I’ve always felt a connection to New Orleans as my all time favourite group – Maze featuring Frankie Beverley, recorded their popular album “live in New Orleans there.
Subsequently, when I sat glued to the television watching the events that followed Hurricane Katrina unfold, I felt the need to do something – the need to physically go their and to help to make a difference.
It took me a couple of years to make my first visit, but I clearly remember that when I mentioned my plans to friends who lived in Houston they told me that it wasn’t a good time to visit New Orleans as the place had not yet recovered from Katrina. I was, however, convinced that this was the exact reason why it was an important to visit.
You see when any place faces a disaster – our natural inclination is to stay away. However, whilst donations in cash and kind unquestionably go a long way to make a difference – the presence of people coming back to visit the area really. Lets the local people know that we care. I’m not talking about immediately after the disaster as this could be in the way if we do not have a specific role to play in the clean up process. (For this reason it is best to check first before visiting immediately after a disaster)
However, visiting after the immediate clean up process not only says that you care, but it helps the economy of the area to come back as regardless of what they have been through, the shops, the hotels, the entertainment centres and tourist activities need our custom more so than ever before.
It’s even better if you have the opportunity to volunteer. For a long time I had the impression that in order to volunteer to work on a house-rebuilding programme you had to be available for weeks or months on end – frustratingly, this is not a practical option for me.
Over recent years, I’ve got into the habit of going to New Orleans for the annual Jazz and Heritage festival, which spreads over two weekends. This leaves me with a few days in between the weekends to do tourist things and catch up with friends.
I was therefore delighted when I came across an advert from a volunteers’ organisation named Project 195 earlier this year. They were looking for people to help with reconstruction over the Jazzfest period for anything from a day upwards. They also made it clear that no prior experience was required. I therefore signed up and spent three of days in between the Jazzfest weekend laying floor boards, fitting and painting doors and skirting boards for the house of an extremely grateful and excited man who was going to be able to finally move back to his home after over five years.
During this process I learnt that while it is common for people to volunteer for weeks or months, there is also a place for people who can only help for a day or two or even half a day. During this process I also learnt about the diversity of people that volunteer, from school children, to numerous young adults; to professionals inclusive of a group that had come to play golf in the morning and then volunteered in the afternoon. I was also told about a group of nuns that came in their habits to work for a day. Of further fascination was the number of young American who decide to permanently relocate to New Orleans following on from a volunteering experience.
I’ve also had the opportunity to become an advisor for a small non-profit organisation and with modern technology I don’t have to physically be there to be of help. Ultimately, what I have learnt from my visits to New Orleans is that there is always a way to help even from a distance or whilst having fun.
Copyright 2011. This document is the specific intellectual property of Susan Popoola. Content may not be reused or reproduced without the specific permission of the owner or a reference to the source. Opinions may be generated