An Interview with Catrina Barb, Boston College Student
Back in 2005 Hurricane Katrina caused devastation to areas such as Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. In January of 2008 another Catrina hit the southern coast, only this time she was there to rebuild rather than destroy.
Catrina Barb is a senior at Boston College majoring in Human Development. During her college winter break she signed up for a service trip that went to Waveland, Mississippi to help in rebuilding the houses that were destroyed by the other Katrina. A church in Wayland, Massachusetts organized the trip called Wayland to Waveland. 35 students from Boston College joined local construction workers and other church members for the week long service experience.
Out of her work boots and back in Boston, Barb sat down with me to share about her journey down south.
inTravel: What made you want to sign up for this trip?
Catrina: I have always wanted to do a service trip but all the trips at BC require a year long commitment. This one was only for one week and it looked like a great experience to help and meet new people at the same time.
inTravel: What were your expectations?
Catrina: I was really, really nervous because I didn’t know anyone going on the trip. I also heard that we were going to have to do landscaping and that sounded boring. Another thing that I knew about this trip was that we were going to have to be opening up and sharing our feelings that also made me nervous. I was also apprehensive about spending a week living in such close quarters with people I didn’t know. And not to sound selfish but I was not looking forward to giving up a week of my vacation, I was starting to have fun at home and didn’t want to leave.
inTravel: And now that it’s over what do you think?
Catrina: It turned out to be an incredible experience. I was able to meet very generous and kind people. We all became close within the first day. It was only awkward for a short time but once we played ice breaker games, it became easier to bond. It was also a humbling experience; we were living at a church in Waveland and slept in bunks with about 30 beds in all.
inTravel: Can you describe a typical day?
Catrina: Breakfast lasted for an hour, starting at 6: 30. The local people from the town would cook us good old southern food. We would have grits, biscuits and gravy. My group wasn’t the only other people down there; there were about 200 other people from all across the county; including a fraternity from Virginia Tech, An elderly Church group from Alabama and many other types of people. So during Breakfast we would intermingle with the other groups for a little bit.
After breakfast we would be sent out to a site and help with yard work. Sometimes I would help plant trees, flowers, or mount dirt. I also got to use a staple gun to help put in floors! At 12 we would take a lunch break and then head out to the next site. Dinner was at 5: 30 and after that was reflection time where we would go around and share about our day, who we met, what we felt and things like that.
There would also be some nights where we would play with the cook’s kids and that was a lot fun too.
inTravel: Any challenges?
Catrina: Honestly talking to the local people. It was hard hearing their stories and not crying. I felt weird crying when they were so strong and it didn’t even happen to me. But I feel like they needed that human interaction to see that people still care. At times they feel as if they are forgotten and the government no longer cares.
inTravel: How did people react to your name being Catrina?
Catrina: Ahhhhh good question. Most people would say: ”it’s ok, it’s a pretty name anyways.” I would then tell them that I spell Catrina with a C and that made most feel better. There was one day I was playing with these three 12 year old girls. We were having a lot of fun and they were being clingy but it was in a cute way. At one point they asked, “what is your name again?” when I told them they said, “OH NO, that’s a bad omen” but when I told them how I spelt it they said, ”ok good, because otherwise we were going to tell y ‘all to leave!“
inTravel: Can you share with us some stories you heard from the locals about what went on during the Hurricane?
Catrina: Everybody had to swim. People swam to roof tops or to anything that would get them above water. Some people wouldn’t talk about what happened. But there was one story that really stuck with me. It was about a mother who had three handicapped children. She wouldn’t leave the house because they had no transportation; she thought they could wait the storm out. They didn’t end up surviving. It was really sad, I saw their roof and on top of it there was a sign that said “Handicapped please Help”. The town built a memorial park in their honor. They are hoping that by building parks, it will make people want to move back. But it’s so hard – people can’t afford it yet. Some people can’t even afford sewage systems, they use buckets in front of their houses and trucks come to pick it up.
It’s also shocking because I was in a wealthy suburban area; people had access to cars and were able to escape. But even with that there is so much devastation, imagine what happened in the poorer areas…
inTravel: How was this trip different than your past trips?
Catrina: It wasn’t for pleasure; not to say this wasn’t pleasurable but this was the first trip I wasn’t going on to relax, this was for the sole purpose to help someone else.
inTravel: Let’s talk about how much media attention this area is currently getting.
Catrina: I was shocked. Before I went down there I thought the problem was almost resolved because I stopped hearing about. I thought that after a year and half it would be in a lot better shape then it’s in. People are constantly working down there. There are work trucks everywhere. When you go out to eat everyone is in work outfits and are covered in paint. At this rate they say it won’t be back to normal for another ten years. The news doesn’t really show that, and I think it needs to. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of organizations down there, such as Americorps, Habitat for Humanity and various church groups, but there needs to be more.
inTravel: What type of person do you recommend go on one of these trips?
Catrina: Anyone and everyone.
inTravel: Any Advice?
Catrina: Yes, put your whole heart into it. The best advice I received was , “You can’t look at these people as broken and you as whole, you have to realize that we are all broken and it’s through helping each other that we become more whole.“
© Jenna Spataro