Of my work with Common Ground Relief

New Orleans Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 20 › view all entries
So, here I am again. Did you miss my rants/updates?

I think I needed a couple of days to take everything in, process it and put it out again in a way that would show my thoughts.

As I said in my previous post, on Monday I met the founders of Common Ground Relief (CGR), an humanitarian organisation that was born in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Originally based in the Algiers area of New Orleans - on the opposite side of the Mississipi compared to the French Quarter if that gives you an idea -, it was created almost from scratch, and with no funds to assist, feed and shelter people that had lost everything because of the events, but couldn't leave the city.

I say 'almost from scratch' because the two founders, Malik R. and Sharon J. were not new to organised effort, and, especially Malik, to social movements. They never defined themselves activists until somebody pointed out the fact to them, but they had both been, in some way or another, "involved" and "active" in the past.

Malik, I find out later, used to be a member of the local Black Panthers chapter back in the 1970s. He didn't think twice about opening up his front and back yards to the evacuees, and, also thanks to the help brought in by hundreds of volunteers that arrived from all over the States, he set up CGR's first distribution centre and health clinic on September 5, 2005.

"I thought we would help people and then get back to our lives sooner than this," says Sharon. "We didn't expect to come on as far as we are today."

Today CGR has projects running in different parts of New Orleans, and focuses its activities on legal aid and health care (both given free of charge to anyone in need), but it also still oversees a great deal of reconstruction work, especially in some of the worst affected areas, such as Lower and Upper 9th Wards.

Both very close to the levees that didn't cope with the strength of the rising water a day after the hurricane had struck, they were submerged under 22 feet of water, houses completely washed away, hundreds of lives lost. Before the tragedy, 12,000 people lived in the Lower 9th Ward alone; today, only 600 have come back.

Anger, frustration, and sometimes pessimism, but also hope, pride, and creativity are the prevalent feelings among these communities. Anger and frustration for authorities - on a local, state, and federal level - that did too little to prevent the flooding, and, afterwards, far too much to create a state of panic and fear that the media were eager to pray upon.

But also pride for what has been done so far by grassroots groups like Common Ground, and hope for a better future that they are helping to shape, little but little.

More (maybe) soon.

Stay Tuned.
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