I made it to my final day of the trip. Like most endings, it’s bittersweet. I am definitely ready to go home, see familiar faces and familiar places (use my own bathroom!), but two weeks is also just enough time to feel like we’re just getting started here. I feel like I’ve invested this much time already so I might as well hang around. The amount of work that still needs to be done here is staggering and I feel almost guilty turning around and flying back to my safe, secure (overpriced) apartment in Toronto when so many people still do not have a safe and secure home to return to. I know that 10 able bodies will fill my place though, volunteers are still stepping up to the plate here and are sorely needed, despite the more recent catastrophe in Alabama. All through the trip we’ve been told how volunteers are making it happen down here, how the homes would not be rebuilt without them, so I’m proud to say I’ve been a part of that movement.

Two of us are leaving a day earlier than everyone else, due to our own scheduling error, so tonight will be our last group dinner together in New Orleans, then I hope to get some souvenir shopping done because I certainly cannot go home empty-handed! Luckily the souvenir stores are a dime a dozen in the Quarter. We leave tomorrow morning at 10 am and have a full day of traveling because of a layover and time change. It won’t faze me though, because we’ve been traveling a lot already this week. Monday morning we drove to Alabama at 5 am, then drove back to NOLA on Tuesday afternoon. We helped out in some warehouses, sorting, organizing (as best we could), hauling, and meeting people affected by the tornadoes. Tuscaloosa is a pretty city not unlike any mid-sized city in North America, the only difference being the large swath of destruction the tornado cut right through it. As we drove through a bit of the city that had received the most damage, it felt eerily like stepping back in time six years and standing in the middle of the devastation left behind by Katrina. In NOLA we see blighted houses on every block, empty cement pads, and houses in various stages of repair, but it’s all overgrown and time has softened the raw edges. In Alabama, the destruction is fresh, raw, rubble everywhere, roofs torn off, entire homes and businesses demolished. The community is still reeling from the sucker punch of the tornado, while NOLA is standing back up but is still wobbly on its feet. I was glad to be able to see it, I have even greater appreciation for my own home and for living in a place where natural disasters are unlikely to affect me, and I was glad to be a part of the volunteer relief effort, but I don’t feel like sorting mountains of clothing in a warehouse was all that effective. Our large group size and unskilled status prevented us from being able to do anything else, but so much more needed to be done. Good luck to everyone in Alabama, and I hope all the affected residents receive more support than the people in NOLA did.

Goodbye (for now) New Orleans, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again….

THANK YOU to our amazing instructors/facilitators/pseudo-parents/guardians/chauffeurs/role models: Tanya & Pascal, you guys are heroes to all of us, your dedication and tireless motivation is inspiring. This experience has been life-changing and I will take what I’ve learned to hopefully follow in your footsteps and be a positive force for change in my own community. 🙂