An update from Olivia, a sophomore biology major:
I woke up earlier than usual the morning we were about to set off for New Orleans. I just couldn’t sleep—it was my first time leading an Alternative Breaks trip, and I felt thrilled by the opportunity to work with disaster relief, an issue that still plagues the nature-torn city.
Before the trip started, I had my reservations about leading a trip of my own. I felt nervous the first time we came together as a group. At our first pre-trip meeting I met the eyes of many strangers, but I dispelled my doubtful thoughts with the knowledge that service would bring us together. I have seen it happen time and again on Alternative Breaks trips, and I had faith that it could work its magic this time, too.
And it did.
We partnered with the St. Bernard Project, an incredible nonprofit organization that ensures recovery to disaster-impacted citizens and communities in a prompt, efficient, and predictable manner. They have rebuilt homes for nearly 900 families since 2006, starting as a Hurricane Katrina recovery group and expanding to other states over time.
During the week that our trip progressed, we began to realize the depth of how wide-reaching this issue really is. People have been displaced from their homes for the past decade — the shock of this realization opened my eyes to the suffering of others, dealing with a problem that I had never even had to consider. Our understanding of the issue only deepened when we toured a Hurricane Katrina exhibit, which gave staggering statistics on the disaster. More than 1,800 people died, and thousands more had to evacuate, some of whom still haven’t been able to return. Eighty percent of the city and large tracts of neighboring parishes became flooded. The hurricane caused about $108 billion worth of damage.
But we came away from the trip with more than just statistics. The St. Bernard Project enlists Americorps workers to run the organization, and every member is completely dedicated to his or her service. The site supervisors were the first ones to welcome us warmly into the unfinished house that we stepped into that first day. They taught us how to seal a hole, paint the walls, and use a power sander, but they taught not only through words, but through actions. We learned what it meant to lead through example; what compassion, dedication, and service truly look like — and that was the most invaluable part.
I cannot believe how lucky I was to have been able to lead a group on such a priceless adventure. I got to know an incredible mixture of people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise and was able to combine my two passions of service and travel. Throughout the trip, my group bonded through slaving away at polishing floorboards, making spontaneous Walmart runs, and walking through the crazy streets of New Orleans. The laughter filled the air and blended seamlessly with the jazz music that surrounds the city.
With a little more experience under my belt, my conviction for service has only grown stronger. I look forward to being able to contribute my abilities to other communities, and feel happier knowing that there are others working just as hard for the same ultimate goal — to make the world a better place.