This I Believe

Laura - Danvers, Massachusetts
Entered on January 2, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

Believe and You Shall Achieve

Over the past summer, I was given the opportunity to go to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild the city. The only thing standing in my way was my family vacation during the same week. All of my dads siblings rent houses in a development in New Hampshire and the entire McIlroy clan takes over. It is a blast and the one week in the year that I see my cousins who live in Texas and other parts of the country. Although I was thrilled about the trip to New Orleans, a part of me wanted to stay home and spend time with the family I don’t see that often. I drove to the airport in tears that early Sunday morning, thinking of all the family traditions I would miss out on. Little did I know, they were the ones missing out.

My church-based group headed to New Orleans, got off the plane, matching shirts and all, and went to get our bags. As I was leading the way, an airport security guard stepped in front of me. Wondering what on earth we did wrong already, he asked us where we were from. He then proceeded to shake each of our hands and thank us individually for coming to help their desperate city. “God Bless You” he said to us and wished us luck during our hot and tiresome week.

Driving from the airport to where we stayed in Metairie was the most dreadful ride of my life. I have never seen so much devastation and depression ever before. An entire year after the hurricane and thousands of businesses and homes were still deserted. The city really did need help and I was very enthusiastic about getting started the next morning.

I rode in silence to our first work site in the upper ninth ward of New Orleans, eager and nervous to see what I was in for. This was where the hurricane hit the hardest so I expected the worst. Even though they explained to us what we were going to see, I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for the reality of the sight. I got out of the car to be greeted by Miss Jackie herself, the woman whose house we would be ‘gutting’. She cried the moment she saw us-finally able to get the help she needed to rebuild her home. Miss Jackie thanked us right away for coming to help her and told us her story of the hurricane. The sadness of her housing situation, lost memories, and loss of a family member encouraged me to work harder and complain less about the 100° weather we worked in. She then took us for a tour of what she used to call her home. I saw walls covered with mold, furniture turned every-which-way, glass shattered from looters, and bugs everywhere I looked. I couldn’t believe she used to live in this indescribably disgusting place.

The first step in gutting the house was to take all of her belongings out and put them on the sidewalk as trash. I carried out beds, lamps, tables, chairs, clothing and pictures- everything had to go. It was devastating to watch Miss Jackie go through her old pictures and memories that were now completely ruined. But after three hours of wearing heavy white suits and sweating beyond belief, a few of the girls and I decided it was time for a bathroom break. Miss Jackie showed us the way to the closest grocery store because her house had no running water. Once we left the bathroom, we went down the cleaning aisle to look for masks. “Where are my angels?”, she yelled down the next aisle, “My angels sent from God to help me though.” This was the turning point in the trip, when I realized what a valuable decision I made by choosing New Orleans over New Hampshire.

Visiting New Orleans opened my eyes to so many other aspects of the world. Seeing all the sights and witnessing first hand what life in New Orleans is like, really made me realize that there are so many people less privileged than I am and that don’t have that much. My family is fortunate enough to have two houses whereas people affected by Hurricane Katrina barely have one. I then saw how much I could do to help other people and how much I have that others need. So, I believe in giving up what you have to help others; it is the most significant thing I gained from this trip. The complete reality of this experience changed my life because now I help people of all kinds. I am so glad I gave up my vacation because had I not, I would never have had this incredible experience and my strong belief in helping people would not have come alive. Even though I didn’t change the world or anything, I feel I helped Miss Jackie enough to change her life. I believe that by giving up my time and helping others, I can make a difference in this world.