“If you build it, they will come”–an infamous quote from the infamous Field of Dreams novel. As this trip is nearing an end, I can’t help but think and feel that this quote is so applicable down here in NOLA and in any community that has experienced any kind of trauma or devastation.”Building it” doesn’t necessarily have to be an object. It can be a relationship, a dream, a movement of sorts, a partnership, or anything that requires a vision, a passion, and an action. And all of these have certainly been relevant and present in the past 2 weeks.

This week has been pretty intense to say the least! Beginning off the week in Tuscaloosa was not easy to say the least. But who said disaster response was easy anyway? But walking through communities that used to once house families, that used to once share memories, that used to once have stories and finding them reduced to rubble on the street was not an easy one to swallow. Remembering the situation in retrospect, I am reminded of the implications of this quote in this community. I am reminded of the inspiring school groups that came to the warehouse we were volunteering in for a class period; I am reminded of the little girl who was sorting toys with her nana when she could have been at home playing with them; I am reminded of the beautiful couple who drove down from Austin, Texas to lend a helping hand. Working alongside these volunteers was extremely inspiring that I actually took a few breaks just to admire their efforts. Building all these partnerships within the community are in my opinion how people will come not only to volunteer and give back, but also to come back to rebuild their homes, lives, and to re-patch any devastating experiences. Beginning off the week in Tuscaloosa was very emotional, and while I am still processing everything in my mind, there is one great lesson I learned: The act of “building” (whether physically building a structure or building community partnerships) draws people from all walks of life. And whether that’s drawing volunteers or drawing people back to their communities that have been hit, one thing is certain: coming back to a community that has been reduced to nothing breathes life back into it, which is a very positive sign.

And speaking of positivity, a real highlight was having Tanya Harris speak to us on Wednesday night. The title of this entry was actually inspired by her answer to a question of “what does it take to get people to come back to the Lower Ninth and New Orleans in general?” What was so intriguing about Tanya was her fiery passion for protecting her community and her contagious spark that hits you at your core. But Tanya’s talk was more inspirational than anything. I feel like with all odds against people in Lower Ninth and with all the neglect that these people faced in the wake of Katrina, she took a stance to not be a passive bystander and is still continuing to evoke change 6 years later. To me, Tanya and the many that stand for a cause to protect a community that would have probably otherwise been wiped out, are examples of builders. Builders of partnerships, builders of change, builders of communities that naturally draw people to stand and fight alongside them for the same cause. If it wasn’t for activists and organizations being present and loud about the social, political, and economical injustices surrounding Katrina, I probably would have never come to NOLA myself. But understanding this from the perspective of people who lost their American Dream that they had been building for generations, it puts things into perspective. I have a real respect for activists like Tanya because it sheds light on experiences of community members that are not necessarily portrayed in the media. And for that I am thankful.

This experience has been amazing to say the least. The Southern hospitality has been surreal. The sights and remnants of Katrina have been shocking. But the community members I came across have been truly inspirational to say the least.

To Tanya Gulliver and Pascal and to everyone in the group, thank you for keepin it real spicy in New Orleans and I really enjoyed sharing this experience with ya’ll (I had to!!).

To the people of NOLA, thank you for building an amazing place and community. You built it and that’s why I came. And for that I am forever grateful!