It’s been almost two whole weeks since I’ve returned to Calgary from New Orleans. Let me tell you, the shock of coming home from sunny weather and clear blue skies to snow and negative temperatures will never be normal no matter how many times I experience it. We left Calgary on a cold note and returned to the same!
New Orleans 2012 was my first service learning experience and I can say without a doubt that it will probably be the most memorable one I’ll ever experience. I have to give a huge thanks to Erin, Paul and Brittany for facilitating such a wonderful and open environment and for giving me an opportunity to partake in it. I never thought that one little blurb on the UThisWeek newsletter would lead to this life-changing turn of events. I know it sounds so cliché, but I really think the entire week spent in New Orleans did change something in me.
Being surrounded by people who are extremely passionate about social justice issues and people who like me have been intrigued but never engaged just sparked something inside me. I will be honest and say that the people I spend time with are like me before New Orleans, we had an inkling of what was happening and maybe we read about it, but we never did much. So, being surrounded by people who do more then just care is just awe-inspiring. I can actually see myself going out there and doing something for the sake of creating change. There’s so much more out there and there’s so much more that can make your life fulfilling. It makes me think of a quote from OSBC, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.”
Our volunteer work was concentrated on food security at OSBG, an urban farming initiative, and with rebuilding Katrina damaged homes. It’s just the most humbling and touching experience when locals you meet in stores or even on the streets take time to thank you for coming down and thank you for trying to help. They’re thanking me when I should be thanking them for the strength and preservence they’ve displayed since the disaster. I should be thanking them for accepting me and letting volunteers from around the world come and share in the experience of rebuilding from the wreckage. I’ve never gotten so many opportunites to engage in deep, well thought out discussions about social justice and I just feel like this is what life should be offering people. The experience of fighting for social justice issues and changing the system is so rewarding. There aren’t enough words to describe how good it feels to see the results of your work. even if it’s just a tiny step in a giant journey that millions are walking everywhere, it feels incredible.
I didn’t go into this trip thinking I could save the world and I certainly didn’t leave thinking I did save the world. I went into it thinking that it might be fun and interesting. I came out knowing I have so much more to do and the world and other people have so much more to offer. I can get the ball rolling like other people have and I can do my part. My desire to be an engaged global citizen has finally begun and I’m going to do my best to never be satisfied with what just is.
The organizations I encountered in New Orleans are all doing wonderful work. Are they all super effective at the goals they set out? To be honest, no, but not one single NGO can expect to fulfill the needs of the community they are trying to help. New Orleans has a deep and complex history that can’t just be changed overnight. I believe with time and effort and more volunteers who want to make a difference, change came come and things can only go up for there. On a final note, I want to thank OSBG, St. Bernard Project and the Second Harvest Food Bank for having us along for the ride and letting me experience what it’s like to make a difference.