Travel: Habitat for Humanity - My Family Travels

           The thick mud squished beneath my New Balance tennis shoes, as the blazing Louisiana sun kissed my face with its rays.  I hammered, caulked, drilled, measured, and did anything else that was needed to build a new house for a deserving family; this is Habitat for Humanity’s mission, to end substandard housing by constructing new suitable homes for families that can’t afford it.  I went to St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana with a group of students from my school during spring break two thousand and ten, to help build these homes.  We met extraordinary people in Louisiana, such as the directors of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, who allowed us to stay in their facilities.  We also had new and exciting experiences in Louisiana.  I originally wanted to volunteer because I like to help out, and I thought it would be interesting to see how different the culture is in Louisiana, but what I saw was beyond my expectations.  Through a Hurricane Katrina victim’s memory, and my own experience in the lower ninth ward, my ideology on life was eternally changed.

            As we were on our lunch break from building one day, a woman, who lived across the street, in a finished Habitat house, came over to the porch that the volunteers were gathered on.  She clutched a photo album to her chest.  She offered to show us what was inside, Katrina’s effect on her life.  The outside of the album was ironic, because it was bright and colorful, yet what was inside was barren and depressing.  The pages were covered with pictures of trees smashed on top of cars, and shattered homes where all that remained was a single wall, including the woman’s home.  In one photo there were children’s toys, such as dolls and shovels scattered across the yard, surrounded by debris; these toys were all that remained of the family’s home and possessions.  Seeing this woman’s pictures made the situation less surreal and more meaningful; we saw the tragedy this woman endured and realized that this is what we were doing for another family, giving them a second chance at happiness.

            After we saw the woman’s photo album, we decided to visit the lower ninth ward to see more. Nearly every house was abandoned. If the house was inhabited, it was still damaged, and most did not seem safe to live in. We drove through street upon street and everywhere we looked we saw spray-paint.  On almost every house there was a gigantic, attention grabbing “X” spray-painted.  The number in the lower quadrant signifies how many people were found dead upon searching.  When I saw numbers other than zero in that quadrant it made my heart sink.  I began to wonder what those who perished were like, and how I would react if someone I loved passed away in a natural disaster like Katrina.  The experience was eye opening; it truly made me appreciate my family, friends, and possessions.

            After spending a week in Louisiana, I returned to my home more grateful and aware than ever.  I was appreciative of my house, friends and family; because I had met people whom had these precious people and things stolen from them.  I became aware of the struggles of other people’s lives.  The knowledge and appreciation I gained on this trip were invaluable.  I have never been on a vacation that was as essential to shaping who I am; beaches and resorts are fun while you’re there, but a trip like this affects you forever. 



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