• Posts from Biloxi: Day 6: Friday, June 22, 2007

    Sunday, June 24, 2007
    News Type

What Remained: The Bonds of Biloxi

Biloxi, Miss. – Perhaps the most useful aspect of going on a Katrina relief service trip for a week is that it creates an overwhelming desire to go back. We're now all messengers of how much effort is still needed. By my estimate, about one-third of the parcels of land in Biloxi have only a concrete foundation on them. And even more, what Biloxi—in particular, East Biloxi—needs now and for the next 20 years is community building. Construction building will continue to plug along, but building confidence in children and hope in adults comes with time and love.

Biloxi, Miss. Photo: Vicki Allen '06

Today, when I walked into Fatima, the "English camp" for Spanish-speaking kids, the whole group was watching a video. Little Carlos immediately jumped off his chair to come greet me, shot his arms up in the air, and wanted to be hugged and picked up.This was in complete contrast to his behavior yesterday, when he became so frustrated with my and Kim '06's telling him not to hit the other kids and steal their puzzle pieces that he told us, "Puto madre!" (in other words, that our mothers are whores). After all the kids had left, we'd talked to Ana (a Spanish professor at Dartmouth) and Ynez (the awesome teacher running the whole show) about what the heck to do whenever Carlos said bad things or hit the other kids. Ana told us to bring him to her, and she would reprimand him in Spanish, because he'd understand it more clearly and take it more seriously, knowing that she spoke to him in Spanish only if it were a really big deal. On Thursday, Carlos squirmed every time we tried to hold him still. On Friday, he let me hold him on my hip for three minutes!

And more progress: In the afternoon, I visited the community garden at John Henry Beck Park. Formerly a drug haven, the park now has a Project Playground/Hands On/KABOOM! playground, a great field, courts, and a small structure that will soon be a police substation— the only police station on this poorer, lower-elevation side of the city. AND the park has a community garden! About 15 plots are owned and gardened by individuals and local groups, and we worked on putting down mulch to round out this gorgeous space. I spent some time talking with project leaders Karissa and Erin about how they got the garden going and what various stumbling blocks they hit. I also got to meet a couple plot owners, and I started to feel like I could actually incorporate myself into a community like this.

Biloxi, Miss. – Maybe it was the shortage of exciting jobs on the sign-up board, or maybe it was leaving the Pub a bit late last night, but I'm pretty sure the main reason it was so hard for me to wake up this morning was my knowing that today would be my last day in Biloxi.

For my last day of work, I served lunch to my fellow volunteers at the Salvation Army, affectionately known as "Salvo." Lunch at Salvo is provided for free for all volunteers. Though the menu most days is a simple sandwich with your choice of deli meat and potato chips, I'd heard that on Wednesdays and Fridays something special was usually served. I wasn't expecting much, but I admit that when I found out that Friday was Tuna Fish Day, I was a little disappointed. Well, the important thing is that for way more volunteers than I would have expected, Tuna Fish Day is the anticipated favorite, and we served some very happy and appreciative volunteers.

For me, this service trip to Biloxi has been:

Shocking—All the natural and structural reminders of the devastation that was Katrina.

Inspiring—The community members whose houses were destroyed, whose lives were drastically interrupted, and who, yes, are somehow positive, proactive, and looking to a brighter future.

Frustrating—To want to do so much more than is possible in one week.

Exhausting—Waking early, working, cleaning, playing, and even just trying to relax in this heat.

Heartwarming—The strong bond of community that Hands On volunteers have built at this facility, the love they have for the community and for each other.

I hope to incorporate what I can of these experiences and emotions into my daily life, and to continue to look for ways to give back to the world we all live in and in this way grow as a person.

I have to say a big thank-you to the Tucker Foundation for extending this amazing opportunity to Dartmouth alumni, faculty, and staff. Thank you to Hands on–Gulf Coast for taking us in and putting us to work. And a special thank-you to my compensation team co-workers in the Dartmouth College Office of Human Resources for understanding what a wonderful opportunity this was and giving me away for a whole week at the most hectic time of the year. THANK YOU!

Signing off now—