Tuscaloosa, Alabama was certainly a life-changing experience. Seeing a strip of homes demolished was really hard to see and I personally had a really tough time processing what happened there. Tanya was really there for me and hugged me for a really long time. I really needed that even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I tried to remain positive about the situation and compared it to Katrina since there was still a transportation system and support network in place to be able to deliver supplies and rescue victims unlike Katrina where there was virtually no access into the city at all for days. Working at the donations warehouse on the first day was one of if not the most challenging day on this trip for me physically and emotionally. There were so many donations that came in which was really great that so many people wanted to help out but it made everything that much more disorganized and we were running out of room in the warehouse even though there were still 40 trucks left that were waiting to be unloaded. The madness was never ending but it’s still really recent so hopefully in a few weeks time, it’ll be a lot more organized so more families can receive the support that they need. The second day was a little better after processing a little of the initial shock. We got to work in the donation centre where we were organizing items but we also had the chance to meet with those who were affected by the tornadoes and help them pick up items they needed since most of them had lost everything. It felt really good to be able to see the difference that you make because a lot of time that we were volunteering on this trip, we’ve been working on different stages and most likely we will not be able to see the end result or how it all comes together so this gave us all I think a great feeling of accomplishment and connection to the person and community that we were working in.
Meeting Tanya Harris on Wednesday was also really great to get a perspective from a local activist who has lived in the Lower Ninth her whole life. She talked a lot about different people’s stories and her work in activist organizing. I think that is one of the main things that I really liked about her talk and that I will take away with me is the difference between being an activist and being an activist organizer – she didn’t want to speak FOR people but organize people and events that allow people to speak for themselves. I think that is so important because not everyone has access to become an activist and not many people are ever heard because they are constantly pushed into the background.
I’m leaving in exactly 12.5 hours to go back home but for the last two weeks, New Orleans has become like a home to me. If I were to live anywhere else other than Toronto, it would be here. There really is no other place like New Orleans. The people and sense of community here is so tremendous and infectious; I’m going to really miss everyone here and everyone in our group. We’ve become really close and everyone has been really supportive of each other especially during the more emotional and tough parts of the trip. Thank you everyone for such a great life-changing experience!
I will be back in NOLA!!!