Documenting The Restoration
An [X]Press photographer's personal account of his experience in New Orleans
April 11, 2006 10:02 AM
Over spring break, I was fortunate enough to travel to New Orleans and join the Common Ground Collective, a grass-roots relief organization that began in Algiers but is now centered in the 9th Ward of the city.
The 9th Ward was one of the areas that suffered extensive devastation from the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina, and yet the area has received notably little aid from FEMA or other government agencies. Seven months after the storm, it looks as if the hurricane hit two weeks ago, and most residents still lack electricity, drinkable water, and schools for their children.
Common Ground was one of the first organizations set up to help the residents in these neglected areas of the city. Through the months of March and early April, Common Ground received over 2,700 volunteers from 107 different colleges. Students gave up a week of drinking and partying to join other volunteers.
Days in New Orleans usually consisted of strenuous physical labor, such as removing destroyed furniture and gutting the insides of houses contaminated by toxic flood water, spreading soil and working in bioremediation gardens, or rebuilding community centers for the residents to come back to. Those who didn't venture out to the worksites worked long days keeping the volunteers fed and sheltered while simultaneously organizing medics, donations and residents that are still trying to return to their homes.
Residents welcomed Common Ground with open arms, thanking them for coming to help and occasionally sharing their stories and experiences during the storm.
During my short time there I was only able to capture a small fraction of the efforts and energy of volunteers and residents as they try to rebuild communities. Both volunteering and documenting this organization was an experience that I can't possibly sum up in the limited amount of space I have here, but I found myself agreeing with Meredith Drake, a 21-year-old physical therapy major at Whittier College.
"I've never been so dirty and tired, yet so content in my whole life. I'm leaving tonight, and I'm already planning to come back," Drake said.
If you would like more information about Common Ground or would like to know how to volunteer, please visit www.commongroundrelief.org
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