose was coming to rebuild.  But I am so glad I opened up to new people, new experiences and new relationships.  I will take back all I have learned during my stay here and try to educate and inform others about New Orleans and Katrina in hopes that my new story will inspire or motivate change and progress.  This city is extraordinarily beautiful and resilient, there is nowhere to go but up.

I love y’all!

R-zoo

Who dat? We Dat! Saturday, May 28 2011 

Our two weeks are unfortunately done…*sad face*. I don’t even really know where to begin. This trip has been everything that I wanted it to be and more, but how do you summarize two weeks? The people that I have lived with for the last two weeks are the most amazing, fun, interesting people I have ever had the honor of living with. They have all been so dedicated to our work and at the same time enjoying the culture that is New Orleans. We spent hours helping rebuild and build houses, learning valuable skills that might…might…be used at our houses or the house of a professor (perhaps?).  Aside from the rebuild/build projects we have worked with a number of important organizations like The Green Project, Magnolia School, The Food Co-op, the animal shelter, and Habitat for Humanity (which can be read about in other blogs). I watched as the plague descended upon the camp and still people worked through it, high on decongestant, Family Dollar Day Quill and bags of Halls.

When it was time to whip our hair back and forth…we got whiplash. We partied on Bourbon St with the other tourists and went and fit in with the locals on Frenchman St. We were fortunate enough to go on a swamp tour and tour the Mississippi to research the “rising waters” aboard the Creole Queen. I went to my first actual barber shop and talked local politics while getting a Fleur de Lis and “Who Dat” shaved in my head.

 

I feel so fortunate to say that I was able to hang out with everyone either one on one or in small enough groups to get to know everyone personally and I truly love everyone. We have gone through so much together good and bad and through so many emotions there is no way I couldn’t love everyone. I am so impressed and inspired by the whole group as well as by Tanya, Pascal and Sarah and when I finally settle back into my life in Toronto I will use this experience to the best of my ability.

…well being kicked off the computer (whew) but I will always remember this trip and the people who changed my life.

 

Ken

An Ode to Toronto2NOLA 2011 Friday, May 27 2011 

In our last check-in, I shared this poem that I thought wrapped things up kind of nicely.  Though I definitely didn’t get to include everything that I wanted to talk about or all of the amazing experiences that we’ve had, the group seemed to enjoy it enough to beg ask me to post it here.  Inside jokes aside, I hope that all y’all subscribers still enjoy it too 🙂

Ode to Toronto 2 Nola 2011

We came from Toronto to help a city rebuild
Despite the fact that we were all pretty highly unskilled
But we each found our place, one which fit like a glove
So that we could help the city that we now all love.
With St. Bernard Project we built walls and rooms
To help people to move home, their lives to resume.
We mudded and hammered, thinking of Mr. Christie
Whose speech left all of our eyes feeling a little misty.
At the animal shelter, we scooped dog diarrhea
Though I think we would all have preferred getting gonorrhea
We learned how to reuse at the Green Project
To avoid tossing out materials that were otherwise wrecked
The food co-op brought healthy food to the Nine
So that this neighbourhood could also shine
Though some may have had homes rebuilt by Brad Pitt,
Caitlin told them that now “y’all don’t gotta eat no more McDonalds and shit”!
We helped build a garden at the Magnolia School
So that this place could stand out as a jewel
The students here have been touched by disability,
But are still fascinating people, like you and me.
We helped fill sandbags in Stephensville for the impending flood
To help prevent any more homes from being buried in mud
The inmates brought us smiles and plenty of cheer
So we found there really was no reason at all to fear.
Of course, we still saw the city’s many attractions
And got to shop around the Quarter, boosting the tourism transactions
The sun was sometimes so hot that it felt kind of disgusting,
But we made it through with some sloooow thrusting.
When the sun went down and there was no longer need for shade,
We hit up Bourbon Street for a few hand grenades.
Part of our team went to Alabama to learn about civil rights,
The Freedom Riders, heartbreak, and the struggles of nonwhites.
This trip has been much more meaningful than I ever expected
By talking to group members and locals alike, I think we have all truly connected.
People have been very open about sharing their stories of survival
Giving all the more reason for us to want to help in the community’s revival
All around New Orleans, we saw homes and communities shattered
Truly, we could see that our help really mattered.
None of this would have been possible without Tanya and Pascal
All we can say is a heartfelt thanks to y’all
For all of your driving, organizing, and helping us through
We couldn’t have done it without either of you!
As our time here wraps up under the Nola sun,
I have only one thing left to say – I’m done.
 
Michelle Evans

Wrappin’ things up… Santiago Alvarez Friday, May 27 2011 

Well here I am… writing my blog a day or two early (just as I did last time). To be specific I am writing this on Thursday night but will publish it tomorrow. I am not really sure what to say as it has been awhile since my last post. I suppose I will begin by recapping what has been going on this week since my last post. Last weekend we had some free time so myself and a couple of others decided to check out Bourbon St. and the French Quarter on Saturday and Sunday. It was nice to take the weekend to see some of the historic city and was also a much needed break. I won’t say much about last weekend other than two things: New Orleans is beautiful and I never want to have another night on Bourbon again… although it was fun… Anyways after the break we got right back to work on Monday. This week my half of the group started with St. Bernard Project. As I am sure you have all heard by now St. Bernard Project is an NGO which focusses on primarily restoring houses which were destroyed by Katrina. It is a large organization and held in very high regard within the community. On our first day of work we found out that we would be mudding (aka plastering) St. Bernard Project’s first full build ever. We got to meet the home owner and ex Secretary of State Madeline Albright… It was a neat experience. Overall the week has involved a lot of learning how to actually do what is needed at this stage of the build… and then doing the work. It feels odd to spend all this time learning how to do what is needed just to leave when we get the hang of things. None the less we have managed to get a great deal done which feels good. The experience of this week and trip has helped me to really understand how much work is needed after a disaster…. which is exactly why the government should have stepped up to the plate and taken care of the people here instead of economic interests.

Anyways I think I am done rambling now… long story short this trip has been a great experience and now I have to figure out what to do when I get home… So long and thanks for all the fish.

Second Last Day in NOLA! (Jessica’s post) Friday, May 27 2011 

Hey y’all!

It’s almost over and it has been a blast! This week 11 or so of us were at St. Bernard’s Project “mudding” a house for an 89 year old man named Mr. Christie. We got to meet him which really meant a lot and gave us a lot of inspiration to keep on working hard throughout the week (despite the intense humidity). What is mudding, you may ask? It is basically a process of applying plaster on top of tape and drywall. It must be put on at least 2 times, then sanded, then reapplied for a third coat (if you’ve done everything perfectly). Our team leader, Ashley, told us that this process usually takes 3-4 weeks but all of us worked so hard that almost all the mudding was done in 1 WEEK! (Woo, GO TEAM!).

Ashley (our team leader) was another reason why this week was so awesome and another example of why New Orleans houses the best people in the world! She is a 28 year old disabled war veteran and a genuine and caring person. She loved sharing her stories and I loved hearing them. (ahem…She is trying to collect funds and is in the process of applying for a grant that would help start up her not-for-profit business idea enabling New Orleans teens to diversify their friendships…Comment here if you want to help out 😉 )

A final note, on the weekend we headed to Alabama to check out the Civil Rights Museum. So powerful, so moving, so great! We all walked over the Edmund Peetus (?) bridge, where only 45 years ago, more than 25,000 people marched for the right for African-Americans to vote.  On the first day, they were stopped by police and beaten for attempting to speak up! The next day though, they were accompanied by police and marched for four days until they reached Montgomery, Alabama.

Just think about it, only 45 years ago…. and the battle on discrimination for all genders, religions, etc. is not over yet.

That’s all for now!

– Jessica

Too much to remember Friday, May 27 2011 

It’s a friday afternoon and we’re all dreading the thought of leaving on Sunday. Too much more to do, to see; everything. I wanted to put up pictures of some of our day trips so far, but my memory card didn’t work, so they’ll definitely be up on facebook. I wanted to thank all our readers and to those who posted comments, your interest in our work means a lot. This week I had the chance to participate at Magnolia School, Green Project and the Food Co-Op. The Green Project was an awesome place that recycles paints, wood and other handy pieces. Mixing paints was pretty fun and my group created this creamy beige paint and named it Timmies Double Double. This was for all Canadians. We learned that the centre receives a wide bunch or random pieces everyday, from water bottles to oil cans and such because of the lack of recycling in New Orleans. Slowly though, recycling programs are being put in place. Working at the Food Co-Op was most dear to my in interest as it is working toward giving the people of New Orleans, and the St. Bernard Parish finally a grocery store. It functions based on democratic values and striving to provide affordable, local food for this community and this couldn’t be any more perfect. I hope to find a food co-op in Toronto and start some work there. All the wonderful people I met at Magnolia School and Ms. Mary were awesome and just made you smile. These were my highlights for the week, but there’s so much more to remember and I hope to continue this blog after we return. To Pascal and Tanya, this trip wouldn’t have been near possible or eventful without you both and I will forever be grateful. Dancing by the side of the van waiting for the bridge to come down….just epic! Thanks !

-Diana

The Real Heroes Friday, May 27 2011 

I feel like I’ve got a million things to say; however, my brain is failing to organize these ideas to actually put something together. I actually DID have majority of my blog written; however, Briar asked to use the computer for a second (in the middle of my blog writing) and I did not save my written work. EPIC FAIL. The computer froze and I lost everything I had written. So, here I am again trying to put together what I previously had.

Anyways, this trip has been an emotional trip. I think I’ve cried every other day; I’m not one to cry in front of people either. I’ve worked with a variety of individuals and groups such as the St. Bernard Project, The Green Project, The Magnolia School, Habitat for Humanity, and the Food Co-op. I was a little unsure as to why we were working with groups outside of the St. Bernard Project as I didn’t understand how this contributed to Katrina. However, I realized that understanding the dynamic of the community would really better my role in giving back to those who were still suffering from the affects of this tragic event.

I feel like this trip is a movie and my group and I are the leading roles. In just the past two weeks, I’ve come across some of the most amazing people. Having them share their stories with me has been life-changing.

Last Thursday, my group and I traveled to Stephensville to partake in sandbagging. This was a very interesting experience as we were able to work with a few inmates. I had a burning desire to talk to them and just hear their story. Not particularly ‘what they were in for’, but rather who they were as individuals. I was unsure of how to do this because there seemed to be a barrier at first; Ryerson students vs. inmates. As the day progress, the talking began and I began to feel comfortable in this situation. They’re regular individuals just like my classmates and I. It’s amazing how in times of potential flooding or disaster, the community can come together (no matter who you are) and work together.

People are fascinating and deserve to have their story heard.

That weekend a couple from our group traveled to Alabama to see the Civil Rights museum. This was an overwhelming trip and I’ll admit, tears were shed. I send out a message to all of those reading this about how important it is to know our history and where we came from.

As a child, I grew up on Norman Rockwell paintings and artwork. One painting that was continuously in and out of my memory was:

‘The Problem We All Live With’ by Norman Rockwell.

It’s crazy how I completely disregarded the meaning of this painting all throughout my life and the only time when it the meaning is dead clear is when I take a trip to Alabama. This painting holds a lot more meaning for me now and is almost as a reminder as what those fought for. Those of the past are truly heroes.

I’ve got two more sleeps to go and all I want to do is stay longer.  This week has flown by way too fast. I love you NOLA group; I will never forget any of you.  You all are amazing and have become my family for the past two weeks. We’ve all gotten each other a little sick, but it’s amazing how we’ve really been attentive to each others needs. Thanks for bringing dinner back yesterday guys :). It would have sucked missing food from ‘The Joint”. I love you all so much and I’ll say it again, will never forget you. I’ve learned so much from each and every one of you. It’s so great that we’ve experienced this together.

You all are truly ‘fascinating’ people.

…On a side note, I’ve been keeping a list; here’s a list of my favourites:

YOU KNOW YOU’RE COOL WHEN…

1) You go off-roading with your teacher during a sandbagging expedition.
2) You can call your teacher ‘Uncle Pascy’
3) You sing Mama Mia with your teacher while using sunscreen bottles as microphones
4) Your teacher calls you ‘Baby Girl’ or ‘Y’all’ in a southern drawl
5) You go jet-skiing on the Gulf of Mexico with your teacher

Shannon Strelioff

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