Today was an amazing experience. Difficult as it was, it was extremely rewarding. The day started early with a long drive to Stephensville (about an hour from St.Bernard Parish). Where we arrived was a sandbagging site where residents of Stephensville came to pick up sandbags to protect their homes. We began to help the many volunteers and inmates who were working at the site. This involved pouring sand into bags, tying bags and throwing them onto residents’ trucks.

When I and a few other peers had the opportunity to help Miss June and her son, we did not know the experience we were in for. We drove a short while before we started “roughing it” on our way to Miss June’s home. The van got completely muddy and we all were extremely mesmerized with our surroundings. We unloaded the bags around Miss June’s property and she then proceedeed to give us a tour of her house, because it was the polite thing to do :). She had built her house by hand 27 years ago with her husband. So many unique antiques like closets full of silver collections and walk-in fireplaces surrounded her home.

Miss June was so greatful for our help, she hugged us all and from the bottom of her heart she thanked us over and over again. This is why I am here. For people like her. The opportunity to enter someones life like that gave me an extremely  deep understanding of how much our help is appreciated.

Tonight at a volunteer dinner that was organized by the St.Bernard Project, the organizer- Mr.Perez, had a tearful and emotional message to give to us. He experienced Hurricane Katrina in all its ‘glories’ and had a difficult time putting his life back togethor. He extended a huge thank-you to all volunteers who saved the lives of people affected by Katrina.

I am having a better experience of New Orleans as the days go by. Meeting people of this city is what makes it real. The stories they have to share is powerful to hear and acts as a healing factor for them. I have no idea how experiencing a disaster is but I am slowly reliving the pain through the stories I hear. The more I help here in New Orleans, the more I want to help even more! I am experiencing new levels of emotion and only know how to deal with it by talking about it with others. I have goosebumps as I drive by homes that are abandoned. All I want to do is give hope to those still suffering. I feel that my capacity to help is growing each day and I definately anticipate the next 12 days of this trip.

I also did someting I never thought I would do..I held an aligator…

Until next time, Iryna

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