Jun 06.6

Building Hope and Homes in New Orleans

Charity Pot >> Community

New Orleans! I love this city. The people, the music, the food, the bayou, the smells.... the history!

Sarah Levitin, from our Retail Support Team had a dream to go to New Orleans. It took more than one attempt to get there, but when she finally did she brought along some friends from LUSH and they went to work trying to make a difference. This is her story. 

In 2006 I saw an Imax documentary called Hurricane on the Bayou. The film features amazing views of the bayou and catchy Cajun music, but there's more to the film's message than the sights and sounds of this intriguing city- it's also about environmental preservation of the surrounding wetlands. New Orleans is plagued with hurricanes because of its location and the miles of wetlands have saved this city for decades. They act as a natural barrier to slow the hurricane, so when it reaches the city it's more like a tropical storm. Due to the current depletion of the wetlands, hurricanes have been gaining momentum through the muddy waters and landing on the city with full force. There's no way the director of Hurricane on the Bayou could have known that hurricane Katrina would hit on August 29th, 2005. All of a sudden, the captivating images of the bayou turned into images of destruction. The film had a big impact on me, and in 2008 I booked my first trip to New Orleans. Unfortunately, the trip never happened because the morning that I was meant to board my plane, hurricane Gustav touched down in New Orleans and my trip was cancelled.

LUSH gave me my second chance at visiting this city rich in culture! We recently traveled as a LUSH group to New Orleans and partnered with lowernine.org, one of our Charity Pot partners, to help build homes. lowernine.org is a grassroots charity that has been working in the Lower Ninth Ward, a neighborhood southeast of the city and the site of the greatest destruction from Katrina, to help residents rebuild and repair their homes using volunteer labor. While there were over 50 levee breaches throughout the city, this is where most destructive breach occurred. We took a bus into the Lower Ninth Ward and as you cross the bridge from the heart of downtown there is an obvious change of scenery. Gone are the long beads dangling from balconies. Instead, I saw abandoned structures that used to be homes, empty lots and spray paint on the exterior of the houses from the first response units.

I wondered, why are we still rebuilding? Katrina was over seven years ago. lowernine.org explained, "Rebuilding in the Lower Ninth Ward has lagged behind that of other neighborhoods as a result of poverty, the scale of the devastation and local, state and federal government inaction." I learned from Laura, a fulltime member of lowernine.org, that many of the residents had invested their savings into fraudulent construction companies after the hurricane. Some people paid for work that never got done, others paid for poor quality work that fell to pieces after Hurricane Isaac and they've been forced to live through the same nightmare all over again.

The sun was shining as we worked on sanding and painting the exterior of three houses. I met lovely people that had moved from all over the world to New Orleans to volunteer with lowernine.org. They had great stories of their journeys and we chatted as we worked. After years of dreaming about New Orleans, my experience exceeded all my expectations! A huge thank you to lowernine.org for everything they do for New Orleans and all that they are.

Julia Hamfelt

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