Culture of New Orleans

on Friday, February 27, 2009

I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about the amount and quality of different local cultures I have been able to take in while working and volunteering in different areas either within the United States or overseas. I feel like it is always important to take a while to explain the reasons why I feel the volunteering is so important for everyone involved, but taking a minute or two to explain some fun aspects that you don’t normally think about at first can be a fun thing to share about.

I will mention that I am an Anthropology major here at Purdue University, which focuses on the looks at cultures from a completely holistic perspective, allowing you to look at completely different aspects of an area, trying to tie everything together and appreciating their culture. Looking at the differences within or between cultures has always been an interest of mine, even long before I even knew that the anthropological field existed.

When I was able to travel to New Orleans, Louisiana in both 2006 and 2007, the group I was working with had the pleasure of taking a day to see the sights and sounds (and tastes!) of the French Quarter which is the more economically developed area of New Orleans but that also was not as substantially affected by hurricane Katrina.

We were able to walk around the city, taking in everything from the live bands playing and leaving their souls on the cobblestone street to the relaxing splash of the water hitting the shore. The air was filled with laughter and the smell of authentic seafood which seemed to be the norm of what to expect around this area. The French Quarter is this gorgeous area that is lined with shops and restaurants, above which are lovely town homes that have flower boxes and balconies, while above the cobblestone roads. It is an atmosphere like none other, with a large city benefits intersecting with the a small, old town feel of safety and community.

While on site, we had to pack lunches, which were drab--filled with dry sandwiches and Hooah! nutrition bars (which tasted like a combination of cereal and charcoal)--and for dinner, we were fed by the church that was housing us, which consisted of solely red beans and rice…every day. Needless to say, meals that were provided for our team were less than desirable, so when we had the opportunity to branch out and purchase our own food, we seized the opportunity as if we hadn’t eaten in an entire month.

My savior of foods that week is called a Beignet which is a pastry covered in powdered sugar. Simple, but pure delight. After a week of drab food, we were able to munch on these wonderful, pretty cheap treats! We sat at the restaurant, Café du Monde, for quite some time, just relaxing and eating and when we decided to venture out into the rest of the city, we purchased some to-go. These to-go beignets were placed in a paper bag, with what seemed like a pound of powdered sugar at the bottom!

These little moments seem to be crucial to what ends up being my whole experience in a certain area, understanding the background and lives of those that I have been able to help and make an impact with.

Soup Anyone?

It seems like everyone has the feel that volunteering is nothing more than feeding and clothing the needy. I would love to challenge each one of you to reach out into the local community and do some of these activities that some may not see as rewarding for you at all. I have been able to immerse myself in several different situations that have led to, what I truly feel, the betterment of myself and my character. So many of these instances have stemmed from volunteering in general, but specifically through simply spending just a few hours of my day helping out at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. I wanted to let you know about an opportunity that I recently found that is here in Lafayette, Indiana. The St. Ann’s Church of Lafayette has a soup kitchen and I am sure would never turn away a helping hand. Not only would you have the opportunity to be helping out our direct community here in Tippecanoe county, but you would also be able to spend some time with those that I’m sure would love to share their stories with you. No matter who you are and who you are with, I certainly feel like there is always something to be learned from each human being. While growing up in the suburbs of Indianapolis, I was able to go to a number of organizations that helped out homeless and struggling people of the city and provided the basic needs of food and shelter that they had currently not been able to afford or find. These little offerings of time and effort by those that are extremely fortunate, can help to extend some love and hope into individuals that have been struggling for quite some time. I have been blessed with what I have been given and I love to share the joy I have in my heart with those that can’t seem to find it. You should think about doing the same with some of your time.

August 29, 2005

on Friday, February 20, 2009

As the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, this devastating storm was considered a Category 5 hurricane. After the storm had passed, over 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded--some points over 15 feet of water. These massive amounts of water that fell upon this city caused one of the most disastrous engineering faults in the history of the United States of America—more than 50 breaches in the canal levees helped to destroy most of the city.

“Ninety percent of the residents of southeast Louisiana were evacuated in the most successful evacuation of a major urban area in the nation's history. Despite this, many remained (mainly the elderly and poor). The Louisiana Superdome was used as a designated "refuge of last resort" for those who remained in the city,” says Wikipedia.

The city flooded due primarily to the failure of the federally built levee system. Many who remained in their homes had to swim for their lives, wade through deep water, or remain trapped in their attics or on their rooftops. So many rescue and search teams found incredible amounts of civilians trapped in their homes or on top of their houses.

Many American along with International groups helped to aid the victims of this terrible storm. Even months and months after the hurricane, so many areas have still been left abandoned—along with possessions and homes of the residents that fled and could not bear to return to the devastation.

Katrina 2006

on Monday, February 16, 2009

I spent two of my high school spring breaks in the little ol' town of New Orleans, Louisiana, helping out Katrina victims gut out their houses all over the city. Okay, so it’s not a little ol' town, but it was extremely devastated by that intense hurricane.

During my first trip down to New Orleans, it was April 2006--only 8 months after Katrina had hit the Bahamas, Southern Florida, Cuba, and Louisiana, especially the Greater New Orleans area. It was an extreme shock to me that after so much time had gone by, citizens of New Orleans would head back to their homes and try and move on with their lives--either in the city or not. In this respect, I was absolutely shocked by the amount of houses that were not returned to and just rotting, inside and out, due to water damage and neglect meeting.

From home to home, you can see more and more devastation and the lives that people built together lost. Nothing is the same there and you can feel that in the air. It is hard to stomach the loss felt at times, and there are certain sights and smells that can take me back to my experience there in a moment.

There are three separate stages that encompass the process of what we were doing to help these residents. The people that we are helping are survivors that have come back and contacted the church we were staying at for help. They were able to escape the harsh winds and floods and then decided to return to where they once called home.

The first step in the gutting process is to clear out all of the personal belongings of these individuals out of the house. Even after only 8 months, our entire team was required to wear rubber boots, long sleeves, goggles, and respirators to protect any type of mold from touching our bodies or entering our lungs or eyes. We went into the houses with full knowledge that we would most likely run into several different types of rodents, bugs, or some other type of animal. With wheel barrows and a team of 20 per house, we were able to gut out an entire house in a single day.

Our team, after entering each room, filled with belongings thrown everywhere and furniture collapsing from the extensive water damage, we would search for any items that could be dried out, sterilized, and returned to the owner as to restore any bit of the life that they had worked years and years for. If photos were firmly pressed together when the water hit, saving those were our best bet. Any sort of memorabilia was icing on the cake to the owners of the houses.

The second step in gutting is to tear down all of the drywall from the interior of the house and then strip the walls and posts of all the nails that held it up. Also being done at this time would be the taking down of all electrical wiring that had been stapled within the walls. This process is daunting due to the fact that every time I would turn around, I would find another 50 nails in the wall and begin ripping them out, one by one.

The final step is to power wash every last part of that house, trying to get out as much of the stench and mold as possible, to make the house even close to livable. This part of the day was definitely surreal for me, in every last house, because we would be looking at the skeleton of this house that was once being built and now we were trying to repair and save it at all costs in our respirators and boots—just like the construction crew that had been there years ago.

Just a Little Note

on Friday, February 13, 2009

As a bit of a follow-up to my last post, I received a sweet little note in the mail yesterday from one of my friends that I had somewhat lost contact with since busy college life has commenced. She went out of her way to find my address from my family and sent me a charming card to my little (normally empty!) Purdue mailbox.

I have been having a pretty rough week, having been sick for the past two weeks and then one of my family members being sent to the hospital. I feel as if Pam, the girl who wrote me that note, is one of those friends that just know that something is wrong even if you never speak a single word of it to them. She has always been there to listen when I had important things to talk about and get off my chest and this little note proved, once again, that she is a truly wonderful person in my life.

These little acts of kindness really spread so much love. Especially at a college that is much further away from the friends and family that you want to see, I feel like these notes and reminders of people thinking of you can go such an extremely long way.

What I have done several times, is write letters to soldiers that are in Iraq. I have been told that when they get letters from civilians, it helps revive their spirits and makes them realize again why they are putting their lives in danger. It takes so little time but things like this that are unexpected treats, mean so much to both those receiving them and also, those that are giving or sending the encouragement.

Now Let's Donate Some Encouragement

I feel as if, as much as many may say that they don't care a bit about what people think about them... they are lying. I don't believe a single word of it! We are such extremely social individuals that we are programmed to be able to relate to other people at a much greater extent than any other animal on the face of this earth. It's in our biology to have the urge to spend time together and share our thoughts and feelings together, so why not make this a positive experience?

One thing that I hadn't quite thought about was the idea that so many people want to help out others but don't have a single bit of time to go all out and do the big events, but from experience, I would have to disagree that those have more of an impact. I have learned so many things about myself by doing simple tasks for people that I do (or don't) love to be nice to. I'll put it this way—putting yourself out there and helping in small ways means more than most realize.

I feel that so many people are extremely negative towards what life experiences have happened to them or what kind of situations they, their family, or their country are in, which is pretty understandable. When I begin to think of all of these different problems in our society, I get pretty bummed out and start to resent the track that our world is on right now. I find there are few ways to truly pull me out of the funk that thinking of these issues puts me in.

One thing I would love to draw some attention to is the idea of encouragement. When I am extremely down—whether it be something at school or work stressing me out or having arguments with my family or friends—I get so much more out of tiny words of encouragement than I would ever have thought possible.

Encouragement, I feel, can come in different forms—like believing in someone or listening to a friend in need. I had a friend senior year who was struggling with the fact that she was heading across the country to New York City to start school. She was afraid of what was to come for her and what would happen if she failed school or couldn't find the money for rent or couldn't find a great group of friends to click with. She needed someone to listen and give a little reassurance that everything would turn out fine for her. We talked for a while and I told her the faith that I had in her that she would do a fantastic job all the way in New York.

I will never forget the letter she sent me from school that ended with the phrase “I could never say 'Thanks' enough.” She needed a little encouragement through the hard times that she was facing and I was able to donate a little time and a little encouragement to help her regain that confidence that she had in her that had been covered by fear and doubt. And, as suspected, she went out to NYC and has been succeeding in both her academic and personal life.

I feel like we have a responsibility, as I have expressed before, to ourselves and others, to help enrich the quality of life around us. Everyone deserves to live their live to the fullest and a little bit of encouragement can go so very far. Helping others isn't some cheesy topic that is reserved only for people with agendas—it truly is just bringing a bit of love into the lives of others.


on Thursday, February 5, 2009

Searching through the 600+ we have available at the ready here at Purdue University, I ran across an extremely interesting club that I feel like I must share with you!

It is called the Boiler Volunteer Network.

This is a place where an impressive amount of people from the Lafayette-Purdue area and post different events or areas that need help and attention. Their purpose, as stated on their website, is “to provide a  volunteer clearinghouse on campus to connect Purdue University students, faculty, staff, and retirees with community service and campus volunteer opportunities and to create and implement a variety of service experiences.” They truly want to strengthen the bond between Purdue University and Greater Lafayette communities.

This group of different agencies and organizations that need volunteers desperately are sent to the Boiler Volunteer Network (BVN) and are sent to different service student organizations or other campus groups that they feel would step in and help out. Purdue retirees also take a part in this network to help out, along with Purdue students and staff.

Partners of BVN are Greater Lafayette Volunteer Bureau, Purdue Memorial Union, Purdue Diversity Resource Office, Purdue Residence Halls, Indiana Campus Compact, and National Campus Compact, who all come together to truly create an interesting group of organizations that can help reach out in unique ways to different types of people.

Purdue University has recognized several organizations as being part of the BVN and whose primary purpose is community service. These include Alpha Phi Omega (a national coed service fraternity), Big Brothers Big Sisters, Circle K, College Mentors for Kids, Habitat for Humanity, and Tomahawk. These groups have prided themselves on their service to the community and their volunteer work that has never ceased. Each organization has a different purpose that helps enrich the lives of those in need of help.

If you're looking for an opportunity, the possibilities are truly endless! Check out one of these groups or search through the Boiler Volunteer Network to use your time and talents in an incredible way.

Clubs Galore!

Being a freshman at Purdue, everyday I hear about a new club offered at the university! There are countless amounts of clubs and activities that one can join. My interests are so wide-spread that I don't seem to have enough time or energy to devote to all of the clubs that I would love to be a part of. Sadly, there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week, so I must pick and choose my clubs of choice. Last semester, I participated in an extreme variety of activities and as I find out about more and more opportunities, I want to join everything available!

Whatever your interests, there are people out there that share them with you! I find it so stimulating that, due to the large size of our university, with a little bit of searching, anyone can find another with similar interests. We have over 600 clubs at Purdue and if you don't find one you're interested in, it just takes one other person and if you don't find one you're interested in, it just takes one other person and a supervisor to create any club of your choice.

The prevalence of volunteering clubs is quite exciting as well as the amount of opportunities that every other organization offers to promote the well-being of the community as well as Lafayette and Indiana as a whole. We all need to see these opportunities as ways we can help out others. I personally feel that through volunteering, we can begin to change the sad view of humanity that many are beginning to take.

Helping others can come is so many different forms—by donating everything from money, to your time, and your talents. Habitat for Humanity International is an extremely prevalent organization and club at Purdue University that helps those in America that have no place to rest their head at night, no home to call their own. So many in the United States and all over the globe have become a part of this organization and have given their time and effort to putting over 300,000 houses up around the world.

Within other clubs that are not volunteer specific, there are other volunteering opportunities that help the community and help to get out the beliefs and causes that are directly related to the club that you are involved in. I was a member and a chairperson of the Art History Student Organization (AHSO) and we had several different opportunities to get involved with separate organizations throughout Indiana and Lafayette. We connected with the Great Lafayette Museum of Art and helped them with an event that they were planning for Christmas time to both collect donated art from around the city being sold to the public. This money was then donate to an children's organization within Tippecanoe county.

I feel that through volunteering and donating something like your time and talents goes so much further than money alone. As human beings, we can help restore the notion that people can be extremely caring creatures and that they can be caring, compassionate, and kind as well. So many people have been dealt a bad hand in life and just need someone to come along and reach out to them. I feel as if the physically, monetarily, or socially fortunate individuals have a certain responsibility to take some matters into their own hands and begin to restore the lives of those in need.

Not only does volunteering personally look great on a resume and gains so much knowledge and experiences from spending your time with other types of people, but as a whole, you can contribute to the well-being of individuals or a community by using some of your free-time on someone else rather than other frivolous activities. As a college age individual, many people that I try and help and come into contact with, are shocked and love that someone of my age would take the time to help someone.

Just remember the smile that someone donated to you when you were having a rough day. That joy of knowing that humankind can raise spirits by these tiny actions that seem so ordinary, given to the right people in their time and need can mean the world and help enrich their quality of life.