Swat Students assist Katrina Recovery in New Orleans

Last week, while most Swarthmore students were enjoying the opportunity to travel to places foreign and domestic, or to simply sleep until noon in their beds, sixteen of our number, along with one faculty member, traveled to New Orleans’s devastated Ninth Ward to assist recovery efforts there.

The group, which has had an informative table set-up at the Swarthmore Co-op’s Farmer’s Market for many of the past Saturdays is loosely organized, although it has raised an impressive $5000 thus far. It is a part of the Common Ground Solidarity Network, an organization dedicated to reclaiming some of what was lost to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent breaking of the levees.

The 16, who split evenly into groups who then joined up with two non-profits named Common Ground and Mercy Response, took part in the unglamorous but decidedly necessary task of gutting houses that had been devastated by the deluge. That is a two and a half day process involving the removal of the possessions of the homeowners and the dismantling of the walls, nails, and fixtures.

Along the way they encountered the bugs that one would expect, a cat hiding in a wall, rotting food, and such items as appliances that resonate with the lifestyles that were destroyed. A leader of the Swarthmore group, Virginia Tice ’09, described Common Ground as a commune-esque organization that was very supportive and cooperative. The other group, which worked with Mercy Response, noted some logistical and ideological issues with how the group was run, although it performed much of the same work.

The broader problems experienced by New Orleans also hit home with the group, half of which stayed in a converted middle school in the city itself, which in the Ninth Ward is reminiscent of a “ghost town” in its emptiness. The other half of the group stayed in more suburban areas, and was able to discern the difference in damage done in varied areas, from the desolation and destruction of the Ninth Ward to the relatively untouched quality of the suburbs.

Despite the despair seemingly invited by the events that occurred in New Orleans more than a year ago, some 10,000 homes have already been handled, but leaving some 100,000 more to be gutted in preparation for recovery. Even so, Tice was happy to report that they “have so much hope and they really are rebuilding.”

Those looking for opportunities to help on trips expected to occur on other breaks or in other capacities should watch for notice of a meeting this coming Tuesday.


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