We had out first full day of work with Common Ground Relief today, beginning with an orientation from Thom and Britt. We then spent time in the tree nursery and had a great dinner with local resident “Smitty” who share his thoughts on all life with us. Below are Casey and Eleri’s reflections on the day.
Casey – Today was the first full service day in our trip, which was occupied by hard work in Common Ground Relief’s tree sanctuary where trees and grasses native to New Orleans are grown and prepared to be planted in the wetlands. I had a great time volunteering because it was amazing to see so many small trees that one day could help protect New Orleans in the event of a hurricane and will help to expand the shrinking Louisiana wetlands. One of the best moments from today was as I was working alongside some other students to clear dirt in an area where more pallets with trees could be placed, and everybody was working so hard and breaking a sweat to help this cause that many government officials disregarded. I realized in that moment that even though Louisiana government officials didn’t do their part to restore New Orleans’ disappearing wetlands and provide a safer home for many people, organizations like Common Ground Relief and volunteers like us still cared about the issue and made an effort to help. I am looking forward to more service days like these where we can all work hands on to help New Orleans.
Eleri – Tonight, we all had dinner with Smitty, a resident of the Lower 9th Ward that will turn 90 in September. After growing up in New Orleans, Smitty left Louisiana and traveled to many different places, living in Texas and California. He returned to the Lower 9th Ward in April of 2005, 4 months before Hurricane Katrina. One of the most surprising moments was near the beginning of our conversation, when somebody asked him what his favorite part of New Orleans was. He replied, saying “I don’t like New Orleans.” He talked about how Louisiana is still divided, and how his experiences in different parts of the world gave him more context. It was fascinating to hear about how he thinks the United States has changed since he was growing up, and his opinions on different groups within our society. His perspective definitely showed how complex our country is, and it added to my understanding of the issues we face. Overall, this was a challenging, but really interesting experience, and I am thankful that Smitty trusted us enough to share his story.