At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday Jan. 5, nine Eastern students, including myself, along with one staff member, left the Philadelphia International Airport for New Orleans, La. We were on our way to help with the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
I made the same trip with a group from my home church in Harmony, Md., back in the summer of 2006. The city had been a ghost town filled with debris and destroyed buildings. I was anxious to see how it had changed since then.
On Sunday, we were given a tour of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. I was glad to see that most of the debris and buildings that could not be repaired had been cleared away, but it was heart-wrenching to see that so many people would not return to their hometowns because they could not afford to rebuild.
We started our work week on Monday by gutting a health center in St. Bernard Parish. Our work was cut short when we were asked to move donations of food, clothing and books from one building to another. All the donations would be lost if they were not moved immediately. We were able to hear the stories of some of the New Orleans locals. They were very proud to be from New Orleans, and they made sure to thank each one of us personally for our help in restoring the area.
One young man walked all the way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in order to gain support from volunteers like us. He had written and memorized a six-page speech about how he was born and raised in New Orleans and was willing to do all he could to help rebuild the city.
Tuesday through Friday, we built a house with Habitat for Humanity. We worked with other students from Johns Hopkins University and Wheaton Academy. On our last workday, we had the privilege of meeting the owner of the house. She was extremely grateful and surprised to see that our group, made up of mostly females and only three males, was doing construction work.
We went to the French Quarter on Saturday to enjoy New Orleans cuisine, entertainment and shopping. On Sunday morning we left New Orleans behind, feeling blessed and inspired.
My first trip to New Orleans in 2006 taught me how to let God work through me in order to serve others in need. When I returned a second time and saw how the city had changed, I was able to see the impact people can have on the lives of others if they just give some of their time and resources.