Santa Clara University



Reflections on New Orleans

By: Annie Thomas


The usual response from most family and friends that heard I was going to New Orleans to “help” with the hurricane aftermath was compliment after compliment of the good I was doing for the victims of the disaster and the selfless sacrifices I was making in devoting a week (out of a 4 week (!!) winter break) to “serve” others.  Looking back I realize now that the trip of service was not a one-way path. Yes I did “help others” by using my huge cross-country arm muscles to “rip” down a few walls and hammer in some nails; but the truth is the most meaningful, important part of the whole experience was not the “service” I was doing for others, instead it was the relationships we made, connections between humanity; and friendships we made with each other. Ultimately, we (the students of Santa Clara) were the receivers of service: through gifts of stories and tears the people of N.O. shared with us.  They were our teachers: we learned how to remain hopeful, faithful and in good spirits through the roughest of times.  So I would like people to not think of our trip as a “service” trip, but rather an educational and trip of solidarity with the people of New Orleans.  Do not focus on the manual labor that made us sore and exhausted by the end of the day, but instead the stories that we have the privilege of telling about the people that have survived and are still living amongst the rubble of their homes.

From the Journal of Annie:

“Walking around the neighborhoods is very eerie…it is deserted, not a person in sight.   The ghost homes have items outside—stuffed animals, bikes, pictures—it reminds you that a family lived inside the house you are looking at and that family is now homeless, wondering if and when they will be able to move back and what the future holds for them.”


“FEMA trailers: only 2,000 are being used and 30,000 need them.”


“Most that want to come back, don’t have the means ($, place to stay, neighbors, government won’t let them…)”

  “I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard…I’m so grateful that we have such an enthusiastic group because this trip could very easily have been gloomy and very depressing.”


“Being an environmentalist at heart and seeing the huge piles of trash on the street I can’t imagine the number of land-fills being created by this mess.”


“I can’t emphasize how much it looks like the disaster happened yesterday. The sad thing is, it’s been 4 months and there is still needs to be done. Overwhelming: we only worked on three out of thousands of houses that need gutting…how do these people remain so optimistic? I guess it’s the only way…”


“It’s been great being a vegetarian on this trip…canned ham and Franks are definitely a veggies best friend J


“Frustrated:  the government is paying money for federal guards to drive in Hummers around the streets and $100,000 per FEMA trailer—just to be set up (most of which haven’t been delivered yet)—what the governments needs to be doing is setting up programs like Catholic Charities with physical labor of rebuilding houses-no temporary living arrangements…need long term goals!”