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New Orleans: Spring Break 09
11 Eckerd College students spent their spring break working in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans focusing on continued Hurricane relief and Environmental Justice.
They worked with Ward "Mack" McClendon who is the director of the organization The Lower 9th Ward Village, right in the heart of the 9th ward. The Lower 9th Ward Village was founded at the end of 2007 by Mack in hopes to bring back a sense of community to the 9th ward and to help the people still displaced by Hurricane Katrina come home. Many organizations use the nonprofit's large warehouse as a center and it has become a hub most service work done in the district. While the Eckerd group was there another organization, Historic Green, was helping out as well doing gardening and home repair for people in the neighborhood.
The Eckerd students were kept busy by helping Mack organize the center, doing a neighborhood trash clean-up and preparing a trailer for future visitors to stay in. they also helped Mack on his home which suffered significant damage from Katrina and he had only started working on it two weeks before the group had arrived. Clearing out old wood and hauling trash made the group realize the work involved in recovering from a natural disaster. One discussion point brought up multiple times was how the elderly, who make up the majority of the population in the 9th ward were supposed to fix their homes without assistance. This problem has become one of Mack personal goals and his vision is to help each family one by one return and repair there home. The issue of Environmental Justice became the focus of the trip because after taking a tour of the area by local historian, "Smitty", the group became aware of how little had been done to the 9th Ward. Some areas looked as if they had been hit by Katrina yesterday instead of almost 5 years ago. This realization hit everyone hard and is something one needs to see first hand to truly understand.
The trip wasn't all serious though. The group went out for St. Patrick's Day which coincided with a group member's birthday. They were able to see Bourbon Street and the rest of the French Quarter which is almost entirely repaired. As a special treat they were able to go on a ghost tour to learn about the myths and history of downtown New Orleans. The guide "Scary Mary" was excellent and provided a lot of information about a fascinating city. The cherry on top was a celebrity sighting of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
This trip was educational, frustrating, and inspiring. Endless thanks to Mack for his work in the 9th Ward and his belief that we have to make the change. He took the "blinders off" and made everyone realize New Orleans can become a brighter and better city if we face reality and do something about it. And to Smitty, for many hours of intellectual conversation and telling the real story about "The Big Easy"