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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Students Make a Difference In New Orleans

UMB Students Make a Difference In New Orleans

While you were home relaxing and enjoying your time off from school or perhaps out in the work force trying to make yourself a buck, a small army of UMass Boston students attempted to make a positive change in the world by helping out those in need. About 50 students made a 32-hour bus trek to volunteer seven days of their winter break. They labored eight hours a day helping Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans more than two years after the devastating category five storm struck the city.

The trip was the brainchild of two UMass Boston students, Muna Kangsen and Denis Bogere. Both had gone to New Orleans the previous summer and were so moved by the experience that they promised to return with reinforcements.

Bogere, president of United for African, remembers the expectations of the students before they arrived in New Orleans. “Most of the kids thought that the city would be full of construction, government officials, and determined residents,” he said, but much to their surprise they saw the opposite.

“We saw street after street of inactivity, nothing was really happening,” Bogere recalled. “There were so many homes, whole neighborhoods, which had been virtually untouched since the hurricane two years ago.”

That was the reality that Kangsen and Bogere had wanted to bring to their fellow students. “They learned the world did not stop in Massachusetts and that if our own nation could do this to them, they could do it to us.”

Organizing a group so large was no easy task. They had originally planned to bring 100 students, but were forced to cut the number to 50.

Bogere and Kangsen submitted a proposal to the Undergraduate Student Senate’s Budget and Finance Committee, and were provided with 60 percent of the funding needed for the trip. Through bake sales, notable donations from UMass Boston Trustee Alex Kulenovic, The Asian Student Center, The Trotter Institute and Professor Robert Johnson of the Africana Department, the trip was nearly completely financed.

Two organizations offered to accommodate the students during their stay in New Orleans. The Common Ground Collective offered to house 35 students, while the remaining 15 were to stay at the Universalist Unitarian First Church. However, once the group arrived in New Orleans, they found out that the Common Ground Collective was unable to accommodate them and the group organizers scrambled to make alternative arrangements. The Universalist Unitarian First Church ultimately took in the entire group.

Once settled, the students got down to work. From a total of 11 homes in the neighborhood of Gentilly, the group removed everything from moldy debris to ruined heirlooms and bathtubs to cabinets. “We stripped these houses, and just left a structure standing,” Bogere said. While clearing out the last house, Bogere recalled the owner saying to him, “You’ve just thrown out seven years of my life, but I’m really happy that you students from Boston came all the way here to help me do it.”

After each long day of work, a kitchen crew of UMass Boston students, headed by Shelly Oliver, served home-cooked meals for the band of volunteers at the church. The conversations the students had during their evening down time were filled with inspiration, frustration, anger and hope. For many students, Bogere said, “The way they went is not the way they came back.”

The story of a devastated New Orleans may no longer be as prevalent in the media as the latest celebrity gossip, but the situation still exists. There are still victims that need to be saved from the lingering wrath of Katrina. New Orleans is still a city in need of heroes to come and rescue them from her clutches. The group of volunteers know that stringent fact all too well.

Bogere himself, had this to say: “To all of the students who made the trip to New Orleans, I say: one would have thought that with so many young people getting things done would be a problem but it turned out not to be so. You guys were defined by action and exceptional behavior, which knows no boundaries, worked in New Orleans with the sole purpose of helping in the rebuilding of the areas adversely affected by Katrina, it was very wonderful, we redefined history and built more frontiers and sought more friendships. Bravo to you all.”

This coming spring break another group of students are planning to return to New Orleans to help in the salvaging efforts. So instead of sleeping in late or sunbathing someplace exotic, why not do something significant that could change not only someone else’s life but your own.