Interact of Royal Oak has been to New Orleans before–actually, with some regularity–to assist others in re-assembling their lives following Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Isaac. Seventeen major storms and hurricanes have hit the area since Katrina and–despite the media–it wasn’t the worst of them for all of the residents there.
Even a tropical depression or a Category 1 or 2 hurricane like Isaac can hover over the metro area and flood the region for weeks. Some might argue that this is the very danger of living in a region like NOLA where the Mississippi delta overflows its banks too easily. And while this is true to a degree, my brief experiences there show two other stories: that the corruption of different institutions often expands the suffering of those who live there, and that the residents we meet are hard-living, wholesomely honest, and grateful.
Twice we’ve met lower 9th Ward Katrina survivor Robert Green who still works there to assist residents in finding homes. We’ve met elderly homeowners struggling to live in the homes of their youth but unable to repair them. We’ve met couples cheated out of their life insurance and home insurance. We’ve met families whose homes had quite literally floated out to sea, a fire chief who hijacked an ice truck to help his neighborhood, and real estate speculators looking to profit over all of them.
When the 80 Royal Oak students travel this week to NOLA, we do not know who we will meet, but I know their stories will be powerful. What does it require to survive 17 storms in the last 12 years? 21 in the last 20? I hope once again for us to learn from them, to gain some perspective, to help where we can.
I say often enough that what we do on these trips can never be replicated in a classroom, and I know that does not say half of what I mean. There is the kind of service that raises pennies for a cause, and there is the kind which builds with one’s own hands, which tests the limits of many of us. Even before our bus departs in a few hours, I can say that I am proud of them.