Exchange students help in New Orleans

By on May 14, 2009

Spring break for high school teens usually means sleeping in, hanging out with friends or traveling to vacation spots with family.

For Luck Wachiraskulchok (exchange teacher from Thailand at Rotolo Middle School), Elisabeth Overath and Afeenarmia BahMinor (German and Malaysian students attending Geneva High School), and Po Wongwoottisaroch and Ryoko Kawaguchi (Thai and Japanese students attending Kaneland High School), it meant joining the United Methodist Church of Geneva’s mission trip to New Orleans.

After enduring a long ride to St. Bernard Parish; sleeping for a week on bunk-beds at Camp Hope; rising early to drywall, sand and paint houses under restoration; and conversing with locals who had lost everything, the exchange teacher and students returned home exhausted but happy with what they had learned and how much they had accomplished.

Po wondered before the trip just what a hammer and toolbox were. He is now adept at mudding drywall on a ceiling and has become an experienced painter. He didn’t mind the warmer weather and Cajun music, either.

“I had a great experience in New Orleans. This trip and the people I met in New Orleans changed my life,” Ryoko said. “I was surprised a lot. It’s been almost four years, but people in New Orleans still need help. Some of them don’t have a house yet. Some trees are still dead. Many stores are still closed.”

“When we were working, we had a chance to meet some people who were in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina came,” Ryoko said. “They showed us pictures and videos that they took of their houses and communities right after the hurricane. That was a great experience to meet them. I’m so happy I got an opportunity to help people. I hope I can do something like that soon again.”

The Katrina work trip took place March 28 through April 2. The teacher and students named above are studying in the U.S. this year under the auspices of AFS Intercultural Programs. They were joined by 16 other volunteers from the church.

Photo: Exchange students from local schools took part in Camp Hope, the United Church of Geneva’s mission trip to New Orleans. Courtesy Photo