We are experts on ourselves; we know our strengths, our weaknesses, our personalities, our problems, and how all of these things impact how we live our lives. Often, we consider these things to be of the greatest importance; we want our problems solved and our lives to get better. When we hear of natural disasters or other crises they may be sad, but we are so very often detached from these problems; they are simply pictures and video of far-off places. At the time, we may be compelled to give money or other items to help that particular region, but soon enough we return to our problems—those that are of a more immediate concern.
One of the many things that the Real Break trips offer to college students (and those leading them) is an opportunity to gain perspective; to look beyond our own problems and to see what is really happening beyond our homes and schools. Though I can only speak for myself, the Real Break trip to New Orleans showed me a much more devastating view beyond the images of the city after Hurricane Katrina, but it also showed me the strength and compassion of people in the face of the destruction.
On the surface, the Real Break New Orleans trip appears to be… simple: work with Habitat for Humanity on building houses. The idea of the trip seems positive enough, but taking a week to work on a house is something that many of us could do in areas much closer to home. However, a major part of the experience—one that cannot really be put into words—is the opportunity of being able to understand the impact of the work we are doing; to see how a community has reacted to much of what they knew to be washed away and destroyed.
During our time in the greater New Orleans area, we saw how many different regions were affected by the storm. The Lower Ninth Ward, which appeared in news reports, did not resemble an urban neighborhood. A few houses had been rebuilt, but much of the area contained the tattered remains of flooded houses—or in some cases just empty lots—with slab foundations being the only sign that a home had ever been there. Areas on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where we were doing our Habitat for Humanity work, were not affected by the extensive flooding seen near the levees and floodwalls, but instead saw an influx of people evacuating the city who needed places to live. In contrast to this, the downtown areas of New Orleans, where much of the city’s money was made and exchanged, looked as though nothing had ever happened. Buildings had been repaired and/or replaced, roads cleaned, trash and debris removed. To many people who visit the city and stay within the main area, it is as if nothing had ever happened. The disaster had come and gone, and life appeared to have returned to normal.
The real question at the end of all of this is simple:
What did I get out of this experience? What am I going to take back with me?
Yes, I made a bunch of wonderful friends that I bonded with faster than I have anyone before. Yes, I got to go and work on a house to help give a family a chance to develop a happy, healthy life. But what I will really take away from this whole experience is perspective, a constant reminder in the back of my head that there will always be problems greater than my own. Simply giving a donation or going on a mission trip is not going to solve the problem, however what I can offer—what we all can offer—is Christ’s love.
Money is spent, houses will fall away, but love will persevere. The small acts of kindness on that Real Break trip are what really will be remembered. Maybe not the individual events themselves, but the love in which they were done. That is what is contagious; that is why we are here.
About The Author
This is a guest post from Eddie Ryan. Eddie is a second-year Master’s student at the University of Connecticut studying Biomedical Engineering. He serves as the Social Media Student Leader on the 2013-2014 Student Advisory Board and as the Event Coordinator for UCONN’s OCF chapter.