Not surprisingly, my last 24 hours were a bit sad. As my car pulled away from our work site one last time, I realized that I will miss all my new friends immensely. The community that has been forged at F.I.S.H. camp however, will stand the test of time. And, so will the images of the “new” New Orleans that remain fresh in my mind. This is for sure.
Over the last two years, I’ve watched with a blind eye at all the “progress” that has taken place in New Orleans and all along I’ve thought that things were getting better, not really knowing what “better” was. What I do know now is that the only thing that seems to be better is my perception of the living standards and mental conditions of the people still living there. And, I don’t remember the last time that I was this disappointed. It seems like there is no hope of a better future in the eyes of many locals. These once vibrant parishes look more like ghost towns.
Beginning in the days leading up to August 29th, 2005, the people that left New Orleans to avoid Hurricane Katrina have not come back. And, I don’t see them turning around any time soon. And, why should they? These people that made New Orleans their home over the last thirty, fourty, or fifty years have only been forgotten when they needed the American people’s help the most. The media no longer cares as there are “better” stories to report on. Really? Better stories than ones where people — the American people — are trying to rebuild their lives from the ashes they once called home? Stories of hope about a greater future? Stories of sorrow about loved ones lost? No, there are no better stories than the ones in New Orleans. Everyone just needs to open their hearts to see the story come to life.
I heard a few months back that the war in Iraq costs America $1B dollars a day. Wow! That’s a lot of money for a war that is being fought so the people of Iraq can have a better future. To spread democracy (thanks President Bush) to more parts of the world. But, what about the Americans that need help? The ones that are here at home? That have paid their taxes to the state and federal government all their lives, only to be denied assistance from their government when they need it the most. These same politicians that divert hard earned taxpayers money overseas instead of helping those at home, and continue to increase their own salaries every year so they can live more comfortable lives!
Yes, your right. I am angry. The pace of recovery here in New Orleans is ridiculous. There is virtually no change since 2005 in the lower 9th ward where I’ve been working the last week. Homes remain gutted and mutilated on every street and every corner. And, I hear that FEMA now wants all their trailers returned from the homeowners that still haven’t been able to move back into their homes. Really?! Tell me why FEMA needs them back when these are the people that need it the most.
And what about the businesses that New Orleans was built around? Well, they have no reason to reopen or return when there are no customers. So, they’ve kept their doors shut or have moved to other states. And the musicians that once gave New Orleans the vibrant culture we all loved? They’ve all but disappeared. And this is all okay to you, America?
I’ve had the honor to spend the last week with 40 students from The College of New Jersey. These students, all Bonner Scholars, have given their own time and energy to try to make an impact with what little resources they have. They have been tremendous. All is all, we worked on six homes through the help of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program. And, they did well. Only time will tell what becomes of New Orleans. But, if there is not more help like this from more people and the federal government, New Orleans will never be the same. This I can promise.