Charity becomes widely publicized and readily available during times of natural disasters. A prominent example is something widely remember today with great despair. Hurricane Katrina hit the Iconic city of New Orleans in 2005 causing a breach in the levees that flooded the lower 9th ward to an unimaginable degree. The media was filled with images and stories of families stranded on rooftops, trapped inside flooded houses, and taking shelter in the overcrowded and under-supplied Superdome. The aftermath of the hurricane resulted in gifts and aid arriving in all form from all around the country. One of the service projects that arose from the disaster was the Make It Right Foundation established by Brad Pitt (Katrina 2009).
The gift of a home from by Brad Pitt to the families lower 9th ward was one given selflessly and with the best intentions. The community was filled with relief and joy when Pitt committed to rebuilding homes, and showed real progress which seemed to be in short supply (Make It Right 2007). Though his intentions were solely focused on helping those in need, he failed to do what almost all givers fail to do. He failed to recognize what was actually wanted by the receiver of this gift, and what was appropriate for the situation. This illustrates the questionable role that personal interests play in gift exchange and weather these interest are taking place consciously or unconsciously to influence the actions of the giver. The results of this can finally be concluded more than ten years after the disaster, now that it is clear what long term effects personal interests can have on gift giving.
In the event of a disaster such as Katrina, it would seem that those in need would take any help they could possibly receive, no matter what strings came attached to it. This was the case for many families who were left desperate. So the It Right Foundation set out to rebuild houses for these families who so desperately needed them. But now, more than ten years later there houses are left vacant and lifeless. Why? Because these houses, although built with the best intentions, were not what what the families wanted, and certainly not what they could afford. Of course, families would never be able to get back what they lost in the storm, but one thing they could always hold onto was the spirit and character of New Orleans. Even in the lower 9th ward, where the Brad Pitt homes were build, families with very low incomes still possessed and expressed the character of New Orleans, especially through the style of their homes.
The picture above shows the French Creole architecture that was popular in the south, but became mostly developed in New Orleans. This style of architecture is part of what gives New Orleans its character, and was present even in the lowest level of housing. The photo below shows one of the Brad Pitt houses built by the Make It Right Foundation.
I traveled to New Orleans over this past January and have seen these houses myself. When looking at them, I felt awkward, like there was just something wrong; they certainly didn’t look like homes to me. These relief houses were nothing like the New Orleans culture I had begun to experience. They seemed out of place, and regarded by staff of other relief programs I had been working with as unfitting. Gerald Billes, who works for the Make It Right Foundation Commented that, “We did actually listen to what the neighborhoods folks might like in a house… They were looking for a porch, and they were were looking for a protected area to drive their car into. And they wanted something that looked familiar”(Whoriskey 1). The project seems to have missed the mark of what I consider to be the most important of those requests from the community. These houses do not seem familiar and they do not represent the New Orleans culture. They have receiver numerous critiques for being to “futuristic” looking. But why would the project do this? They lost sight of what the true purposes of the project was and got to caught up in their own goals of producing energy efficient and storm resistant housing. Even though what was done here, was done with the best intentions, the Make It Right Foundation let their personal goals cloud the integrity of the gift giving. The gift given ended up being more of what the project wanted than the people.
In a report from August, 2015 a local, Mrs. Roberts comments “Make it Right started with good intentions. What it ended up being was an experiment on the African-American community. The non-profits rushed to help when the cameras were on us, but now they’ve all gone” (Ensor 1). This sums up the processes of gift giving in respects to the Make It Right foundations. The houses created certainly resemble and experiment which then trickles down to the greater problem of using the community as an experiment as described by Mrs. Roberts. But that is an entirely different topic that should be discussed at another time. Never the less, the Make It Right Foundation was influenced by their own personal interests. They may have seen these interests as concurrent with those of the people but this was not the case. It goes to show that those in the position of giving can never (and if ever, rarely), selflessly give a gift with only the need of the receiver in mind.
Ensor, Jose. “Brad Pitt’s Rotting Relief Homes and Other Problems Facing New Orleans, a Decade after Hurricane Katrina.” National Post Brad Pitts Rotting Relief Homes and Other Problems Facing New Orleans a Decade after HurricaneKatrina Comments. The Telegraph, 17 Aug. 2015. Web. 261 Mar. 2016. <http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/brad-pitts-rotting-relief-homes-and-other-problems-facing-new-orleans-a-decade-after-hurricane-katrina>.
“History – Make It Right.” Make It Right. Brad Pitt, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2016. <http://makeitright.org/about/history/>.
History.com Staff. “Hurricane Katrina.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 27 Mar. 2016. <http://www.history.com/topics/hurricane-katrina>.
Whoriskey, Peter. “What Happened When Brad Pitt and His Architects Came to Rebuild New Orleans.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/28/what-happened-when-brad-pitt-and-his-architects-came-to-rebuild-new-orleans/>.