Like most people, I will never forget this time two years ago, in the days/week after Hurricane Katrina first struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I was literally glued to the TV's non-stop news, streaming images of the devastation and tales of the horrific conditions. I was transfixed by the shocking images and I was dismayed by news reports of the ridiculously delayed help getting to those who needed it so desperately -- mostly the region's poor inhabitants. And yesterday, as I watched the 3-DVD set of Spike Lee's HBO documentary When The Levees Broke, I was reminded of all the horrors of Katrina.
Since September 2005 the national media's focus on New Orleans may have faded considerably, but the needs of its inhabitants have not. Luckily there are still a great many individuals and organizations actively involved in helping in the long recovery process that has quite a ways to go still. As you probably already know, Amoeba Music is one of the many organizations doing its bit in the effort to help the victims of Katrina, through its Amoeba auctions to benefit Katrina victims. Meanwhile, one of the many individuals involved in helping the recovery process is my former KALX Cultural Affairs Dept. buddy Rohit Gupta, who is one of those wonderful, quietly humble and giving individuals who is always down to help out those in need. Rohit lives and works in Los Angeles but has been making frequent visits down to New Orleans to volunteer in the slow post-Katrina recovery process. I invited Rohit to write a report on what it is really like right now in New Orleans for this AMOEBLOG. Here is Rohit's story:
Within the past year, I have been to New Orleans four times with the
International Association for Human Values. Each time I return, there is fresh evidence of recovery – the streetlights are working, neighborhoods once dormant are repopulating, schools are reopening, etc. At the same time, the weight of Katrina has not been lifted. Murder, especially among youth, dramatically increased. As has suicide and other violent crimes. These are all indicators that the rebuilding process was incomplete. Among the many volunteer organizations in New Orleans, IAHV stood out to me because they are addressing the mental trauma associated with Katrina. As MSNBC recently noted, the stress from the hurricane is still affecting people. According to the article, the continuing effects of the hurricane include, "depression, suicidal [thoughts], anxiety, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and along with that comes a lot more physical problems."
The symptoms of the trauma vary, but my experience was that it is common to all demographics in New Orleans. While it is possible to judge the rebuilding efforts based on socioeconomic status, the same can't be said for trauma. Certainly, the poorest neighborhoods have been among the slowest to rebuild. However, symptoms of trauma can be found among all populations.
After completing a training program, IAHV sent us volunteers out in teams to teach free trauma relief courses to anyone and everyone. It was an amazing experience to help people suffering from Katrina. During the courses, participants would often remark that it was the first time they've had peace of mind or been able to relax since Katrina. With the techniques learned in the course, they could move past the event and resume their lives.
Many of us also volunteered at a housing project. We started and ran a summer camp for the kids there. The neighborhood was practically shut down because of the increased violence. Our first day there, gunshots went off in an adjacent parking lot. Mothers often thanked us for running the program because their children had not been allowed outside for months because they feared for their children's safety.
In the two years following Katrina, it is surprising how little has been done. Many people outside New Orleans have little to no idea of how it is proceeding. For many Americans, not knowing what is going on has kept them uninvolved and ambivalent about the city. I think that if people were more aware and involved, there would be greater progress to show.