Submitted by: Elena Cifuentes

Since in New Orleans, I have seen and done so much in such a short period of time. From a myriad of volunteer projects to sight-seeing, my days have been filled with activities and learning. This work week in particular has been great thus far. The group of girls from class coupled with the other volunteers from the St. Bernard project made for a positive and fun work environment. It was apparent through group conversations over lunch breaks how excited, humbled, and grateful everyone was to be a part of such a meaningful experience that contributed to the rebuilding and rehabilitation of various New Orleans neighbourhoods. Our St. Bernard group’s house supervisor Andrew and his two assistants, Alex and Sarah, all brought with them various skills and talents that would come in handy to the rebuilding and execution of the opportunity house that we were assigned to work on. I could see in their demeanor the level of commitment each of them had towards the rebuilding of this house and dedication to their work which only heightened my group’s motivation to complete our tasks as effectively and to the best of our abilities as possible.

One of my jobs for the week included grouting a shower with Melanie, one of my group’s members and fellow class mate. At first what seemed like a bit of a tedious job, we were up for the challenge. After my hours of sweat and elbow grease, we got the shower sparkling and looking good as new. We were so proud of this labour of love that we worked on for a couple days and smiled realizing that soon someone was going to be standing in the shower we just finished working on. A sense of accomplishment and positivity filled the spaces of the house. This week I learned a great deal about myself and others, especially in regards to my abilities and what I am able and capable of accomplishing on my own. I’ve never really worked with power tools prior to this trip in my life but it’s been a fun experience learning how to work and use them. Gives me hope for what else I am able to do in the future when it comes to renovations since one day I too will be a home owner and can appreciate the amount of work and energy it takes to build a house.

I have to say that I have never enjoyed and laughed so much while at work while still being able to complete tasks. I could see the amount of love and pride that the St. Bernard volunteers had for this house and as the work week went on, those same feelings I believe were instilled in each of us knowing that our efforts have in some way contributed to the completion of this house. I can say whole heartedly that being a part of this class has been eye opening and a learning experience in so many ways. I am grateful to have made connections with such a great group of intelligent, kind, and generous individuals who I know will all make significant contributions to the world we live in and the communities within it. I can say that although I was thousands of miles away from home I felt a sense of here in New Orleans. I think feeling that way can be attributed to the caring nature of my fellow peers and facilitators but also due to the kindness of the people of New Orleans.

Something that was very apparent since the very beginning of this New Orleans experience was the southern hospitality which has carried all the way through these two weeks and is something very distinct and special I think to the people of New Orleans. No matter how small or big an interaction, everyone in the city makes an effort to acknowledge others even if it’s just a simple hello or wave. These moments are what bind us as humans and reminded me of the importance of connection which is something I have been confronted with on this trip on more than one occasion.

Another moment of this week that meant a lot to me was my outing to Preservation Hall with three of the girls on this trip that I have fostered a great relationship with while on this journey and trip, ya’ll know who you are. When chatting with friends and family about my trip, this was one place that kept popping up in conversations. I knew I had to attend a performance no ifs, ands or buts about it, I was determined to experience New Orleans jazz at its best. Ever since I was a little girl, music has played such an instrumental and important role in my life, so getting to attend a performance such as the one at Preservation hall I knew was going to be something special. Upon entering the venue which from the outside is small and rustic looking, a sense of intimacy was felt in the room whereby the band was situated right in front of the audience as if these were a part of it themselves. There was a particular energy and aura that I felt during the performance, I was so moved by the music and overcome with emotion that I started to tear up. I was in such awe of the talent that I was witnessing and the level of skill each of the band members conveyed during their set. The variety of content they played during their set made for a range of emotions to be felt which I thought really reflected and paralleled what I’ve been experiencing so far on this trip. These moments on this journey that really stick out for me and that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. They’re ones that taught me a lot about myself but also showed me that despite everything the people of New Orleans have endured and experience as a result of Hurricane Katrina, their love, pride, and admiration for their city still lives on.