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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

More than just a tour group:

National Collegiate Volunteers travel to New Orleans

Published: May 2, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

It has been almost three years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, and as 18 members of National Collegiate Volunteers’ (NCV) second trip to New Orleans saw, the area is still recovering. From March 19 to March 24, Noah Kaplan ’08, Gaurav Gharti-Chhetri ’10, Adam Greenblatt ’10, Jaehwan Oh ’10, Matthew Kleiman ’10, Tia Oliver ’10, Maiya Marshall ’08 and Nicole Rosenberg ’10, along with ten students from Tufts University, traveled south to help with disaster relief efforts.

During their stay, members learned about the social and political aspects of the catastrophe from various guest speakers. Among the speakers were Steven Bingler of Concordia, the firm in charge of redeveloping New Orleans; Sandy Rosenthal from, an activist group which raises awareness of the engineering failures of the US Army Corps of Engineers; Captain Brian Weiss, who served as Lieutenant in the 5th District when storm hit; and Wes Kungel, the Deputy Regional Manager to the office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.

One of the group’s most important contacts was TJ Stranova, an Assistant Professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

“He spoke to us about the health care crisis because to date, only 4 out of 7 hospitals are functioning in New Orleans. Indeed, one of many problems that exist include a shortage of health care infrastructure. There are fewer hospital beds and fewer doctors, sparking new interest in health clinics,” explained Kaplan, who is President of the Brandeis Chapter and Co-Founder of NCV.

Stranova directed NCV to the New Orleans Faith Health Alliance (NOFHA), an up and coming health clinic that will provide physical, emotional and spiritual care for uninsured workers and their families.

Members of NCV are especially excited to work with NOFHA, as they believe the organization will better utilize their resources than Common Ground, the organization they worked with on the last trip.

“We had eight students from Brandeis and ten from Tufts willing to do work, and they just weren’t utilizing our brainpower or our manpower,” said Gharti-Chhetri. “They couldn’t find the right jobs for us, and we were very disappointed with the jobs we were assigned. We wanted to be part of something efficient and we didn’t know how much of an impact we were making.”

Kaplan echoed his sentiment of disappointment, explaining, “Common Ground laid the foundation for progress, but it is frustratingly slow. We were there in August, and it didn’t look like they had made much progress since then.”

NOFHA will allow college students to use their specialized talents to help the clinic get off the ground by the fall of this year. One of the biggest projects is fundraising, since NOFHA’s projected cost of operation is $5.7 million over three years, and $2 million just to get it up and running. NOFHA also needs help with writing grants, creating a website and Facebook page, PowerPoint presentations, radio and television promotion, landscape design, mural painting, and research of low-cost pharmaceuticals—projects that college life has prepared students to do.

Kaplan added, “We realized that was our calling as a group. We’re able to take the information we learned about the health care crisis from professors at Tulane and do something about it. We’re able to do much more than a week’s worth of community service in New Orleans. Essentially, we’ve become consultants helping a greater cause.”

While NCV focuses on helping with relief efforts, another important part of the trip was experiencing the rich culture of New Orleans. Students ate authentic food, visited the French Quarter and the famous Bourbon Street, and much more.

Greenblatt explained, “Basically, everybody thinks it’s just some swamp but aside from the areas that are torn down completely, some parts are really beautiful. There’s a lot of history, a lot of culture. We learned so much about the community and the culture and we were able to see that there’s a lot of people helping out, and that there’s still a lot of racial issues down there.”

Gharti-Chhetri added, “This was my second trip. It’s an amazing city. There’s a cultural richness with the hospitality, the jazz, and Bourbon Street. And on top of that, we had an amazing team chemistry. Everybody got along right away, so it was a great bonding experience.”

Although the group recently finished its last trip to New Orleans, they are already planning the next trip, tentatively scheduled for August 18 to 24. This trip should be even better since “there’s going to be more structure since we’re only working with the NOFHA project,” said Gharti-Chhetri. “We wanted something great to do, and this is the best possible option. Now we have found something that is tangible and can take full advantage of student involvement from the ground up.”