Students pitch in to rebuild the Big Easy
This spring break, 17 students took a bus down to New Orleans to aid in the ongoing task of restoring the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Colby Christian Fellowship (CCF), a chapter of the national organization Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, organized the trip to participate in Intervarsity New England's Katrina Relief Urban Plunge (KRUP).
KRUP is an alternative spring break program devised by Intervarsity New England to continue relief efforts in New Orleans. With the tagline, "MYTH: 'The Gulf Coast is Returning to Normal,'" KRUP seeks to raise awareness of the city's still devastated condition and encourage volunteers to participate in the worthwhile experience of renovating areas such as the Ninth Ward.
The Colby group was one of many college teams to take part in KRUP over spring break. With five different "project weeks," over 30 colleges had students take the plunge. The Colby group participated in the fourth project week and shared a bus with Tufts University for the 32-hour bus ride down to New Orleans. "It's basically all day, all night and most of another day," CCF member Ellen Ramage '11 said.
Of the 17 students who went on the trip, only a few were members of CCF and several members of the team were international students. "I'm pretty sure that not a single person in the group was from Massachusetts, so it was very much not the typical Colby school group," Ramage said. "None of us really knew each other that much," Mary Fletcher '13 said, "but we did get to know each other pretty well and somebody said that...they thought we'd known each other ahead of time just because of how we were interacting."
"It was a really nice experience to be able to meet people that you normally wouldn't hang out with on campus, with a wide variety of grades and interests," Ramage said.
Students had a wide range of experience with community service trips going into KRUP. "My church in high school did a mission trip every year, so I went to Illinois, Florida, Alaska and Guatemala," Ramage said.?Fletcher was on the other end of the spectrum as this was her first service trip.
The volunteers were all housed in churches in the area. The Colby team shared a space with around 100 volunteers from other colleges, including Wellesley and Middlebury. They worked from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m., taking an hour-long lunch break in the middle of the day. The groups spent their evenings together at the church, eating dinner and playing board games.
"The first day we helped pick up trash in the Lower Ninth Ward," Fletcher said. The group also helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity. "The three weeks ahead of us had started building so it was pretty far along. We finished the siding and started painting."
The restoration of New Orleans is a slow process. Even now, more than four years after the hurricane, "nearly one out of three residential addresses in New Orleans is vacant," the KRUP website states.
Students who went on the trip noticed an obvious disparity in building progress in certain areas of the city. "There were a lot of empty lots where only the foundation was left...and that was juxtaposed with some houses that had already been renovated," Fletcher said.
"It was this constant reminder of what had happened," Ramage said.
"A lot of the schools hadn't been reopened yet," Ramage said, "and there was one that said 'Registration is on August 1, 2005' because that's how abandoned it was; they hadn't even changed the sign, they didn't even bother to take it down." Another image that stuck in students' minds was the spray-painted messages left on many houses. Known as "x-codes," these are the marks left by Urban Search and Rescue teams signifying when a house was searched, what team searched it and how many dead were found inside.
Despite the still evident ruin of certain areas, the work of volunteers continues to aid the recovery of New Orleans and they say that the city is making progress. "The way they suggested we look at it was as a jazz funeral, which is something that they do down there where when they take the body out. Everybody's wailing, and then on their way back they all celebrate having known the person," Fletcher said.
The students who went on KRUP weren't the only ones who participated in alternative spring break trips. The Outing Club organized two backpacking trips in Utah and a rock-climbing trip in California. The Colby Volunteer Center took a group to New York City to work with the Youth Services Opportunities Project there. Many sports teams traveled outside of Maine for spring training, including the track team, which went as far away as San Diego.