I was invited to help lead a community service conference for independent schools this weekend. Because it was hosted by a school in New Orleans, we decided to focus the learning on schools serving in the face of disaster. We studied the effects of Katrina, response efforts and what schools could learn about engaging students to serve in future times of crisis/disaster.
It was emotionally challenge to revisit Katrina through videos, interviews, pictures and panel discussions. But the hardest part was the bus tour of the city. The tourist parts of the city are back to normal - you'd never know they have struggled. But other parts of the city are still struggling tremendously. It was completely overwhelming to see - I can't imagine what the devastation was like 2.5 years ago.
We drove through bumpy roads in Lakeview, the upper 9th ward and the lower 9th ward. We saw shredded tarps covering roofs, leveled lots, and fields where there used to be houses. Driving down a street, one house would be beautifully redone, and the next house still abandoned. You can look through the windows of so many houses and see gutted remains - just wooden beams inside formerly beautiful houses. You can still see many spraypainted markings from when emergency relief workers first visited the houses, marking the number of dead bodies or asking neighbors to look after pets.
There are two bridges downtown with probably 60 tents full of homeless people. The city has connected people with mental illness or addictions with services, but they don't have a place to house the other people yet.
It was redeeming to hear stories of love, compassion and service. It's amazing to see how locals have helped one another, and how our country has reached out to help. But there is much more to be done. So if you can partner with your church or other relief organization to help, I hope you will. I know I will be looking for ways to help. And I will pray for the people living in New Orleans, the people that had to leave New Orleans, and the people trying to rebuild New Orleans.