By Davy Hem
The DePaul University Service Immersion Trips program has over 160 DePaul students, who dedicate their winter or spring break to service, reflection, community, spirituality and social justice. This past winter break, I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans with fellow law students and faculty members of DePaul University College of Law. In preparation of our departure, our team leaders – Tom Judge, Liz Toth, and Belfor Arichavala – held meetings and sent us emails to ensure the group fully understood the purpose of the trip – working to provide service, justice and hope to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Once in New Orleans, we got to meet and talk with the Hon. Judge Jay C. Zainey, of the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. We were given the opportunity to attend several hearings Judge Zainey presided over. I gained an incredible amount of insight from his knowledge of the law, his legal experiences, and how the challenges of the profession have shaped him.
The following morning, we began by volunteering at the St. Bernard Project. The St. Bernard Project helps to re-build houses affected by Hurricane Katrina. That afternoon, the group helped Second Harvest Food Bank by sorting donated food to be distributed to those in need. Then in the evening, we were fortunate enough to talk with Jim Kelly, the Executive Director of the Covenant House. The Covenant House provides all basic human needs, a place to sleep, and a home to all the homeless children of New Orleans who arrive at its door. The organization fosters confidence, encouraging those children to believe in themselves and make smart decisions for their lives.
On the third day, we started our morning again by working with the St. Bernard Project. We then worked with New Orleans Mission, packaging food and giving it to the homeless. In the evening, we were visited by Professor Bill Quigley, of Loyola Law School, that heightened our awareness of problems the community is facing and enlightened us with what the rest of the community could do to tackle all those problems.
On our last day in New Orleans, we worked with the Rebuild Center, a place that provides the homeless with vital services and a place to rest. Our group was divided into teams to work on a number of different things; such as cooking, sorting donated food and clothing, and playing games with the visitors. We helped serve lunch to 96 homeless people at the Ozanam Inn, an organization working on ending the suffering and homelessness of those in need by providing food, clothing, and shelter. The Ozanam Inn goes as far as to offer counseling, job and life skills training, physical, dental, and mental healthcare treatments, legal counsel, etc., to create a path for success for their clients.
The trip to New Orleans was unforgettable and fulfilling. I had such a fantastic and eye-opening experience. I worked alongside like-minded students from DePaul University College of Law to serve the homeless community and those affected by the hurricanes. As an international student from Cambodia, it was very interesting to observe different parts of America. The homeless community in New Orleans did change my perspective of America, and I was impressed by those supporting the homeless community. Their hard work, enthusiasm, and optimism toward helping other people have increased my desire to help people in need and provided me an insight of what I could do with my law degree.
Not only did I learn about the issues impacting the homeless people in this country, it allowed me the opportunity to help them. By working with fellow law students and faculty members in a team setting, I was able to help make a home livable again for a victim of Hurricane Katrina, prepare and serve meals at shelters, get to know some of the homeless people, and hear about lives outside of their current situation. It was such a humbling experience that reminded me to always be kind to everyone. It was also a rewarding experience to be one of the helping hands. I have learned so much about the struggles of homelessness. New Orleans taught me to be grateful for everything I have, to understand that as a law student, I have, the importance of community, and an immense power to be able to help people.
Aside from doing the service, I was able to learn and gain law-related insight and knowledge from the Hon. Judge Jay C. Zainey and Professor Bill Quigley. In addition, I was fortunate to take this trip with intelligent and enthusiastic people with whom I have cultivated lifelong friendships within a matter of five days. I was so blessed to have this opportunity, and I truly believe that this came at a pivotal time in my life. Our group could not have been more passionate about the work we were doing and the emotions we shared were life altering. I am so grateful for the time we spent together. I have never felt so overwhelming fulfilled as a law student, and I know that can make a difference in another person’s life. I encourage other law students to get out of their bubble and spend some time volunteering to serve and help those in need. I look forward to participating in such activities again.
This article first appeared in the WBAI Winter 2017 Newsletter.
Davy Hem is a J.D. Candidate at DePaul University College of Law, graduating in 2018. Originally from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, she completed her two Bachelors of Law at Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Before coming to DePaul, Davy worked as a junior Legal Advisor at KCP (CAMBODIA) LTD., a multi-national Singaporean law firm.