Students travel to New Orleans for week of service

Portland State students who have spent the last five months watching the excavation of New Orleans from the couch now have the opportunity to lend their muscle to the effort themselves. ASPSU is teaming with OSPIRG, the Campus Crusade for Christ and Northwest Medical Teams International to send eight to 10 Portland State students to New Orleans for seven days of service at little or no direct cost to the volunteers.

While eight to 10 students may not sound like much, this opportunity is open to any comparably sized group of students who are able to raise at least half the cost of the airfare to get to New Orleans. “We have room for at least 10 more teams of eight to 10 people,” said Barbara Agnew, of Northwest Medical Teams International (NWMTI).

ASPSU has been raising money and donated goods for the victims of Hurricane Katrina since September. They concluded their efforts in January with Rock for Relief, which raised $1,200.

“When we delivered the money and goods to Northwest Medical Teams. They sat us down and asked if we were interested in putting together a team of students to go down to New Orleans,” said Jessica Lyness, director of communications at ASPSU. “OSPIRG and Campus Crusade for Christ had already been looking for an opportunity to go there, and for funding. Now it turns out that ASPSU has the opportunity, and is looking for students.”

NWMTI is a non-profit, Portland-based Christian organization that provides aid and medical supplies to some of the most devastated and disaster-stricken places in the world. It is committed to providing needs-responsive emergency relief to suffering people, regardless of their political or religious affiliations. Usually, the organization’s efforts to set up and supply hospitals and dental clinics take place in locations like Pakistan and Mali. Hurricane relief in the Gulf Coast is one of NWMTI’s few U.S. operations.

“Our volunteer teams will be doing a lot of construction-type projects,” Agnew said. “They’ll be cleaning out homes, and reconstructing homes that have been torn down to the studs.”

“This is an open opportunity,” Lyness said. “We’re looking at June, but there’s no solid date yet. We’re planning on getting a list of interested folks from OSPIRG, then have a meeting to hammer out the cost and logistics and put together a concrete team. Then we’ll meet with Northwest Medical Teams again.”

ASPSU must raise the money to pay for the flights, although according to Agnew, “Northwest Medical teams can and will help those students who aren’t able to raise the full cost.”

Students will be provided with three meals a day and a place to stay while in Louisiana. NWMTI has partnered with Catholic Charities of New Orleans to provide housing, and all accommodations will be in churches.

“We’re really looking forward to partnering with students,” Agnew said. “We’ve worked with students before, and they bring so much spirit. They also bring a really fresh perspective to the people we’re helping. Even four or five months out, people there are so discouraged and weary. Everything is topsy-turvy for them, and it’s really a big deal to have the students with us.”

“They’ve warned us to brace ourselves,” Lyness said. “At that point, it will have been eight or nine months after the hurricane, but they’ve said it will still be a mess, just mile after mile of devastation. That’s something we’re not used to seeing in this country.”

“Allowing students to go to New Orleans to volunteer to reconstruct the city from such a historical natural disaster complements our organization’s mission by affording students the opportunity to provide civic services where our country needs it most,” Connolly said. “Students will gain an understanding of why the poor and homeless were left to fend for themselves without any federal help.”

“We want to provide an opportunity for students at PSU to get out of their city and see the needs of the world,” said Kristi Corno of Campus Crusade for Christ. “We believe that this spring break trip will provide personal development that can only be gained if a student should decide to come.”

For those students interested in joining the volunteer team with Campus Crusade for Christ and OSPIRG, there will be an informational meeting at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, in room 328 in the Smith Center.

Students interested in forming their own teams to perform a week of service in New Orleans should contact Jessica Lyness, student government communications director.