Renewed Faith in Humanity
Danielle Pereira is a fourth-year journalism student and ASB leader.
Hello, my name is Danielle Pereira and I am a fourth-year journalism student. I am a co-team leader for the Alternative Spring Break New Orleans trip.
I was motivated to apply for the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) Program because of my experience with the program last year. I was a participant on the Mexico team that travelled to Cuernavaca, where we volunteered in La Estación, a squatter settlement in an especially impoverished section of Cuernavaca. I volunteered at Maria’s home fixing the walls in order to put up a new roof over one of the bedrooms.
What I discovered throughout the week was that Maria and the people of La Estación are rich in character, kindness, and generosity. I instantly felt at home and they gave me more throughout my week of service than I could ever hope to give back to them. ASB creates a space where students can connect their classroom learning with opportunities outside of the classroom, and perhaps most importantly, the program provides a space for diverse opinions and perspectives, which creates a very engaging and open environment. I think that is an invaluable opportunity to have during your time in university.
My amazing trip to Cuernavaca inspired me to become a Team Leader for the New Orleans trip this year. As for challenges this time around, it was very difficult to make people understand the need that still exists in New Orleans as a result of the destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Up to 8,000 families still cannot afford to rebuild the homes that they own due to overwhelming costs, disability, contractor fraud, or a number of other obstacles. The reaction that I often received when I told people where I was going was either shock that people are still experiencing this struggle, or the question of why I would be going to New Orleans when “Americans should be able to help themselves.”
Because the ASB program focuses on learning throughout the experience I knew this perception wasn’t accurate. There are so many social, political, and economic factors at play that have contributed to the ongoing process of getting people back into their homes. I also think it’s important to recognize that inequality and injustice exist in all countries, rich or poor.
Our team spent the week volunteering with St. Bernard Project, an award-winning rebuilding, non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that disaster-impacted communities recover in a prompt, efficient, and predictable way. We cleaned up old shingles, put up insulation, and began the instillation of drywall at Ms. Vera’s house in the Seventh Ward. Ms. Vera is a department leader at K-Mart and she is raising her grandson Robby. She is currently renting the house across the street from her own while it is being rebuilt.
Although Ms. Vera has a full-time job, without the assistance from St. Bernard Project, she could not afford the costs of rebuilding, paying rent and paying the mortgage on her house. To me, Ms. Vera is certainly a model of strength and resilience in the face of adversity. She was positive about her situation and so thankful to our group, and all those that came before us, for volunteering our time.
I feel privileged to have been a part of the planning process of a trip that allowed me to see the rich culture of New Orleans and meet inspirational individuals, both in the city and on my team. The focus on reflection in addition to community service makes this program so unique, and as long as there is a commitment to the process, the possibility for growth is limitless.
If there is one common thread that I could pick out from both of my ASB experiences it is a renewed faith in humanity. The amount of kindness and generosity you encounter from people who start out as complete strangers is something that has forever changed me.
Submitted by Danielle Pereira, a fourth-year journalism student.
To learn more about ASB, visit the website.