Looking to build homes and communities, a small group of UCSB students will travel to New Orleans this Winter Break to continue relief efforts in response to last year’s Hurricane Katrina.
The trip will be the third time a group of UCSB students has traveled to the city to work Common Ground, a hurricane relief organization based in New Orleans. In 2005, one such group numbered 46 volunteers, however this year only 15 students will help rebuild and resettle affected communities.
“In our nation, when something this catastrophic happens, it really hits close to home,” said Gahl Shottan, a second-year anthropology and psychology major who traveled to New Orleans last year.
According to Shottan, the trip will be more self-sufficient than it has been previously. Students bought their own plane tickets and have collected funds independently in addition to the fundraising done as a group.
Despite the amount of independent planning, Shottan said the volunteers will work and stay together in New Orleans.
“It’s important for us to stay together as a group, because the work is very draining,” Shottan said.
As it did last year, Common Ground is hosting the group. The organization gutted houses that suffered flood damage last year, and intends to finish the process by this Christmas.
Aside from performing physical labor, the students will study the emergency response protocol in the area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and will advocate for residents currently fighting eviction notices, Shottan said.
“Most big newspapers won’t write anything about New Orleans,” Shottan said. “If you go on some of the independent press sources, you’ll read that things are just as bad as they were in the weeks after Katrina.”
Because the group acknowledges that there is only so much exposure the volunteers can get in the media, Shottan said, its members wrote reports about what they witnessed after the previous two trips, and tried to spread the word about conditions on the Gulf Coast.
“All you can really do is make a ruckus, and show the campus community what is really going on,” Shottan said.
The Black Studies department is currently teaching a class on Hurricane Katrina and its effects, featuring several guest lecturers, including James To, the Associated Students’ associate director of community affairs.
According to To, the focus of the class was not only to see the effects of Hurricane Katrina, but to relate the problems of New Orleans to problems found in the Santa Barbara community.
“The project is very student-oriented,” To said. “The Community Affairs Board helps with logistics, but it is really up to the students.”
To said he wanted students to have a firm understanding of the causes and effects of the flooding in New Orleans, and think about what can be done to prevent it in the future.
“We want to provide background for the plight of New Orleans,” To said.
Student Government Advisor Aaron Jones said students have been instrumental in organizing the trips and informing their peers about the state of Katrina-affected areas.
“Students come back with an intense desire to make sure other students know the conditions on the Gulf Coast,” Jones said.