March 3, 2006
By Jessica Zibbel and Michael Newman
Editor's note: Ohio University's branch of Campus Crusade for Christ is organizing a spring break trip to New Orleans to provide assistance in the ongoing Hurricane Katrina cleanup. This will be their second trip -- a group of students traveled to New Orleans during Christmas break to help. This is their story.
A group of Ohio University students, in collaboration with Campus Crusade for Christ, traveled to New Orleans during Christmas break to help out the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The leaders of the group were David White and Alissa Bramsen who were both greatly affected by the levels of devastation that were still prevalent three months after the disaster.
"You can't explain the devastation," sophomore Bramsen recalls. "Areas that look like empty parking lots with debris are actually housing foundations. Everywhere you go, you smell mold."
The students, in addition to aiding in such tasks as general food preparation and organization of donations, got to see the damage to the surrounding communities and got to interact with individuals whose lives were affected by the hurricane. Because of the significant emotional impact of the surroundings, there were debriefing meetings nightly to discuss what the group had seen and done during the day.
Bramsen remembers being disturbed to see that houses were spray-painted with numbers of animal and human causalities. While distributing supplies, the members would whisper how the streets resembled those of a ghost town.
"It looked like a plague came through," she said.
While in New Orleans, students provided services to the victims and workers through a ministry called "Good News in Bad Places." The organization prepares hot meals twice a day for victims, workers and volunteers; organizes donations of items such as food, clothes and toys; cleans up debris in the surrounding areas; and also distributes donations given from around the country.
"Most of the group -18, 19, or 20 years old - has never seen that level of devastation or that level of poverty. To have your entire life uprooted, it is very difficult to understand unless it has happened to you or unless you are able to participate in relieving that suffering somehow," said White. "I am very proud with the way the group acted and responded, grew closer together, interacted with one another and the people in the community."
In addition to working with "Good News in Bad Places," Ohio University students had opportunities to work closely with Habitat for Humanity rebuilding homes, collaborate with other relief camps, and help organize a warehouse that was kind enough to donate space as a staging area for donations. Students also got the chance to interact and play with the children from housing development projects whose families were financially unable to stay away from New Orleans for a long period of time. Despite the fact that the children's parents were away at work or looking for work the children would come out and play, talk, and enjoy the company of the Ohio University students.
"My greatest experience during the ministry was watching a reunion," Bramsen said. "They happened to find each other after being separated for the past few months. The whole world seemed to stop, they were laughing and giggling and crying. Nothing else seemed to matter to them."
"The trip showed the people of New Orleans that we have not forgotten them," she said. "It showed that people still care, still remember, and are still supporting them."
"[Given] how hard they worked and how much they physically, mentally, spiritually invested into it, the group came away from it drained. The bus ride home was just quiet because everybody was just worn out. And that to me was huge because [it proved] nobody held back anything, they gave all they had just because of what they saw," White said.
Ohio University Campus Crusade for Christ is organizing another trip to New Orleans during spring break. The trip is open to anyone who would like to go, but space is limited. For more information, e-mail Katie Watson at Katie.Watson@uscm.org.
Jessica Zibbel and Michael Newman are student writers with University Communications and Marketing.