Friday, May 23, 2008

Seeds of Human Resilence

Today I complete my first volunteer week with Mary Queen of Vietnam, Community Development Corporation (MQVN CDC). I smile while reflecting back on my oh-so-many adventures, mini epiphanies and blossoming relationships that have brightened my stay here in New Orleans.

On one of my first days of work, Tuan Nguyen, the Director of Development for MQVN CDC gave me an extensive tour of East New Orleans, particularly the Versailles Community. He highlighted the devastated areas and the following redevelopment efforts stemmed by community organizing. After Hurricane Katrina, many communities were devastated and the human will to fight became scarce. The Versailles community, which is home to predominantly Vietnamese families, is not unique in this regards. Nearly thirteen miles from downtown New Orleans, the Versailles community stands in the wreckage of thousands of grungy abandoned houses that were once home to the vibrant and booming New Orleans East. Many businesses shut down with no plans to return, and thousands of residents evacuated leaving behind generations of memories. Strangely, in the midst of this desolate backdrop, the Versailles community has sort of emerged like a baby butterfly finding her way back home. After several years of hard work and community commitment, over 1,000 people have returned to Versailles.

I saw the strength of the city as I passed by hundreds of restored homes, and businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores and medical clinics. I hear the tales of children back in public schools, private schools and even newly constructed Charter schools which were recreated to fulfill the developmental needs of the struggling youth. However, out of all the vast development projects I witnessed, the most touching scene for me was a beautifully landscaped patch of land, which was dressed by bursting colorful flowers and lush vibrant greenery. What makes this small plot of land even more striking was the fact that it was surrounded by other empty and desolate nuetral grounds of weed and dirt. This particular vivacious nuetral ground was a community project organized and funded purely by community member, some of which lost everything, but hope. This plot of land represents the hope that the entire community holds onto, in light of the hardships that they were handed. The dirt and weeds represent struggle, in which only community commitment and self-sacrifice can slowly overcome.

Although Versailles is hardly an ideal development, the vast amounts of improvements that have been accomplished in such a short amount of time, despite lacking resources, have become the inspirational force behind the redevelopment of many other devastated communities in New Orleans. The community was certain that if they rapidly rebuilt and occupied their homes, the city government would have to provide services. Perhaps the most important key to their success is that the community refused to place its recovery into the hands of the government. My exploration of this small, yet inspiring community has helped me realize that underneath the ashes of despair, there will always lay the seeds of human resilience: courage, self-sacrifice and love.

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