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My life-changing New Orleans service trip – by Peninah Ingabire

My life-changing New Orleans service trip – by Peninah Ingabire

Last semester, I was accepted to participate in Muhlenberg’s New Orleans 2018 Alternative Spring Break trip to help with the ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Each year the Office of Community Engagement offers students opportunities to participate in volunteering experiences in different states across the nation. Muhlenberg students team up with established organizations with a focus on service and helping others in need.


This year, our trip partnered with the St. Bernard Project (SBP) which is a nonprofit organization that was established in March 2006 to help in the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. The mission of SBP is to create housing opportunities so that Hurricane Katrina survivors can return to their homes and communities. Additionally, SBP provides trainings for homeowners and small businesses to be more disaster resilient and works to shrink the time between disaster and recovery. 

I chose to participate in this trip because I was inspired by the work the organization has been doing even after more than 10 years following Hurricane Katrina. We volunteered in New Orleans from March 3-10.  I was excited to work, live and spend time with our group of volunteers which included 14 Muhlenberg students and staff, including Sandrine Uwisanze who is also part of SHE-CAN. After orientation, we were tasked to work on the home of two sisters which had been hit by a tornado and left the family’s home with extensive damages. 

Our main tasks involved hands-on services with the SBP staff through construction work. During our shifts, we mainly worked on mudding and sanding drywalls. Since I had no experience in construction work I was nervous and not sure what to expect. However, it ended up being an amazing experience! Throughout the week, I learned skills that I greatly enjoyed doing and will definitely use in the future.

This experience was eye-opening because I learned about the extensive work that goes into building a house and this made me appreciate the work SBP does even more. Also, I enjoyed the aspect of working in a group. Although the work was physically demanding, we had fun bonding as a team, and it was a privilege to be part of a community making an impact that will help bring a family back home.
By volunteering I gained more knowledge about the rich history of New Orleans both before and after the disaster. I also became aware of the barriers that hinder the community from reaching full recovery such as a lack of awareness and funding. We left with the mission to hopefully raise more awareness of the city’s ongoing needs. This trip was my first visit to New Orleans, and not only was it exciting to explore the city and learn from its amazing and vibrant community but I left knowing my team and I had made a difference. Now more than ever, I’m inspired to share the incredible mission of SBP in hopes that others will want to help bring the next family on the waitlist home.