You Can't Save a City (N.O.L.A.) - My Family Travels

On April 13th , 2012, I embarked on an amazing service-learning adventure to New Orleans, Louisiana, with 35 other kids from my high school. We spent almost a year fundraising and doing local service work around our home state of Massachusetts in preparation for the trip.  On the day we left, our teacher, Mr. Kane, gave us t-shirts that quoted Lilla Watson saying “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” And off we went.

For some background information, the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas were hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The levees failed, causing 80% of the city to flood. About 1,800 people were killed with 1 million others displaced.  Today there is still work that needs to be done for New Orleans to reach full recovery.


On our trip we worked for Mrs. Stokes, whose home was made unlivable during the storm. We did a lot of work on the exterior of her home so she could eventually move back in. At times, while doing the menial task of scraping stubborn paint off of the siding, I felt angry. Not from the sunburn I knew I was getting, but from my feeling of insignificance in the recovery of this city. I thought, well I worked so hard to get here and now I’m just scraping paint and this lady will still have to wait months to get back into her own home and I’ve done absolute nothing to help!

And I think we all felt a little like that during the trip. Every night we would have “Reflection Time” and talk about our day and our thoughts. Often somebody would say how they didn’t feel like they were doing enough. When this happened, Mr. Kane reminded us of the shirts he gave us.

Another place we worked at was Our School at Blair Grocery, helping them with their composting system.  A very nice man gave us a tour and told us something really great.

“You are not going to save New Orleans this week”, he said. Back to the shirts. He reminded us that we are a small part in an immense effort to recover what was lost. This does not mean that we are unimportant or insignificant; it just means that we need to stay humble and stay passionate.

 The most important thing we did by going to New Orleans was just simply going. We weren’t there to save anybody. We went because of our liberation and because we wanted to grow as human beings. We went to give everything we could of ourselves and we did our best, and even if we only left a little mark on New Orleans, this is better than leaving nothing.

The lessons I learned on and in preparation for this trip are invaluable. I would not say that my journey changed who I am; it made me closer to being the person that I am truly meant to become.  I no longer see life in respects to personal gains, troubles, and successes.  I have become conscious of the issues of those around me and of our society.  The most important thing I learned is that I need not sit and float through life, or wait until I am an adult before I do something that really matters.  I realized that a selfless gesture can change the course of the world and that a life full of these gestures will have the same impact a thousandfold. 

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