“You never know what you have until it’s gone”. I have repeatedly heard this from peers, teachers and other adults in my life. I understand the meaning but I never thought I would see people go through an event in which that quote would gain metaphorical weight. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and I instantly knew that this is when I would learn. In my junior year of High School my service learning project was to go to New Orleans and help rebuild homes. As part of a group I helped the school organize a volunteer trip during our spring break to go to New Orleans and work with an organization called "United Saints".
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
At first I had been so nervous because I had never done something like that before, going without my parents to an unknown place. I was also scared that I wouldn’t be of much help because I had never done construction work or anything of the sort. But I knew that it would be a good experience and opportunity to help people. When I arrived with a group of students from my school I was shocked to realize that still much of the city was destroyed and needed work. We dove into the work right away after the organization gave us the layout of the projects they were currently working on.
The first project I worked on was with a woman, Rose, who's house was leaning up against a tree and had more than $20,000 worth in fines. We were to prime and paint the salvageable part of her home. While we were doing that Rose had been alternating between conversations with us and clearing away debris around her house. She had divulged into stories of what happened right after Katrina and what she had had to do. We had been so engrossed in our work that we were all surprised by a group of people passing by who had stopped to tell us what a good job we were doing and how grateful they were that we were helping them restore their community. Coming from New England where our conversations drip with sarcasm we were unaccustomed to the southern hospitality but definitely appreciative. I came to learn that no matter what I was working on, such as painting a fence, people continually thanked us and showed appreciation of what we were doing. Most people were living in dire conditions due to all the fines the city had laid on them.
Throughout the trip citizens told us their stories and showed us the damage and effect Hurricane Katrina had left behind. People who had lost everything and cherished their beloved city were now restoring it and appreciated any bit of work that people did. I came away with so much from that trip. Hospitality was integrated in New Orleans culture and everywhere we visited we saw that. On the way back home I reflected on everything I had seen. Though we had daily discussions as a group in which we had reflected back on the days’ work, what we had done and how we felt, I had not put my personal thoughts in. I knew that after what I had just seen I was fortunate to have the necessities in my life.
Not a day goes by where I don’t think back to that trip and all that I had seen. I came back from that trip and looked at everything in a new perspective. I appreciate everything so much more than I used to. I would definitely do this trip again.
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