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Monday, April 24, 2006

A First Hand Report from the Big Easy 

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This is a special guest post from my girlfriend Ndidi who just returned from a week-long community service project trip with Habitat for Humanity in New Orelans:

Katrina may seem like ancient history to some of us, but its’ devastating effects are still being felt daily in New Orleans.

The extent of the destruction is larger scale than one could imagine from the pictures or TV. You have to see it with your own eyes to realize the true horror of what happened.

Even now, 8-9 months later, a huge portion of the population has still not returned. Businesses are closed because they have no one to staff them. Traffic lights still don’t work in many areas.

The majority of schools are still closed, as are many of the major hospitals. Students at colleges like Dillard University are attending classes in cubicles in a hotel conference room. And officials were still finding bodies in houses as recently as a few weeks ago.

Most of the Ninth Ward and some other neighborhoods still look like ghost towns, and it’s hard to entice residents to return when they don’t know if they will l be the lone residents in a row of rotting houses.

Race and class injustices are still evident in how the city can decide to restore electricity to certain area, while leaving it off (to dissuade residents from returning) in an adjacent area that has a history of extreme violence.

In the midst of these devastating circumstances, there are certain signs of hope and human resilience. This spring students and others from all over the country came to help out in the rebuilding efforts. Groups worked with programs like Habitat For Humanity, Helping Hand, FEMA (yes, even FEMA is trying to do something right!), Common Ground. One such program was Habitat For Humanity’s “Collegiate Challenge” during which hundreds of students came to work in Musicians Village, a construction effort of 81 new houses in the upper Ninth Ward which was supported by Branford & Ellis Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr.

The complex issues surrounding the rebuilding of New Orleans, and the return of its residents will take a long time to resolve. But these efforts by volunteers are a good first step. And remember to Keep New Orleans in Your Prayers.

Extra credit:

- Learn more here.

- Donate to the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity here.

Ed. add-on's:

- From yesterday's The New York Times: "There have been scads of well-intentioned [Katrina benefit] compilations... But one thing all these tributes have in common is that, while [it] remains by far [the city]'s most popular musical export, they all ignored the thrilling — and wildly popular — sound of New Orleans hip-hop, the music that has been the city's true soundtrack through the last few decades." (click here to read the rest of "New Orleans Hip-Hop Is the Home of Gangsta Gumbo")

- Skating the aftermath: a look at how New Orleans' skaters are turning the tragedy of Katrina into something positive. (spotted via the Bodega)

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