New Orleans: A collection of photos Tuesday, Aug 16 2011 

I’ve been back to New Orleans now 3 times since my first trip down in 2009, with one more visit planned for the end of the month. I still can’t explain what it is about the city that gets under your skin and refuses to leave your head, but it has to be something about the character and personality of New Orleans, the spirit and resilience of its inhabitants. As a volunteer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet people from all over the world who are just as baffled as me. How can this place seem so much like home? How can spending any amount of time here change your life so completely? In all honesty, if I could, I would pack up and move there for good.

I last spent months at a time living in the Lower Ninth Ward, but with every visit, no matter the length, I am still as completely captivated by the neighbourhood as I was the first time I stayed there. There is a quiet, eerie beauty. With every intersection, another empty lot. Around every corner, another house sitting abandoned. But the pace of change surprises me. A year after my first visit, a small community has popped up with more houses than empty lots at one intersection. Granted, the recovery is soon entering it’s 7th year, and with the anniversary of Katrina looming around the corner most residents of the city should be home. This isn’t the case, so I try to see every individual homecoming as a small victory. People haven’t given up trying to come home yet, and I can’t help but feel optimistic.


Claiborne Bridge

Spray paint and storm walls



Florida Ave.



Florida Projects

This is a series of photos taken since 2009, mostly in or around the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.
© Amanda Fotes 


A Reflection After 2 Years — Isaac Coplan Thursday, Aug 4 2011 

A view from the mini-van mirror. Isaac is in the red shirt in the middle.

I was part of the 2009 group, the maiden voyage. Even after two years, I feel like NOLA is still with me, or maybe I’m with NOLA. When I’m walking around, and I see something I think of something that happened in NOLA. The other day I was having a discussion with a friend who I met in NOLA on the trip, Ahmad Taib. We decided that individually, our group had done a fair amount of work; however, the real change is coming through the dedication of Pascal Murphy and Tanya Gulliver who are amplifying the experience of our group through continuing the program. There is need for this to continue. Change, in this case really can start with a small experiment. This trip allowed me to be part of a group who cared about the world. I was dedicated to taking whatever actions I could to make things at least a little better. I was also motivated by curiosity and a desire to learn through experience; I invaded NOLA hungry to devour everyone’s information (and a few po’ boy sandwiches along the way).

The 416/647/905 to the 504 boy band – Isaac, Said and Chris.

There have been a lot of questions in my mind in the last two years about the volun-tourism industry. There is significant evidence that shows that in some circumstances, NGOs can bypass state plans and enforce top-down agendas on communities. However, what we did in New Orleans was very different. We were rebuilding houses that had stood there before the hurricane. A Hurricane that SHOULDN’T have done the damage it did. I didn’t arrive in New Orleans with answers, I arrived with questions.

In a strange way, if there had not been a Katrina I would not have met so many people. I would not have had the opportunity to go and work in the Lower Ninth Ward. Since I do believe in the ripple effect, I can say that Katrina has also changed my life. In response to the storm, I was part of a group of students and professors who share a similar compassion for the world.

Isaac and pals work on a house in the Lower Ninth Ward, May 2009. Left to right: Isaac, Chris, Said, Kevn and Ahmed.

I will be returning to New Orleans, Louisiana.

There, I said it publicly, no take-backs.

5 things to do times 2 Friday, Aug 20 2010 

Hard to believe it’s just 9 days to the 5th anniversary of Katrina.  My ongoing back problems (pinched nerve) has made writing at the computer challenging…but I think I am well enough to start playing catch-up.  So expect a few posts in the next few days…

Today’s post is about the initiatives the great folks at the St Bernard Project have going on for the anniversary. There are 5 things they are doing and 5 things you can do from home!

As regular readers of this blog know, SBP is one of my favourite organizations to volunteer with. My students and I have volunteered on all three trips and my partner and I have volunteered a few additional times as well.

These folks work hard with great results. More importantly, they “get it” – they use locals in their work, listen to locals and understand the needs of the community.

There are also 5 ways you can be a part of SBP’s team from home and help solve these solvable problems:

1. Vote for SBP to win $250,000 in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge – It’s easy. You can vote once a day from each email that you may have…they’re in third and the top 2 win $250,000 – help push them over the edge. The money goes to expand mental health services and to provide jobs for people affected by the oil spill.

2. Host a fundraiser in your community for SBP – This doesn’t have to be elaborate. Bring together a group of people to watch When the Levees Broke or Trouble the Water or any of the other amazing Katrina-films. Share a supper at home instead of going out and donate the money  you would have spent. Skip your coffees and lattes for the next 9 days…every penny counts.

3. Commit to volunteer in New Orleans in the coming 12 months – If you’re a friend of mine, don’t forget, I provide a free couch or futon or floorspace for folks who are coming to volunteer. I can also help you obtain cheap housing in the community. New Orleans is a wonderful town to visit – but give of yourself while you’re here!

4. Spread the word; 1,000+ families are still living in FEMA trailers because they own homes
they can not afford to rebuild, thousands of uninsured residents suffer from mental health problems related to the oil spill and Katrina. Tell your family, friends and community these stats and SBP’s solutions. Use Facebook, Twitter, blog, email, newspaper and other outlets and ask them to do 5 for 5.

5. Donate directly to SBP or via text by sending NOLA to 50555 – The texting  only works in the US. Tell all your American friends about this great opportunity to send $5 to NOLA. Otherwise, send a US money order or you can paypal/email transfer me the money and I will take it over to them. Don’t let a border be an excuse!!


It’s easy to forget, when you’re not here, just how much devastation occured, and continues. So we’ll end with a few photos…of loss and of hope…

Picture your school gymnasium. Ceilings of at least 20 ft. This is how high the water reached at a school (now Camp Hope for volunteers) on Aycock Street in Arabi, St. Bernard Parish, May 2010.

Inside the townhouses on Florida…social housing…neglected and mostly torn down (July 2010).

A stuffed animal in the mailbox of a house in Gentilly, July 2010.

Not quite straight, in the Lower Ninth Ward, May 2009.

My partner Michael building a home for seniors on Serpas St. (Oct 2009) with the St. Bernard Project.

The “boys” of CINT 912 – May 2009 – rebuilding with Common Ground in the Lower Ninth ward.

A Welcome Home party with the St. Bernard Project, May 2010.

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