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YDS students, staff report on service expedition to New Orleans

By Frank Brown, Assistant Director, Publications

Volunteers and a weed whackerFrom eating fried crocodile to hauling mud from a flood-ravaged home, a group of YDS staffers, students and others from the broader Yale community experienced post-Katrina New Orleans over eight days of Spring Break.

The group of 28, including six with YDS connections, took part in the March 8 to 15 service expedition. It was sponsored by the Yale University Chaplain’s Office for the third consecutive year after the devastating 2004 hurricane.

“There is still a very urgent need,” said Delfin Bautista ’10 M.Div., co-coordinator of the YDS Community Life Committee. “I was [also] there last year, and even in a year you don’t see a difference.” Bautista and several other participants offered their impressions of the New Orleans pilgrimage during a luncheon talk in the YDS community five days after their return.

The trip, for which the participants paid their own airfare, combined intense volunteer work with exercises aimed at boosting the participants’ interfaith understanding of one another. The week began with a four-hour, Monday morning stint removing mud and debris from the home of an elderly woman who had fallen victim to a shady contractor.

“She’d gotten insurance money for the damage and hired a contractor but he’d disappeared,” explained Emalie Mayo, senior administrative assistant for the Divinity School’s Department of External Relations and Development. “This happens fairly often.”

One of the more trying parts of the journey was a trip to a snake- and mosquito-infested bayou to plant marsh hay—vegetation that can offer protection against future storms by anchoring soil. One of the participants, Evelyn Rodriguez, office assistant to YDS Dean Harold Attridge, fell into the forbidding swamp. Bautista praised the group’s perseverance in the bayou, saying “Even though people didn’t really enjoy it, they gave it their all.”

In a marathon session that spanned Friday and Saturday, all 28 participants took part in an awareness-building exercise in the hostel where they were living. Sitting in a circle, each person spent five minutes describing their own faith – or non-faith – position. The others in the circle then posed questions and a free-flowing discussion ensued. The group included a smorgasbord of mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims.

“Most people connected it, even if just a little bit, to what we had been doing,” recalled Rachel Heath ’10 M.A.R.
Aside from departing the Big Easy with a better grasp of the city’s problems and the group’s faith traditions, at least one volunteer took away something highly practical – construction skills.

“Never again will I have someone come to my house for this kind of work,” said Rodriguez. “It is so easy.”

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