Taking a bus drive for 30 hours from Boston to New Orleans has a way of emphasizing the stark difference between the two cities. We passed through 7 states and experienced the changing weather from snowy city to a warm spring. Unfortunately, the history and development progress of New Orleans as compared with New England are just as opposite as the weather. I was strike by how slow the recovery work was carried out throughout New Orleans. When we left the church building where we were staying for the week to take a bus tour of the city, we saw empty plots of land, broken houses and an unsecured bridge in the low income parts of New Orleans. We saw the remaining adverse impacts of Katrina on the neighborhood.
We had a conversation with a local person near our Habitat for Humanity work sight. We felt his disappointment in how few resources the government had allocated to the area over the past 10 years. Infrastructure remains a huge problem and we could hardly find a commercial bank, bus stop, or railway station throughout the city.
Such scenes, however, were non-existent in the richest part of New Orleans - the French Quarter. Jazz music, high-end restaurants and European-style buildings made it one of the most attractive places for artists and musicians to visit in the country. Some investment bankers, as I read from Wall Street Journal recently, love to discuss their $17 billion acquisition transactions while enjoying the oysters and alligators while relaxing on one of the many balcony restaurants in the French Quarter.
This luxurious lifestyle is the extreme opposite to the struggling and low income parts of New Orleans. No wonder it is called the City of Extremes.
Nonetheless, I was glad that I came to the trip with all the volunteers from different colleges. All of them are passionate, caring and deeply moved by the situation that New Orleans and its people are facing. I am cautiously optimistic with the future of the city. But, this will only happen when all of us are willing to share what we have seen from the trip and find ways to contribute positively.
Written by Brian Tse, Harvard Class of 2016
Edited by Joe Riffe