Written by Katie A. Charbonneau, Americorps Member proudly serving at Celerity Lanier Charter School.
One of my fifth grade students, a quick-witted 10-year-old girl, sits at her desk solving a math question on the whiteboard. She wears her hair in a little bun at the top of her head tied with a gold bow. Her uniform, comprised of a sky blue polo and khakis, is clean. When I ask if she’s been okay since the flood, she tells me she was lucky – her house didn’t flood. She tells me her aunt’s house did, and that it’s bad.
“We walked up in there, and there’s water to here,” she says, pointing to her shins. “I heard water moccasins hissin’, and I ran right outta there.”
According to the National Weather Service, a historic rainfall dumped four trillion gallons of water onto the region between August 12 and August 14. The school I serve flooded with three feet of water. Many of the homes surrounding it flooded as well, including some of my students’ homes.
City Year serves high poverty communities, and according to the United States Census Bureau, between the years 2010 and 2014, roughly 25% of Baton Rouge residents lived below the poverty line. Since the flood, the community has been left reeling. Many are wondering how they get back on their feet when they were struggling to stand upright before the flood. In recent weeks, it is not umcommon to see peoples’ possessions in gigantic garbage bins. You see piles and piles of wood, soaked insulation, sheet-rock, and furniture in front of every house. In some neighborhoods, every single house filled to the ceiling with muddy water.
On August 22, only about half of my students were in school. Some were living in hotels and shelters. One student that lost everything told me he only had his uniform because it was hanging up high in his closet. Others, bused in from a shelter, still don’t have their khakis. When I see them walking down the hall, their jeans tell me a small facet of their story. Their jeans are a symbol of resiliency, strength, and perseverance.
One of City Year’s core values is Ubuntu, a word that comes from a South African proverb that says, “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” This value has presented itself time and time again during this unprecedented natural disaster. While flooding to this extent would cause most people to flee, many ran towards it with courage. One of the first questions many of my fellow City Year AmeriCorps Members asked after the flood was: What can we do to help?
Only a month into service, City Year Baton Rouge has already endured more than we ever thought we would. But our humanity exists only when we serve others, and we will continue to serve. Whether you’re wearing jeans or khakis to school, know that City Year sees you, hears you, and will serve you to the very best of our ability. Look for the red jackets: we’re not here for us; we’re here for you.