Friday, September 09, 2005

Hurricane Katrina -- College Students to the Rescue

College Students to the Rescue

By Fred Owens

I see the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, houses in heaps, roofs in yards, mud everywhere, and I know what flood damage can do to the interior of a house – if it can be saved at all and not torn down. How are we going to clean that all up, I wondered. The next day I visited a college campus and saw the vigorous, healthy, unburdened youths going to their classes. I put the two together. There’s a big job that needs to be done – a lot of hard, dirty, manual labor cleaning up the debris, and those kids look just perfect for the task ahead.

I read that the students at Tulane and other colleges in New Orleans have been accepted on an emergency basis at other schools around the country – a generous offer. But I ask, who is going to clean up the Tulane campus? Are they going to hire underlings or migrant workers?

I think all the college students from New Orleans have an opportunity to perform a valuable public service, starting with the cleaning up of their own campus. What a valuable experience it would be for these privileged young people to take off one semester, to don a hard hat, gloves and boots and get to work, to get dirt under their fingernails and calluses on their hands, to fall asleep dead tired after an exhausting day, and to have sore muscles.

What if twenty-five students volunteered from every campus in the nation to give up one semester, and go to Mississippi and New Orleans this winter. They could live in tents and barracks, earn a small wage and get tuition credit. There’s been talk of a national service draft. I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do, but if we had such a draft, we could give our young people a simple choice – Baghdad or New Orleans.

I would love to teach them the art of the wheelbarrow and the shovel. I would call it Introduction to Basic Labor 101. These bright students would learn quickly.

How about picking up broken branches and loading them into a truck? I could show them how to do that too. We would move on to advance techniques liked the use of the chainsaw and crowbar in the dismantling of damaged buildings. Oh yes, after we dismantle the building, we have to load all that in the truck too.

At night, after all that hard work, the students could have discussions about their grandparents and the generations that came before them. They would know a little something about the backbreaking work on the old farm and factories, the work that was done long ago, the work that built up their families, the work that made it possible for them to go to college

Oh, there’s nothing more beautiful than a hard day’s work and sweat dripping off your noise – it makes you feel satisfied and like you’re a part of things. If those kids come to the Gulf Coast and pitch in on the cleanup, it will be an experience they will treasure all their lives. They will go back to their colleges and learn special skills and have wonderful careers – but every time they see a man working with a pick and shovel by the side of a road, or a fellow tearing shingles off a roof on a hot day, or workers out on the farm fields – they will know what work is and they’ll feel proud that they made their own contribution.

I may be dreaming. But we have to have dreams and hopes to get through this national disaster. We are called to do extraordinary things. We are called to give and to sacrifice. Many foreign countries have offered financial aid and technical assistance. We should accept that aid and not be too proud. But the cleanup, the hands-on work, the hardest, dirtiest job – we have to do that ourselves. I lived on the Gulf Coast years ago and I remember seeing mullets skip across the water and watching the sunset. It will come back. I believe it, and I hope our most idealistic youth are ready to make their contribution.

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