Last Minute Packing for NOLA Saturday, Apr 28 2012 

I am a chronic last minute packer.  It is 2am and my flight leaves in 8 hrs for NOLA.  At some point I should probably get some sleep.  However sleep will definitely be unlikely since I am too excited about the trip.  Tanya told our group to pack light however I am also guilty of being a chronic over packer.

I can’t believe that NOLA is finally here.  It seems like just yesterday that I was filling out the application hoping that I would be selected to be a part of this incredible experience.  Now I am just hours away from being in New Orleans and I am overcome with the anticipation.  There are so many things that I am looking forward too: the New Orleans Jazz festival, hanging out in the French Quarter, the Swamp Tour and eating crawfish for the first time.  However, I am most excited about engaging with people in the community, hearing their stories and participating in all the volunteer projects with my class mates.  I cannot begin to imagine what the people of New Orleans have been through since the Hurricane hit and changed their way of life.  I know this experience will be life changing for me and the rest of our group.

I have been talking about this trip with many of my co-workers and the families that attend the child care centre where I work.  Some of them have shared stories of their trips to NOLA while many others seem to be unaware that many people continue to be devastated by the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  This class has given me the tools to educate others about the social injustices that create and enhance the impacts of disasters.

I can’t wait to come back and share my experience with my friends and family.  Hopefully this experience will inspire others to participate in volunteer projects and support communities that suffer the effects of disasters long after they are out of the media’s focus.

See you soon everyone!!



Simone’s First Trip to the “Big Easy” Thursday, Apr 26 2012 

My name is Simone Castellino.  I am a 4th Year Part-Time student in the Early Childhood Education program at Ryerson.  Last semester I took a class called Homeless in Canadian Society with Pascal Murphy (probably one of the best classes that I have taken at Ryerson).  Pascal mentioned an experiential learning course in New Orleans to the class and immediately I knew that I wanted to be part of the NOLA team.  I was really excited to be selected to be part of this experience. I have always jumped at the chance travel, volunteer and meet new people.  This course encompasses all of these things.

Courses such as Disability Issues and Homelessness in Canadian Society have really exposed me to a created for me an interest in issues of social justice.  This interest also pushed me to apply to the NOLA course.  We hear about natural disasters all the time on the news however rarely do we hear about the social justice issues that affect the most vulnerable. This trip will give our group the opportunity to meet those who were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina and learn first-hand how the extent of this disaster could have been prevented.

As I mentioned above I love travelling and volunteering. In the summer of 2009 I went on a life-changing trip to Tanzania with an organization called ChildReach International.  Our group camped in a village at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and worked on a school building project.  This was one of the most emotional and memorable experiences of my life.  We had the opportunity to work with the community, play with the children and learn about their culture and way of life.  This summer I will be travelling to Peru to work on a similar project.  I enjoy engaging with people from different cultures and learning about their way of life.

About me:  I live in Toronto with my husband Mike.  My interests include music, food (cooking and eating), and travelling.  I am an Assistant Director in a childcare centre in Toronto.  I am passionate about educating young children and supporting families.Image

Oh my Nola! Thursday, Apr 26 2012 

So it’s about two days before the trip, and all I can say is WOWW!

The time for all of us to leave is finally here. I’m shocked at how fast the time has gone by from the first time I made up my mind to go on this trip! Now that majority of the preparations for the trip have been finalized, I finally have the time to think about what I’m about to embark on. Most of us have never visited New Orleans and I feel that we all share the same sense of anticipation, and fear of many unknowns. I seriously don’t know what to expect once I step off of that plane on Saturday!

The past few days have been full of nervous anticipation. How much money do I need? Are there snakes? Alligators? And a million other questions running through my head.

However, I know there will be lifelong friendships created, new culinary experiences In-N- Out and Sonic anyone? And great memories that will be made. And while we are all here for a common purpose, each of us will take away something unique in addition to the shared experiences.  It will definitely be something I will always remember!!!

Despite the tragedy that the city has experienced in the past few years, I think that there is a fun and exciting experience awaiting us in New Orleans!

I hope everyone is ready! See you all Saturday!!! 


Jassi Mundi

NOLA….less then three days away!!! Tuesday, Apr 24 2012 

Wow I can not believe that in less then three days I will be on a plane heading to NOLA, It is definitely a surreal feeling. It has not hit me yet that I am actually going on this trip. I have not even started packing or getting together last minute things! I am such a last minute person. I believe that once I see the suitcases packed and ready to go it will hit me that this real. That pretty soon I will be working on the St. Bernard project and helping rebuild houses. I know that once I am there the two weeks are going to fly by. I am a little nervous since I will be in a completely different environment and working on projects that I may not be familiar with (i.e. construction). However I am ready to embrace the challenges that I will come across and can’t wait to experience new things. I look forward to enjoying every moment that I have in NOLA. The experience will be rewarding and possibly life changing. It is not everyday that you have an opportunity to travel and give back to a community. It is something that I have always wanted to do and I am finally going to be able to realize this dream. 

Victimization continues…. Tuesday, Apr 24 2012 

Dear readers,

Throughout the past few months leading up to my NOLA trip, I have been researching the events that occurred there in 2005. I have read articles, watched documentaries, and had countless conversations with friends and strangers surrounding Katrina.Every page I turn, hour of film I watch and conversation (or debate) I have, new information floods in.  With every encounter I find myself amazed at how many different ways Katrina affected the residents of NOLA and the world.

Most recently I watched a documentary called, Mine. This film relays the personal stories of Katrina victims who experienced secondary victimization when trying to find their pets. Evacuees were not allowed to take their pets with them when they left their homes. The Super-dome, shelters, and even hotels did not allow pets. If you have ever owned a pet, you can understand and empathize with these people. A pet is a member of your family, your best friend, and sometimes your only companion.

Animals were relocated in the same way that individuals were displaced during Katrina. Animals were taken to over 500 shelters across the US and Canada. Pictures and descriptions were displayed on various websites, but the owners were not given any instruction as to how they would find their pets. With no permanent address, or access to the Internet, it became very challenging for owners to find their displaced pets.

Many of the animal rescuers developed a bias towards the New Orleans pet owners. They saw the condition the animals were in, and placed judgement on the owners. One individual even had the audacity to say that, “Katrina was the best thing to happen to these animals”. If an animal was not spayed or neutered, or did not have up to date shots, the owner was titled “unfit” and the animal was put up for adoption. If the owner didn’t have enough money for a lawyer in order to take legal action, there was nothing they could do to reclaim their pets. Consequently, thousands of pet owners, trying desperately to put their families back together became victimized once again. The pet owners in the documentary explained that material possessions lost during the hurricanes were replaceable, but their pets were members of their families, and therefore irreplaceable. A great loss was experienced once again.

The blame put on the victims of Katrina which is apparent here, and that has been discussed by my peers, just blows my mind. It hurts my heart to think that I live in a society that can view and treat people in such a way. It lifts my spirits that blogs such as this one exist, because it means that individuals exist who care,and want change for the residents of NOLA. I encourage you to keep reading our blogs as we continue to learn and aid the victims of Katrina. As long as individuals like yourselves keep your hearts and minds open, the capacity for a better world remains a possibility.

Thank you for following us on this journey,




New Orleans in Three Days! Tuesday, Apr 24 2012 

Even as I was writing the title of my blog I couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t it just fall 2011 and we were all eagerly applying in hopes of going on this trip…and now we are all actually embarking on this adventure in JUST three days?!

Time has such a way of creeping up on you, like exams…hi where did that come for? This semester has been a whirlwind to say the least. I have gotten severely sick more than once over the past couple months, combined with a bunch of personal stuff that all just had to happen at the worst possible times. Every time I would have to get excited about New Orleans something would pop up and get me down. I have been so excited and looking forward to this trip since I found out I was going, I just wasn’t going to let anything ruin it. So amidst all the craziness that was this semester I managed to survive and make to THREE days before we leave.

Perseverance is a perfect word to explain these past couple months, to explain the strength people have to survive. I start thinking about my struggles and my hardships, and then I start thinking about why we are going to New Orleans, all the strong people still fighting, still waiting for what is rightly theirs. The inequalities and injustices that occurred in New Orleans almost seven years ago, that continue to this day, to survive that everyday, that takes such a strong person.

What I am most excited about New Orleans is to see. To see the houses, the lack of houses, the culture, the land, the people, just see it all and breath it in. When I tell people I’m going to New Orleans most are excited, and ones who have been tell me places to go, and the things I should do. It is going to such an experience. When I come back people are going to ask “how was it”? I probably won’t be able to answer them in way that gives the trip justice. It’s going to be good, we will make it good. I can’t believe the next time I blog it will actually be from New Orleans! Well until then!

Keep calm and smile on,


(3THREE3 dayyyys!)

Life is uncertain, ain’t it.. Monday, Apr 23 2012 

As the day to our NOLA trip quickly approaches, I can’t help but feel more anxious. Don’t get me wrong, I knew just enough about the effects of Hurricane Katrina and BP oil “spill” before I applied to be a part of this class. Perhaps this feeling of anxiety is mainly due to the fact that, as in all aspects of life, there is another level of uncertainty found here.

After the in-class component, discussions, readings and documentaries watched, I feel that I have a tighter grasp on the realities we will encounter while in NOLA. But in reality, what I have learned about NOLA can’t even compare to what I will experience and see while we are in NOLA.

The many discussions in class four continues to leave me in shock and disappointment at how the citizens of NOLA were (and continue to be) treated after the Hurricane. We are fortunate to live in Toronto; a city where extreme poverty remains to be unseen. A city that is part of a province that believes in health care, education, and social services. Trust me, I understand that there are many downfalls and gaps in our social system and that poverty exists. But overall, I can confidently say that when tragedy hits, our government will step in and help its citizens. This truth is what separates us from NOLA’s citizens.

I’m looking forward to spending April 28 – May 13th with a diverse and fun group of people. Trust that we will learn as much about each other as we will from the citizens of NOLA during these next few days and these lessons can only help us grow as individuals.

I sign off on this pre-trip blog by sharing my goals with you…My main goal in NOLA is to volunteer while playing a small role in helping its citizens return home. Next, is to learn from its citizens about their experience(s) as I continue to be inspired on the human condition. Last, but certainly not least, is to enjoy the different dishes and food NOLA has to offer. I love food!

Thanks for reading!






FIVE days… and yes, I’m counting Monday, Apr 23 2012 

Less than one week til we leave for New Orleans and I can’t quite figure out if it feels more real or more dreamlike at this point. May seem strange, but truth often is. On one hand, seeing my bag half-packed on my floor and reading the itinerary emails Tanya and Pascal sent out surely adds to the realness. My mind is running through lists and making imaginary check marks in my brain as I finish the housekeeping tasks that I must complete before locking up my apartment and saying so long to Toronto for a brief – yet inviolable – period of time. However on the other hand, each day that goes by seems a little more unreal than the last. I’m so used to my daily routine in Toronto, having lived on my own in the same apartment for over three years, that any trip becomes quite a production in my mind. I’m a bit of a homebody, so breaking out of my usual habits and going somewhere new is a pretty exciting thought. Funny, because there was a time in my life when almost every day involved going somewhere new… and yet simultaneously staying home. What a privilege to be able to travel for pleasure and know that your home will still be there when you return. Although I believe this is a privilege all should have the right to enjoy, it is clear this is not a reality. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be able to say one’s home is “safe and sound” and I’m humbled by the thought of being able to help others make this dream a reality.

Although this trip is really nothing like living and travelling on a sailboat, I find myself naturally drawing comparisons: the living quarters will be small and communal, we’ll be on the move a lot, we may encounter things that seem unfamiliar, we may miss home, we’ll definitely be excited to learn about our surroundings, and we’ll certainly be eager to contribute in relevant and positive ways that benefit those who have been gracious enough to host our stay.  Most importantly, regardless of how much we read and research about our destination and no matter how much we try to wonder, imagine, and anticipate in order to prepare ourselves, the only way to really experience anything is to go and do and be and see and listen.

And so, my dear Internet, that is what I plan to do. Although I immersed myself in learning as much about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina as possible when I first started this course – and continue to pay attention when I stumble upon new information – I do not want any pre-trip impressions to detract from my ability to experience this new place to the fullest. I look forward to forming my own thoughts and opinions based on all that I go and do and be and see and listen to from April 28th til May 13th, 2012. 

5 days until New Orleans! Sunday, Apr 22 2012 

Hello all of you lovely people!!!

There is no better way to start a summer or end a term, than with a trip to somewhere you’ve never been before. I say that, because my innermost desire is to travel, see new places, faces, things, really explore and dig deep for those hidden treasures that exist in the most unexpected places. I’ve always been fascinated with New Orleans and its culture, I think anyone who loves music, particularly jazz, always dreams of going on a music pilgrimage to what many would refer to as, Jazz capital of the world. So who wouldn’t be excited about going to Jazz Fest!?  Yes, that is something that has been on my mind quite a lot, which is not to say that I am not excited about everything else that our lovely co-ordinators have lined up!

However, I want to also dedicate this blog not to the tourist aspirations that I have for this trip, but also my ambitions to see what it will bring about, in terms of personal development. My inner explorer enjoys challenges, physical and emotional, there is nothing more rewarding than to face something straight on and realize that you are resilient enough to overcome it. Last summer, I traveled and lived in India, something that has left a profound impact on me, my way of thinking and lifestyle, it made me more conscious of my values. When you come back from a place that is so different from your own, you are home, in a place that was always the same and comfortable, yet you begin to see everything differently. You start feeling different, in fact, you become different. For some strange reason, you can’t forget certain faces, certain challenges and the emotions you’ve undergone, when you felt alone or in a community, when traveling or being static, everything merges into one experience that persistently overwhelms and inspires you. The journey may end, but it always perpetuates itself inside, it continues and thrives, pushing you for more, it challenges you to see things differently.

I can’t exactly predict how this experience will alter me, but I can say with pure honesty, there is nothing more exciting to not know and wait to be surprised. This experience, unlike others, immersed us into New Orleans culture and its post Katrina challenges, prior to our departure, allowing us to think about the people and places, before we encounter them ourselves. It was a good way to let all of the material sink in and really manifest itself, let us express our frustrations and just think about New Orleans, through all of its different lenses.

I couldn’t help but think about it in my seminars, while writing my essays, or simply in a regular conversation. I have New Orleans on my mind and I know it isn’t going anywhere anytime soonThe conversations in class, the videos and the readings were truly shocking.  However, I don’t think reading or watching documentaries on post hurricane Katrina is enough to truly understand it and that is why this course is really awesome. The only way to know something, is to be there, to make sense of it yourself. So before we judge or develop opinions, I believe we have to be a part of the situation or the process, part of the people. By doing so, you can truly experience the challenges that present themselves and how they are overcome. I can’t wait to be a part of it, NOLA! At the end of the day, people love New Orleans! Why!? I can’t wait to find out!

So as the next five days fly by, I sit tight, thinking about the experience and the destination, the friends and the families I will meet. Thinking about what will happen and what will not. How will this experience bring a new understanding, a new way of seeing their world. For all of this I am grateful.

Starting packing! Can’t wait!

With lots of love,




We’re going to NOLA baby! Sunday, Apr 22 2012 

Well Friday was my last exam of the school year (and the only exam I might add) soit’s probably no surprise that I am in a really great mood! The air feels fresher, the sun seems brighter, and I’m done exams halleluiah, thank the lord! Slowly we are creeping our way up to the big day where we leave our loved ones at home and we venture out into New Orleans. I am not only excited for this experience…I am ecstatic! Never in my life have I gotten the chance to travel with such a large group of people; all of whom are coming to help a seriously worthy cause. It’s kind of crazy how things are turning out because we haven’t even left yet and I already feel like I have known some of these people for a very long time. I thought that once school had finished that I would get to enjoy a little bit of relaxation; I don’t know why I ever thought that was going to happen! I have so many things to do and prepare for this trip like finish packing, okay start packing…and then there are all my friends who want to say goodbye to me before I leave. I’ve never felt more popular and more chaotic in all my life.

            I just know that once I get down there everything will fall into place and I will be able to have a great time. Building a home is something that is quite new to me but I’m not worried about it because I get to work with all of the great people I have met in these past few months. I’m really excited for the little things about this trip, like coming together as a group at the end of the day and talking about what we got to do and what we got to see that afternoon. I’m also looking forward to doing something with my time that actually helps another person. Doing good deeds for others is a concept that seems to be forgotten about sometimes in a big city like Toronto and I will be the first person to admit that I play a role in that. Sometimes the healthiest thing a person can do for themselves is sit back and think about how fortunate their life is and how lucky they are to be here. Not everyone in this world is as fortunate as we are, and when we go down to New Orleans I may look like a hot mess (okay maybe just a mess) but I will remind myself that I am privileged in this experience and that we are all fortunate enough to go through this journey together. With that being said, I am very happy to be going to New Orleans with all of you, and I look forward to sharing some really memorable moments. I hope everyone has a safe flight and a smooth border crossing.

Sincerely, Jesse S.

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