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Making A Difference Far From Fletcher

Making A Difference Far From FletcherNearly a dozen students from Tufts’ Fletcher School spent their spring break in New Orleans chipping away – one house at a time - at the massive amount of debris that remains six months after Hurricane Katrina.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.12.06] Eleven students from Tufts’ Fletcher School boarded two rental vans this spring break and set out for New Orleans to lend a hand in the post-Katrina clean-up effort. A reporter and photographer from The Boston Globe traveled with the group, documenting the highs and lows of a trip spent “on the road and in the muck, gutting houses ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, one shovel at a time,” according to the newspaper.

"I have to admit, this is a lot harder than I thought," 24-year-old Sara Celiberti, who is from Italy, told the Globe three days into the trip, just after the Fletcher students and workers from ACORN – the national social justice organization that served as the students’ contact in the region - had joined forces to strip a house.

FletcherstudentAccording to the Globe, the students, most of whom had no construction experience, cracked sheetrock with shovels, hammers and crowbars and then carted off the rubble in wheelbarrows and plastic bins.

"I forget how good it feels to be physically tired and not just hunched over a computer in the library," Scotland native and Fletcher student Gillian Cull told the newspaper while unwinding after a hard day’s work at a café in New Orleans’ French Quarter, where the students typically refueled and relaxed before returning to the FEMA tent city where they stayed.

The next morning, the Globe reported, the students took on a more emotionally-grueling demolition effort. While few personal items remained in the home they had picked apart a day earlier, their next assignment was chock full of treasures – wedding photos, Mardi Gras beads, sports memorabilia and love letters – left over from one family’s former life.

“Gutting a house post-Katrina is like conducting an archeological dig of a family's life,” the newspaper reported. The students told the Globe that this particular house, “with its lived-in look, was the hardest emotionally.”

KitchenThe toughest physical challenge, the students agreed, came on their last day in New Orleans. Ripping apart “a buckling floor and sodden ceilings” at 6900 Virgilian St. proved to be intense labor, they told the Globe. When the task was completed, a FEMA worker thanked them for “a great job,” according to the newspaper. They then went to a hamburger joint in New Orleans and celebrated the trip, toasting “To mold and insulation.”

The next morning, they piled back onto the vans and began the return trip to Tufts, with plenty of food for thought.

“They wonder how New Orleans can fully recover,” the Globe reported. “They wonder whether parts of it should. They marvel over those who have worked day after day for months; they've put only four days in and are achy and exhausted.”

Despite the physical wear and tear of the trip and the emotional toll it took, one student – the trip’s organizer – said that it was rewarding to make a small difference in the world.

"It feels nice to have a sense of service, because when I came to graduate school I had to put those kinds of things on hold for my studies,” Fletcher student Marta McLellan told the Globe. “So it's good to have a vacation that was also validating."

(Photos courtesy of Fletcher students. See additional Fletcher student photos

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