Nine years after hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana, residents of the state are still rebuilding — and they’re doing it with the help of carpentry, engineering and plumbing students from Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Together By Design project has, since 2007, taken a team of students to help rebuild the New Orleans neighbourhood Broadmoor.
Darlene Spracklin-Reid, an engineer, Memorial University instructor and co-founder (with partner John Oates) of Together By Design, said the project helps the community rebuild while giving students experience and teaching them the value of volunteerism.
The students are drawn from the UA Local 740 Training Centre, Carpenters Millwrights College and MUN’s engineering faculty.
Nearly a decade after the hurricane hit, there’s still much work to be done, she said.
“Some of the wealthier neighbourhoods are maybe 80 per cent recovered, that were hit hard,” she said on the phone from New Orleans, where she’s overseeing a group of 10 students who arrived April 26 for a 12-day trip. “When we go down to the Lower Ninth Ward, they’re only about 10 per cent recovered. It’s amazing to drive around, all this time later, and this dense urban neighbourhood now looks like parkland. It’s shocking.”
Some of the students who went to New Orleans had never been on a plane before, said Spracklin-Reid.
“There are levels of poverty that exist here that we don’t see back home, and I think that hits them quite deeply,” she said. “I think they feel really good about being able to help out. We’re working with a couple now … to rebuild part of their home. They lost everything in hurricane Katrina, and they rebuilt, and then part of their home was damaged again during (hurricane) Isaac. The reason we’re helping them is they’re employed people, they work hard, but they got ripped off by a contractor for most of their insurance money.”
Plumbing student Matt Myers said he’s stunned at how much work is to be done. On Thursday, students spent some time working at a homeless shelter.
“The shelter itself is kind of in rough shape, and the guy who runs it, he’s there by himself, basically, working, and he’s got two other shelters that he works in,” said Myers. “He doesn’t have the time to do even a small amount of what needs to be done there. It’s disheartening that people live in those conditions.”
It feels good to help, said Myers — and frustrating to come up against an obstacle they can’t solve.
“The sink in the kitchen wasn’t draining properly,” he said. “When we went to look at it, it was a job that we couldn’t do. We didn’t have the tools for it. It was just so plugged up with grease and we just couldn’t do it. The fact that we couldn’t do it means that it’s probably not going to get done, and they have to deal with that for a while now. It’s probably been clogged up like that for ages. It’s unfortunate.”
Together By Design estimates it has contributed $225,000 in labour to New Orleans communities since 2007. The project is funded by the Fry Family Foundation and Madsen Power Systems, and administered by nonprofit organization Skills Canada Newfoundland and Labrador.