August 29, 2011

Be Grateful in the Face of Adversity: Lessons From Katrina Survivors

Six years ago today one of the most culturally and musically rich cities in our nation, I daresay the world, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. This weekend, Hurricane Irene, as if paying homage to the original great, caused mass flooding, destruction, loss of power, and even deaths all along the east coast and especially in Vermont and coastal cities. Most I know were fortunate enough to escape Irene with some wind, rain, and minor damage at worst and many took to Facebook to joke about the apocalyptic-like proclamations that were followed by little threat. Instead of realizing that they are very lucky, they proclaim their boredom with the storm. On the other hand, I also know someone whose family, and their surrounding community, lost everything.

Sign in front of a house damaged by Katrina

About a year and a half after Katrina, I had the opportunity to go there with my University and work with Habitat for Humanity. I found a city mostly in ruins that seemed more like a third world country than a large port city in America. Still, while the buildings and landmarks may have washed away with the waters, I found that Katrina couldn't destroy the heart and soul of the city. Instead, I met some of the kindest and most appreciative people anywhere in the world. I met people who would come talk to us while we worked and share their sad stories of loss but end by telling us how hopeful they were and how glad they were that we were there. One family who came by to talk to us for a few minutes in the morning even came back in a truck that afternoon loaded with Gatorade, snacks, hot dogs, and a grill simply because they wanted to show their appreciation. I went into a local Walgreen's with our group of volunteers and we literally left to a round of applause and thanks from the employees as we got back on our bus. I met families working to rebuild their homes and planning to help their neighbors once they were done and one incredibly inspiring woman named Patrina who was forced to ride out the storm with her daughter on their rooftop. She has been through so much and seen so much loss both during the storm and in the years thereafter but she is still an incredibly strong, hopeful, and positive person.

The brave people of New Orleans taught me that even in the midst of some of life's worst struggles there are still things to be grateful for and positive about. Whatever situation you are in right now may seem like there is no light at the end of that tunnel, be it a health scare, a layoff, a loss, an impossible job hunt, or clearing up damage from the storm. Somehow though, after experiencing one of the worst storms America has ever seen, everyone I met in New Orleans was so positive, happy, and thankful for their life, their surviving friends and family, the help they were receiving, and the things they managed to salvage from the debris. They were rebuilding and learning to recover one day at a time despite how difficult they knew that would be. It may not be easy, but that doesn't mean it is impossible.

How you can help victims of Irene

      "If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow."
- Katy Perry, Firework

- Katie
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