Let me start by saying, this trip has been a whole lot of WOW!!! It has opened my eyes to human struggle and resilience in a tangible way; it has broadened my understanding of group living; and it has made me realize very important lessons about myself and my own shortcomings, as well as strengths. The resilience was touched on in my last blog so I won’t spend too much time there, other than to say that it continues to shed inspiration and motivation on all of us. For example, the group I am part of began our week with the St. Bernard program in efforts to rebuild Mr. Robert Christy’s home. He is 89 years old and has 16 grand children, 9 great-grandchildren and 6 great-great grandchildren. Also, this is the second time he has had to rebuild his home: the first being after Hurricane Betsy in the 60s. We met him on Monday and despite his small frame and humble voice, he is an overwhelmingly strong man and his gratitude for us volunteers was heart-warming. He quite visibly held back tears in thanking us for our work. As this second week progresses, it becomes apparent that our group is exhausted but reminding ourselves of Mr. Christy and his appreciation and the passion we had in deciding to come on this trip help to fuel the motivation necessary to do the hard dirty work in order to bring Mr. Christy home – along with giving him a place to host his alarmingly large family. This man is profoundly resilient. He is a fighter and helping him in his fight is an honour I will cherish forever.

This week, 3 other groups of volunteers joined us in our small location. We now have 2 toilets for what seems like over 100 women. So, as one can imagine, the bathroom is quite crowded. However, we’re managing. Again, Mr. Christy’s determination and preservation will motivate me this week – even if it means not showering!

The biggest lesson I have learned about myself so far is that over the past few years, I have lost touch of the importance and authenticity of human connection. In studying Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s, I have learned to critically analyze the world over. Holding the understanding of how the world’s overarching neoliberal capitalist system exists as complicated, removed,  unjust, and seemingly unchangeable has taken quite a toll on my human spirit. It becomes incredibly overwhelming to approach every situation with a critical, political and socially just perspective. However, this trip has taught me that as important as that understanding is, the human connections still exist – and that is where the light remains. Working together with incredible people on a common goal to bring someone home, or open a food co-op or sustain a basic retail project based on recycled and reusable materials, or witness a true community effort in rebuilding and sustaining New Orleans after Katrina has reawakened my passion and understanding of the most basic, most essential, most natural human connection. This is was matters. This is all there is.

The truth is that the overarching system is overwhelming and is out of reach and is frighteningly stagnant – however, these pockets of change; these images of authentic community; these beautiful moments that foster hope and change, are what the world needs. This is where the real and sustainable change happens – in the hearts of the resilient, in the soul of community, and in the truth of the fight for social justice on local levels. New Orleans has rekindled my faith in humanity, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

This trip has been life-changing and I have no doubt that the learning will continue throughout the next few days.

Until the next blog,

Caitlin V.