UMass Students Help Clean Up in New Orleans

UMB students (from right to left) Clara, Desi and Dennis

UMB students (from right to left) Clara, Desi and Dennis

Taylor Fife

Last semester while most students were getting ready for the end of school and the beginning of summer, another group of students set out to help others and make an impact. The on-campus group United for African Growth and a group of students from the College of Nursing visited New Orleans and tried to make a difference in people’s lives.

The scenes that Denis Bogere described sounded as if they came from a, poverty-stricken, third world country. “It’s like a war zone” Bogere said, “Cars are still on rooftops.” Water was expensive, and its safety questionable. Even months after Hurricane Katrina hit, people were still without basic necessities of life. Many roads in the area were impassable due to potholes and lack of maintenance. Electricity had only become functional in one region the same week that the students from UMass arrived-eight months after the hurricane. “This is the reality,” remarked Bogere.

The student group spent most of their time gutting houses that had been damaged by the flooding. The students split into groups and cleaned out houses, stripping them of everything inside, leaving only the basic frame of the house. The houses will later be refurbished so that people can move in. One house that the group was going to clean was not structurally sound, and had never been entered since the hurricane occurred.

The working conditions were very rough. Due to bacteria and other sources of infectious disease in the area the student volunteers were required to wear bio-hazard suits. Despite the sweltering conditions everyone was willing to help out. “Nobody forced us to go,” said Bogere. “So we actually worked.”

Prior to cleaning out houses the group underwent two days of safety and security training. During this time they were able to work in the kitchen of a shelter that housed between 200 and 300 refugees.

Bogere talked about the reasons for going to New Orleans in the first place. “It’s a moral issue” he said, “we made a moral judgment to go there. Realistically it’s a shame we can sit here in America and we don’t take care of things that are happening in our own backyard.”

United for African Growth is planning another trip to New Orleans over the winter break. They are currently hoping for 50 people to volunteer. Despite the importance of volunteering, Borgere noted that more has to be done besides just that. “If they expect only volunteers, they have another twenty years” before everything is cleaned up,” he said.

While doing service, students form UMass Boston also worked with students from Germany and England. Members of United for African Growth and the School of Nursing felt that people really can learn a lot from each other when serving others together.

According to Bogere, one of the most important things students can do is to create awareness, not only about New Orleans, but about human suffering in all forms. It is involvement and awareness that can prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening.

At first, Denis Bogere had reservations about going on the trip. He felt that helping out in New Orleans had very little to do with the purpose of United for African Growth. Justin, another club member pointed out that relief is the club’s purpose, and relief is what the people in New Orleans needed. Borgere felt that the US government had the responsibility and resources to take care of the task, and that a club from UMass Boston would have little impact. Bogere and United for African Growth decided that it was a moral issue and the trip had to be made. All who attended felt very good about their actions. As Borgere said, “We did a great job.”