Eighteen months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans remains a city in crisis.
Drinking water in the Lower Ninth Ward wasn't officially fit to consume until November. Police work out of trailers and without a crime lab as the murder rate surges. And as of last Monday, Louisiana's Road Home program — responsible for disbursing $7.5 billion in federal aid — had resolved only 532 of the more than 100,000 applications from homeowners seeking buyouts or reconstruction help.
It would be easy to simply shake our heads and shield our eyes from the slow death of one of America's most enchanting cities. But as Oregonians, we can do better. We can offer the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast our compassion, our expertise, our voices. And the time to do so is now.
That's the idea behind the Flight of Friendship, New Orleans. It's a grass-roots effort to stimulate long-term involvement and attention from Oregon residents to residents of the Gulf Coast. Like its predecessor, the Flight for Freedom, which dispatched more than 1,000 Oregonians to New York City after the 9/11 attacks, this trip is meant to offer moral and material support to an ailing city.
The Flight of Friendship will be captained by many of those same goodwill ambassadors who stood up in the wake of 9/11. This time, Oregon Treasurer Randall Edwards, former Portland Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bruce Samson, the United Way's Brent Stewart and civic stalwarts Sho and Loen Dozono expect to enlist a broad spectrum of community activists, business people, philanthropists and civic leaders for an April 1-4 visit to New Orleans. There, the delegation will tour devastated neighborhoods, assist in cleanup efforts, brainstorm ways to help further and spend needed tourist dollars soaking up the Big Easy's inimitable culture.
Perhaps most important, dozens of Oregonians will return with a better understanding of what New Orleans needs to get back on its feet — and a personal commitment to help make that happen.
Mercy Corps has been working alongside Gulf Coast residents since Hurricane Katrina's landfall in August 2005, applying the primary lesson we have learned from other disaster-rebuilding efforts around the globe: that disaster survivors are the best agents of their own recovery.
We Oregonians don't have all the answers, nor do we claim to know what's best for New Orleans. In fact, we have much to learn. But we need only to consider the ocean swells off Seaside, the geological fault lines under the West Hills or the occasional volcanic snorts of Mount St. Helens to be reminded of how vulnerable we are to our own Katrinalike disaster.
At the core of this trip to New Orleans is friendship and solidarity, a chance to stand alongside our fellow citizens and pledge ourselves to helping a city and a region rebuild. Oregonians can help make a difference.
For more information on the Flight of Friendship, visit www.FlightofFriendship.com.