“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” -Quote for a mural at Camp Hope
Today was a very special day for me because I had the opportunity to sit down with a remarkable woman and hear about her personal story in regards to Hurricane Katrina and the process it has taken to get her back into her home in Violet, LA. Ms. Smith* is a small woman, with an even smaller spoken voice, but the biggest heart and spirit you can come across. As we sat on her porch and she waved to every car that passed by I instantly knew I was sitting next to a woman whose presence in New Orleans is so powerful, whose home is truly in this place, and this place is where she belongs.
For days leading up to Katrina, Ms. Smith never even thought twice about leaving. She figured this storm would be like any other, and that it was not worth the money nor time to leave. It wasn’t until the day of the storm when Ms. Smith and her children, along with her grandchildren, knew they needed to leave their home. She talked about how she didn’t bring anything with her, and she was dressed in a pair of flip-flops, jean shorts, and a t-shirt. She stayed in the Superdome for one night, and she described that terrifying time and event. She said at one point that she had no idea what was going to be in store for her. Since Ms. Smith was elderly, she was taken in a helicopter to the airport and then was flown to Atlanta, Georgia with some family members. Her daughter was left behind and, unfortunately, passed away in the storm. Ms. Smith had no idea where she was being taken and what to do once she got there. She spent six months in Georgia, but she hated it there. It did not feel right. As she stressed in her statement, ‘It was not home.”
When Ms. Smith finally made her way back to New Orleans, she came home to nothing. Her house was destroyed, her belongings ruined, and her family was no longer all together. To this day she still has no idea how she made it through that difficult time, but she gives all her credit to God’s guidance. Currently Ms. Smith’s home is on its final stages of being rebuilt and soon she will be able to start her life over again in a place that she knows is the only place for her. She did say, however, “If I hear that another storm is coming, I am leaving. I don’t care who comes. I just can’t do this again.”
I am so thankful for today’s experiences. It reassured me about the reason why I keep coming back down to New Orleans and why Wheelock needs to keep sending students down here to rebuild: there are still so many people like Ms. Smith who are waiting to rebuild their lives again and they rebuild with our help.
*Name has been changed