It feels like it’s been ages since we got back from New Orleans.  To be honest, it kind of hurts to know that the experience is further and further away each day, and I keep doing things to remind myself of our amazing time there just so the memories don’t slip away.  I definitely experienced some NOLA withdrawal, and I can’t wait for the day when I get to go back.  I know that it will not be the same as it was the first time we went, that experience was unique.  It was all of our first time in New Orleans, we didn’t know each other and had so much to learn.  We still have a lot to learn, but first impressions go a long way.  However, I am excited about the fact that whoever I end up going with next time, the experience will be new and surely just as special. 

One of the most important things that I learned in New Orleans was the meaning of the “beloved community”, which is the integration of residents, groups and volunteers that occurs during social movements and after disasters.  The beloved community is an extemely powerful thing; people coming together for a common purpose and giving selflessly in order to make a difference.  I believe that we experienced and became part of the beloved community through our volunteer efforts in New Orleans.  We were accepted with open arms and worked so hard despite our tiredness, the extreme heat, and sometimes uncomfortable conditions (such as a tiny attic which needed to be insulated!).  Personally, I have never worked so hard at anything, even things I have been paid for.  The motivation that kept me going in New Orleans was the fact that this needed to be done and that we wanted to make any small amount of difference that we could because we saw how important it was to the people we were helping.  To me, that is more important than any amount of money.

After coming home, I was feeling a bit down.  Being back at my old job at a grocery store wasn’t as fulfilling as everything we had done in New Orleans, and I felt like I was getting stuck back in the same routine I had before I left.  One day at work, I found a crumpled piece of paper on the sink in the bathroom.  For some reason, I felt the need to open it and read it.  It said “You are a blessing from Heaven.  Go out and give of yourself.  We need you!”

I will never know who wrote this, or why it was there and why I picked it up, but it was just the reminder and motivation that I needed.  The last part really resonated with me and embodied what I felt in New Orleans – giving of yourself because you are needed.  However, I don’t live in New Orleans, and will probably not be going there as soon as I would like.  As much as I miss New Orleans and want to continue to help, it is not the only place where the beloved community exists.  I don’t think that there needs to be a disaster in order for people to come together, but unfortunately that is usually what it takes.  All that is needed are people with the drive and determination to do something positive, no matter how small. And so I challenge myself and anyone who may read this – go out and find the beloved community closest to you.  It may be difficult to find, or you may already be a part of it and not even know it.  Either way, it’s out there waiting, all you need to do is make a move.

-Paulina Kubara