Somewhere in the upper ninth ward, amidst the destruction and abandonment, there are 400 volunteers occupying a school. Everyday they fan out into the city and take on a task that most would not have the courage for. In this podcast, I speak to a few of those volunteers.
Common Ground Collective (read their site and consider going there yourself)
– Where different students are from
– How does the collective work
– What kind of work do they do, how many hours
– Where does funding, tools, etc come from.
– How does the community receive them
– What has happened to the ninth ward
– Where are the residents
– Awareness outside the gulf coast
– Concern on college campuses
– Other organizations involved
I started off the morning by heading to the ninth ward… err.. nine ward. Having heard soo much about it, I was anxious to be there and see how people were dealing with post Katrina life more than a year and a half later. Lil Robin lives just a stones throw down the road from the ward, so I had little trouble finding it. You know when you’re in the ninth ward… it’s hard not to know.. war zones stick out like that.
When I say war zone, I should say, post-war zone. And I don’t mean a storm versus humans, I mean a war between those determined to get their lives back and those that have been spit out to some far away state and can’t afford the financial, legal or mental burden of coming back.
As I drove down the street I wish I had some kind of tank. Not because I felt unsafe, how scared can you be of entire city blocks with no sign of life. But the huge craters and random debris that some streets seem full of, made me think I might not make it through with a measly compact car.
The closer I came to St. Mary’s school, what I had been told was the headquarters of one of the biggest volunteer relief group in the city… Common Ground, the closer I got the more signs of life and hope I saw. A newly planted row of trees looking healthy and attractive, in the middle of a block full of half destroyed houses and an occasional FEMA trailer. Or sometimes, like a mirage in the desert, an army of students would appear on the horizon; fully equipped with respirators, hard hats, and what look like chemical suits: the brave “gutters” who must first demolish the rotting and moldy parts of houses before they can rebuild. One big group is not working as I pass, instead there is loud music playing and there looking back at me is a group of 40 young people, hammers in hand, dancing to hip hop music. I smiled and waved.
Finally I arrived at St. Mary’s… which looks alot like the Catholic school I attended in Newark. Hell, it even looks like a school day, in front of the building various groups of kids are huddled calling out plans and reviewing maps of who will go where for what duty today? Occasionally someone pulls up in a truck already spilling over with people dressed in construction gear, and they point to someone sitting on the steps and shout “you… come with us to work on so-and-so street”.
Once in the building, there is an organized chaos that would make an Amsterdam squat blush. In every corner there is some sign or some reminder for volunteers, and people cleaning or fixing or preparing something. This school, after all, has not been a school since Katrina. Nevermind that there are no kids left in the neighborhood anyway, having been bussed to all kinds of states as part of the post-Katrina strategy, this school now serves a different long term and vital role… the central hub for people who have come to rebuild.
This was one hour of my morning, which gives you an idea of how it can be in New Orleans… every hour.. if you look.. you’ll see something amazing.. good or bad.