Vacations tend to open our eyes to the world around us. Everywhere we go we are exposed to new people, cultures and ideas. No matter where you are in the world, however, there is one thing that remains a constant: poverty. Unfortunately, though traveling can give us the best insight of what is going on around us, we are often too distracted with having a good time to really take in the hardships that people around us are going through. In the summer of 2009, I decided that I would find a balance between having a good time and trying to make a difference in the world around me. I went with my grandmother to Biloxi, Mississippi, a place which is in the midst of rebuilding itself from the damage that Hurricane Katrina has caused. While there, I was able to have a fantastic vacation and help change the lives of some of the people who live there.
Despite the damage it sustained, Biloxi is a wonderful place to vacation. Enormous hotels and casinos border the gorgeous sandy beaches. Along Route 90 there are magnificent carvings of fish and birds. These carvings were made by Marlin Miller out of the broken trees that were left in the Katrina ruins. I thought this was a wonderful example of how, with a little work, you can make something beautiful out of an otherwise negative situation. Biloxi is filled with these little symbols of hope.
While in Biloxi, I was able to take a day trip to New Orleans. The culture in New Orleans is something unlike any other place on earth. In a flurry of color and music, this city entertains all of your senses from the moment you step foot into it. Everywhere you look there are musicians, artists, fortune tellers and all sorts of other street performers. In the same glance you can see extravagant buildings, such as the St. Louis Cathedral, and modest shops and market places. Anyone visiting New Orleans should be sure to get some beignets from the CafÃ© Du Monde. The restaurant is usually very busy but it is definitely worth the wait.
The main focus of my trip, however, was the time I spent volunteering with the Heritage House Methodist Church in D’Iberville. Over five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast; there are people whose lives are still in ruin. The Heritage House houses volunteers and matches them up with families who could use a helping hand. I spent a week plastering, sanding and painting the house of a woman named Vera and her twin sixteen-year-olds. The people I worked with, both Biloxi residents and other volunteers, were some of the most caring people I have ever met. By the end of the week, the gutted remains of the house that we had started with had begun to look more like the home this family had lost.
Altogether, my experience in Biloxi was one I will never forget. It was the perfect balance between having a good time and making a difference in the world. I had an extraordinary vacation and experienced a lot of new things. I met many inspirational people who I intend to stay in touch with for years to come. I was also able to give back to the community that had provided me the opportunity for such an amazing vacation. It was an experience which opened my eyes to the world around me like no other trip had done.
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