Alternative Spring Break, New Orleans: Drop in a Bucket

Each year during Harvard’s spring break, PBHA’s Alternative Spring Break program sends student volunteers on public service trips across the United States. This spring, nine freshman students traveled to New Orleans to build vegetable gardens as part of the city’s continued efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The students blogged throughout the trip, reflecting on the city’s redevelopment and their role in the community; this is part two of their series. Read part one here. 


Ten years ago, the Lower 9th Ward was under 25 feet of water. After reading about that, after seeing the canal, and after seeing the 9th Ward, I still couldn’t fathom that. I couldn’t fathom that the streets filled up like a bathtub in merely 12 minutes. I couldn’t fathom that in that short time every street was filled with water more than four times taller than me. I couldn’t fathom that streets can be “filled.” Shouldn’t the water have poured out somewhere?

Having been in New Orleans for a few days, I have to fathom that ten years ago, this unimaginable nightmare scenario was a reality for hundreds of thousands of New Orleanins. I’ve heard stories of families having their homes swept away in an instant and still rebuilding, both physically and emotionally. I’ve heard stories of families sprinting up to roofs to avoid being swept away along with their homes and children falling off those roofs never to be seen again. I’ve heard stories of families who didn’t make it to those roofs in time. Now, I cannot fathom how something as small as making a vegetable garden can have any positive impact on a community that faced such disaster and such destruction.

However, today, Mr. Green came out of his new 9th Ward home and thanked us.

He told us the truth: New Orleans needed buckets of help and we can just add one drop. But, he added, “It might seem like a drop in a bucket but we’ve filled 10,000 buckets drop by drop.”

As a college freshman here for a week, I know I don’t have the time or resources to reconstruct every home, to make sure every child is in a stable school system, or to change the policies that make it so hard for people to own their homes. But, I’ve learned that every minute positive change leads to the macro changes. After the media has abandoned the city except for its five and ten year anniversary features, the city still needs help. I learned a vegetable garden can be that help. That garden won’t feed a city, it won’t rebuild a house, and it won’t erase the destruction of Katrina. But that garden provides some families with healthy, affordable food, it gives children the opportunity to learn, and it gives the community a sense of ownership. I don’t mean to overstate what I’m doing because anyone could do it and tens of thousands have done the same before. It’s humbling to simply be one of those people in the sea of volunteers.

Ultimately, the only thing that can rebuild this city and that has been rebuilding this city is the resilient community here that prides itself on not giving up after a time when no one would have blamed them if they had. Mr. Green elucidated that this city won’t be build in a rapid flash of donations, rather it will be built up the same way every city in the country was— “brick-by-brick, neighborhood-by-neighborhood.”

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