2 years later – Reflections from Chris Monday, Aug 22 2011 

In May 2009 my group was the initial group to go to New Orleans to help with the rebuild, and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about our experience there. It’s been 2 years and I still can’t get it out of my mind. Do I want to get it out of my mind? NEVER!! But it’s also sad to think about New Orleans because the time spent there can never be duplicated. I think everyone whoever’s been there as a class can resonate with this feeling.

We were there to rebuild homes and that’s what we did. I can remember the first house we did, and we polished that off in a day, when it was supposed to take two. It was a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun. We were rewarded with a lovely lunch (who remembers that carrot cake yum!!!) I can remember the demolition crew and us killing ourselves in the sweltering heat, but it was all worth it for that final moment when the shed came down.

Jeanette's first wall - 4 years after the storm. Shown (L-R) Jeanette, India, Lily, Chris, FM

The damage that we witnessed 4 years after Katrina was insane, I don’t think any of us believed it would still be that bad, and I think that was a motivating factor that kept us pushing, day in and day out. It still baffles me how a country such as the United States could abandon its own. The images that I witnessed on tv when the disaster was taking place, only hit me harder when visiting the same places that were destroyed.

Fong-Ming, Rojyan and Chris planting trees to aid in wetlands redevelopment.

I may not see or talk to anyone as much as I would like, other than randomly seeing Ahmed or Said downtown, but we’re still a family. Our second mom Tanya had it pretty rough, in those days there was no Pascal so she had to deal with all of us, and we stressed her out (you know what I’m referring to). But for her to put together this brilliant idea still amazes me. In many ways, the tragedy of Katrina brought together a group of people who may have never met before to accomplish so much.


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.

Caitlin Villeneuve – first post Tuesday, Dec 21 2010 

Hello Everyone!

My name is Caitlin Villeneuve and I am a 4th year student at King’s University
College in London. I am with the second group in May and I couldn’t be more
excited! This will be my last undergrad course Ever!! I thought it was a specifically
rad way to end my undergraduate career. I am taking Social Justice and Peace
Studies and Political Science. I have a strong passion and empathy for hearing
and experiencing the plight of those whom have experienced oppression and
discrimination. Being a privileged middle-class white woman, all I can do is listen
and use my voice to represent their struggle and fight for social justice, and I
welcome opportunities to do that.

I sent an application in without really knowing what this trip is all about! I
saw an opportunity to go to New Orleans in May and I jumped on it! I have a serious
love for traveling and diving in to new experiences, and due to school and all that
jazz, the traveling has been pushed aside – so again, really looking forward to this
trip and to meeting everyone! I am based out of London with two other participants
from the second leg of the trip, but I’m excited to get to know more about all of you
in February!
My interest for this trip lies in post-disaster community development – not
only the physical construction of buildings and houses, but how the community
unites and moves forward together – the healing – both, emotionally and physically.
I am constantly inspired by the resilience of united human spirit in the face of
this unjust system, selectively beneficial to keep the rich richer and make the
poor poorer. I will never be able to say, “I know how you feel” and truly know
from pragmatic knowledge. However, I can say I’ve seen it, I’ve witnessed it, and
then I can share it. This is what this trip is about for me: bearing witness to a
heartbreaking, avoidable disaster and sharing in the fervor to rebuild, reconnect,
and rejuvenate New Orleans’ spirit, community, and heart.

See you all in February!!


New NOLA students Monday, Nov 29 2010 

Pascal and I are excited to announce that we once again have two sections of students scheduled to travel to NOLA during May. We have a few spaces left – mostly in the last half of the month – but suspect that they will be filled within a short time.


From left to right:






May 2009

These 5 guys worked in the Lower 9th ward with Common Ground rebuilding a house.



When I am back in Toronto at the end of January/early February I will get the chance to meet them as we will be holding four classes (2 sets of two classes). Pascal will teach the remainder of the classes while I will do the on-the-ground organizing in New Orleans; hotels, restaurants, speakers, volunteer opportunities etc.

After a hard day’s work gutting St. Mary of the Angels school in the Upper Ninth ward the group stretches out the kinks.

From left to right:


Pascal (instructor)


Rachel (hiding someone)



This will make the third year that Ryerson will be sending students to New Orleans. It is the second year that we will have York University students joining us and for the first time we will have a student from Kings College at University of Western Ontario in London.

For the third year we will also be volunteering with the St. Bernard Project who last year awarded Ryerson with a Rebuilding Award. Seeing a family come home (below a Welcome Home party May 2010) is the biggest award and reward that there is.

Wanna go to New Orleans? Monday, Nov 1 2010 

It’s that time again…we’re accepting applications for the 2011 New Orleans trip. Deadline is Nov 12th 2010. Leave a comment if you would like more information.

Students at any university in Ontario – and anyone interested who is not a student – are welcome to join the trip (non-students still need to register for the course and pay tuition, attend classes etc),

‘Community Development: International Field Experience’ CINT912 provides an
opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of development issues,
and to experience part of their learning in an interdisciplinary, international, and
intercultural setting. For May 2011, Canadian students will work with organizations
in New Orleans, Louisiana. Following a brief in-class orientation at Ryerson, the
field experience portion of the course takes place in New Orleans. Canadian
students will work with local residents, NGOs, and other volunteers on specific
projects related to post-Katrina recovery work.

This course is based on principles of experiential learning, namely that in addition to the classroom, learning also occurs through individual and collective critical reflection and analyses of practice. Through this process, students are expected to acquire skills essential for change and lifelong learning.

Continuous reflection on the learning process itself and on its objectives will help students develop skills in critical analysis, appreciation for interdisciplinary and intercultural perspectives, as well as awareness of their roles as professionals and world citizens.

The course will provide opportunity to experience the following:

•     Learn about community development in a unique socio-political setting

•     Build relations within lower-income neighbourhoods

•     Gain an understanding of the interconnections between class and race

•     Participate in small inter-disciplinary teams while gaining professional experience and

Treme blog Monday, Apr 19 2010 

HBO’s new series Treme has aired twice now. Since my TV is on its way to NOLA today marks the first day I watched a TV show non-legally (as opposed to the Comedy Network which airs some of its own shows). But I had to. And next Sunday Pascal and I can only check into a hotel that has HBO. Yes, I’m obsessed; but really, who didn’t know that by now?

I want to draw other avid Treme fans’ attention to Back Of Town blog which features NOLA writers blogging about the show in great detail. If you’ve missed an episode don’t check it out, but otherwise, click right over. These writers provide some awesome commentary about the show that will enhance your viewing pleasure.

Who Dat?! Michelle Dat! Tuesday, Apr 13 2010 

Ok, Just had my first actual class being the late starter that I am…and WOW lots to take in and ponder. For now, I play catch up for a little bit and then we’re off to the BIG EASY!!! So…a bit about me just to get started…34 and Fabulous! I have worked full time in the non-profit field for the past 10 years. My background is in Early Childhood Education, my work is with young single mothers and families with children 0-6 years old. I enjoy writing, playing sports (am a tomboy) and spending time with my family, I have a nephew and a niece whom I adore. I am looking forward to New Orleans and I know this will be an amazing life experience. I hope to help out in every possible way and to take in all that is New Orleans. The people, the culture and the music! 35 more days and group #2 we are there!

P.S You think it would be hard to meet one of the New Orleans Saints???


Louise says “hello” Wednesday, Apr 7 2010 


In case you are not a Facebook geek like myself, I would love to update you all (y’all, please someone fill me in on this joke…. hahaha) on the fundraising that happened a few weeks ago!

BAKE SALE! Went amazing, we made over $400 and Mr. Ryerson President gave us an extra $100 for the trip! We also sold some bracelets and attempted to sell raffle tickets 🙂 Depending on scheduling maybe we can do another? Always good to continue to knock down the price to get there!

My hopes for this trip is CRAZYNESS! Basically I want to have the most fun possible helping out the people of New Orleans. I am pretty emotional so I am going to need your shoulder to cry on. Yes you! Besides the fun times I really hope I do get to learn how to build an actual house, would be cool to one day build a wall, you never know when it will come in handy….wall building…

I would also really love to learn more about the culture. I was talking to Hayley about how exciting it is to go, but also to experience the culture and music there! I am also ready to try some new foods and hit up a club or something.

From our last class, the scary mandatory one, I am very afraid to drink the water there now. Thank you mister presenter…. and I am also afraid of getting mugged. So buddy system it is! And probably investing in a fake wallet. Good times… good times.

I have started packing for the trip already because I have an exam literally on the same day, and if you are anything like myself, I always forget something… so it has to start now.

Let’s make it count everyone! My last day of school is the day we leave! HOORRAYY.

See you all soon !!!!


6 weeks and Alexandra is off Friday, Apr 2 2010 

My name as you guys know is Maria Alexandra and I am in the second group that is going to New Orleans. I am really excited to go and I am looking forward to it. In class we watched videos and talked about Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, I can’t wait to go and help those people including children and adults whose lives changed completely after this disaster. I will do my best to help in whatever way I can. I am sure that going to New Orleans will be a new and amazing experience for me and for every single one of my classmates. I am sure everyone in the class is really excited about going there and as I mentioned before I can’t wait for May 15 to come, so I can go to New Orleans.

Maria Alexandra Fuentes

Judy’s almost ready for NOLA Friday, Apr 2 2010 


First and foremost I’d like to thank everyone who came out to our bake sales!! Whether you bought one item or many or simply just made a donation, THANK YOU!!! It would not have been a success without y’all.

So the semester is slowly winding down and there’s less than a month before we fly out to New Orleans. I’m so excited!!! I just finished the three classroom sessions and I’ve learned a lot. More than I knew coming into this class. I now realize that this experience is so much more than just building a house. Though that is important and exciting, this experience is also about leaning about the environmental impact of Katrina, how it could have been prevented and all the social issues currently existing that have affected the rebuilding of New Orleans. From watching films such as When the Levees Broke and Trouble the Water to reading articles about Hurricane Katrina my eyes have definitely opened up to see a bigger picture. As much as I’d like to say that I’m prepared for what’s to come… I’m really not because I know that going there and seeing everything first hand is going to be so different from watching it through a film. I don’t know what’s to come… but whatever it is, I’m ready for it!


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