So here I am along with NOLA group 1 at the end of our New Orleans journey, safe and sound at Home. At the very least, my experience in New Orleans over the past two weeks has truly allowed me to appreciate the meaning of the word home. Shelter should be a human right, not a privilege. To have a home means to have a safe haven, a sanctuary and a place of retreat where you not only have private space to unwind and self-reflect after a long day but also a place where memories are made and shared; where one feels protected; where a sense of identity may form or where a family grows and blossoms together. The feeling of knowing that I have a home to go back to is incredible. Yet, it’s absolutely disheartening to also know that there are still an overwhelming number of individuals and families who have not been able to return home even six years following the events of Hurricane Katrina. This is unacceptable. Fortunately, thanks to thousands of volunteers who have dedicated much time to the rebuilding and restoration efforts, progress has been made and hundreds of families have been granted the opportunity to return to their community.  Having the opportunity to help bring a family home meant a whole lot to me. There is nothing greater than the rewarding feeling of knowing that my efforts in New Orleans will have a positive impact on a family and a community.

There are a number of things I would like to express as I sit here overwhelmed with emotions while my mind races with memories and untold stories. My experience in New Orleans was simply powerful. Never have I been exposed to so much within such a short time period. In a way this trip has left me with more questions than answers. There are still a number of things and phenomena that do not rest well with me. I am still finding it difficult to comprehend why there has been such a lack of political will to restore communities and why there are such strong power imbalances, division and injustices within particular areas. It blows my mind how obvious the injustices are. It literally feels like a slap in the face of humanity. In many ways this trip has also served as a reminder of the injustices that prevail within my own backyard while leaving me hungry for justice and motivating me to give back to my own community.

What has also been distressing me is the recent development of the risk of flooding within New Orleans as a result of the Mississippi’s rising water level. With the recent opening of the Morganza spillway and the possibility of opening other spillways in order to divert the flooding away from major cities and heavily populated areas, again communities are facing the threat of massive flooding.  What concerns me most is the fact that for the most part, the people and communities who are most at risk are yet again the poor. I understand that the decision to flood poorer and less condensed areas in order to protect more heavily populated areas is a difficult decision to make. But, I cannot help but believe that the poor have been bearing far too many burdens for far too long. At what point does it all end? My heart goes out to anyone that will be affected in any way in the days to come. I can only wish for the best as I sit in the safety of my home watching for updates miles away.

Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to meet some incredible and inspiring people both from within my group and from the greater communities. I am proud of everything my group has accomplished during the limited time we spent in New Orleans. A piece of my heart will forever be left in New Orleans as the city and its surrounding areas has absolutely captivated and inspired me while teaching me a number of important life lessons. The memories that I have formed from my experience will forever have a place in my mind and heart. New Orleans has not seen the last of me as I am already in the midst of planning another volunteer trip down. Lastly, I would also like to send out a special thanks to Tanya Gulliver and Pascal Murphy as this journey would not have been made possible it weren’t for their dedication and support.  And as for the second group that has already arrived in New Orleans:  work hard, be safe and most importantly HAVE FUN!

Bye for now,

Nikita Sander