Letter Home: Launch Highlights from New Orleans, LA

“…this leg of our trip was clearly rooted in community efforts to improve a city that boasts a unique sense of unity.”

Dear Friends and Family,

What a whirlwind our stay in New Orleans has been! Despite coming from dozens of different universities across the United States, we can comfortably say that we all shared one thing in common: we were beyond nervously excited to begin this experience.

Our IHP memories began in the Bourbon House Hostel in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana. With 34 people packed into a small home with only two bathrooms, we got to know each other extraordinarily quickly, and within a few days, were organizing community dinners, planning group trips to Jazz shows on Frenchman Street, and cheering on the New Orleans Pelicans as newly converted fans.

With only two weeks to orient ourselves to IHP, we have learned and seen an incredible amount in such a short time. We’ve had the opportunity to do everything from meeting the owners of a pharmacy-restaurant combination business that believes food can heal, alongside prescriptions, to hearing from non-profit workers and community members in the 9th ward about their experiences post-Katrina.

Above all else, this leg of our trip was clearly rooted in community efforts to improve a city that boasts a unique sense of unity. We spent time discussing the processes of disaster and recovery, and how these things shape the history and culture of a city like New Orleans. We spoke often about class, race, gender, and socioeconomic factors that drive public health in different communities throughout NOLA. These discussions ran fluidly through the entire trip, and at one point, we even had a cab driver tell us that his “word of the year was going to be gentrification.”

We also had a very special opportunity to have a private screening of a new documentary entitled “Big Charity,” about the story of New Orleans’ Charity Hospital. Charity Hospital stands tall and impressive in downtown NOLA, but its once bustling halls are now empty. After Katrina, a considerable amount of backdoor policy decisions and purposeful ignorance led the city to abandon hope that Charity could be saved, despite it being clean and ready for re-opening. A huge amount of animosity from the surrounding community boiled over, and still exists in many aspects today. While the details of the events are complicated, this may have been one of our most impactful experiences in terms of understanding the sometimes strained relationships between communities and the people in them, and how that affects the health of the city as a whole.

Despite our sometimes heavy course topics, and the problems we witnessed, New Orleans has a pulse that keeps it thriving with music, food, art, and history. We were lucky to have felt that for a short time, and we can’t believe how much we learned in only two weeks. AS our international journey begins, we couldn’t have asked for a better launching point.

Sincerely,

IHP Spring 2015 Health & Community II

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