It’s hard to believe that this trip has nearly come to an end. I’m so thankful for this opportunity, and my placement at Children’s Hospital has made it a very valuable experience. Right now I’m working on establishing a network that future DukeEngage-New Orleans students can use in the hospital, as this was vital for the success of the Junior Ambassador Program. Since I began this multi-year project when it was fresh, I know that I’m having a great impact that will hopefully set the stage for future work to be done.
But I’ve also learned a great deal from the activities that our DukeEngage group has done as a whole. Most notably, we had a dinner with Jim Kelly, the Executive Director and Founder of Covenant House. Covenant House is a homeless shelter for at-risk youth in New Orleans, and I can confidently say that I’ve become more socially aware from that short dinner than I have with any other speaker in my time at Duke. Jim Kelly informed us of the difficulties that Covenant House endured during Hurricane Katrina, but he also taught us about the stigma that surrounds his work. He told us about the lives that these youth typically face, and he offered an insight into youth crime that I had never considered before.
And to echo Joy, I also found the plantation excursion intriguing. Our first destination, Oak Alley Plantation, embodied the picturesque, extravagant plantation house atmosphere. White marble pillars, white paint, and an intricately dressed tour guide complemented the idea of an idyllic, peaceful life in the Louisiana country. However, by the time we arrived at Whitney Plantation, the idea that the Louisiana countryside meant a peaceful life all but shattered as we entered the chapel. Initially, we were handed guest lanyards with the picture of a slave on the back. I didn’t think much of it until we were told in that chapel that the face on our lanyards was an accurate representation of a child that had been forced into slavery on the plantation. As we exited the chapel and walked past the strikingly lifelike bronze statues that were created in the image of these children, I couldn’t help but feel remorse for our tainted history. It wasn’t until that moment that I acquired the realization that the very bricks I were walking on were constructed using the blood and sweat that was leeched by the institution of slavery. Moreover, any notion of an idyllic existence in the Louisiana countryside during the times of slavery were quashed following my time at Whitney.
So as I begin to pack my bags and prepare my return home, I know that I will leave New Orleans with a heavy heart. Despite being a city of contradictions with a troubled history, it holds a rich sense of identity and culture that anyone in the world can identify with and learn something from. I am also confident that my work in Children’s Hospital has provided me with knowledge and ideas that I will continue to use during my time at Duke and beyond. So while it still may be hard to comprehend the idea that my time here is almost over, at least I am able to depart knowing that New Orleans has shaped my experiences in a significant way.