What is this?

Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Map of Southeaster United States

This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

Background on the towns and this project is available under the about tab above.

Click here for bios of the reporters and media producers who have worked on the series.

How you can help


Get the latest stories, journal entries and images via RSS subscription.

BAY ST. LOUIS -- There’s a new term being heard around town: Voluntourism.

The concept is to bring volunteers to Bay St. Louis and Waveland on their vacations, enabling them to donate their labor and at the same time restoring some semblance of tourism to the Gulf Coast.

“We’re talking about ground cruises, entertainment and food,” says Mike Sweeney, a coordinator at the Morrell Foundation’s relief center on the beach in Waveland.

While playing off the idea of a cruise ship vacation, Sweeney confesses that the reality will be food prepared in trailers and entertainment like classes on how to install sheetrock.

The voluntourist concept is also being touted by Tourism Cares for Tomorrow, the U.S. travel industry’s nonprofit arm, which hopes to bring hundreds of tourism officials to the Gulf Coast to do volunteer work and then sell that concept to their local partners.

An early advocate is Steve Richer, head of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. After meeting with Tourism Cares for Tomorrow officials, he dubbed the plan the idea the “Woodstock” experience for Americans wanting to do good while on vacation.

The volunteer tourism officials wouldn’t arrive until March, if at all, but Sweeney is already preparing for 150 voluntourists over Christmas.

And he promises to have special entertainment: The Project Bayou Caroling Tour. The ensemble of singers and performers from New York City are giving back to the South in exchange for aid to New York City rendered by Southerners after after Sept. 11.

While Christmas is full, later reservations are being taken via e-mail.

MAIN PAGE NEXT POST Three months later: Inching toward normalcy

Email this EMAIL THIS


I would be interested in this---my family has spent years (and years) vacationing in Waveland, and we were there in May. Is this serious? When would it begin? Who can we contact?

I spent a week in Long Beach and Pass Christian. I found, that by going around and helping people dig out of this mess, a beautiful part of the country I never saw before. The area is wrecked, but the spirit and the people go way beyond the surface damage you see. I would love to go back for a family vacation and get everyone involved in the clean up and restoration of that area. 1 week wasn't enough. The next time our group goes, I want to go to Waveland. They need all the help they can get.

i don't see a vacation volunteers are great people but to see so many who lost all...could not be called a vacation

I think this is a tremendous Idea, what a vacation experience, it is something you would never forget, and what a great time you would have helping out our fellow American brothers and sisters in Mississippi, just like volunteers came from all over the country when the need came after 9/11, it does not matter it is north or south, east or west, Americans take care of Americans.

I never stop being so touched by all the wonderful ways people are coming up with to help the Gulf Coast. There just has to be some way to find a place for people to stay while they are here doing everything they can. Not everyone can find a tent or camper or even a place to set it up yet would be more than willing if they just had the basics.

I fail to see how this differs greatly from traditional volunteering. For example, this past Summer, I spent a week volunteering for Habitat for Humanity (Global Village) in a tsunami-affected part of southern Thailand. HFH arranged all the lodging and meals and while most of our time involved hard work in extreme heat, we were also taken around to see sites of interest including tsunami-affected areas. Between all the brick laying many of us managed to squeeze in things like elephant rides in a national park area, relaxing near a waterfall, and half a day boating around gorgeous Phang Nga Bay. Oh, and the food was superb! It was a fantastic start to a longer guilt free vacation elsewhere in the kingdom. Some organisations are even happy taking volunteers for short periods (e.g two days).

This idea reflects the true spirit of the Gulf Coast, especially Bay St. Louis and Waveland. While your Christmas tour is already full, my family, many of whom live in the Bay or Waveland and the rest in other Gulf Coast towns including New Orleans are planning our own festvity to reclaim the beach! We lost the family vacation home at 908 So. Beach during Camille, just off St. Charles St. where my brother John is now living in his front yard in a FEMA trailer next to his virtual shell. My husband and I will be back on the 24th to help with installing sheetrock, flooring, etc in that and several other houses in simlar condition. But we plan to take a break on the 30th to throw the biggest bobfire ever at the end of St. Charles St. That is, if we can get pass curfews, etc. Maybe you could help! Laissez les bontemps roulez!

I'd do it - just make it during the time of year when its not so damn hot for the best response.

Right now its gorgeous outside, and it doesn't kill you to put in manual labor outdoors - even if you're ot in the best of shape.....

If you are in the same category as millions of others in this world that hate or even just dislike what your/their current job/career,IF you are lucky enough to have employment, this would be the best job you'll ever hate. It's dirty, the work days are too long, it's hot, exhausting, confusing and in no way is it a "sit-down" or a "stand around" job.
BUT, I can tell you it is an experience that you will never ever forget.
In my opinion, volunteering is a very selfish thing to do. I do it for the feeling of pride in myself of what I can accomplish. You do all the work....you become exhausted, but.....you will never forget the wonderful people you work alongside nor will you ever forget the feeling in the pit of your stomach of how proud you are of the difference you made.
ONE person CAN make a huge difference.

What a wonderful idea. I visited Bay St. Louis over Thanksgiving and delivered checks/funds raised by school children and folks in our community. As our contact person in Bay St. Louis said, "See what I mean, you really need to SEE this first hand!" and she was right. All the images on tv, online, and in the papers do not capture the devastation.

Many classrooms are in quanset huts and most schools lost all resourcs. Few businesses are open. One by one households are rebuilding - or not yet. Thank you MSNBC for keeping this on the front page.

Wow! I had this same idea just after the tsunami hit S. Asia! I guess it must have been a good idea and I'm glad to see someone else is capitolizing on it. I would definitely consider spending my vacation savings and time off from work helping to rebuild devasatated areas, especially if I can learn some useful skills in the process. It would certainly be a nice break from the usual site-seeing, plus make you feel really good about helping other people. I imagine you'd feel like you were really helping out so much more being immersed in the environment than just sending a check donation.

I'll preface my comment by saying the stress on the volunteers is nothing compared to those that survived and are living in the aftermath of Katrina. But, please be sure to add a component to the program for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)for volunteers before they return home. From personal experience, seeing the devastation, the destruction, the debris, talking to some of the greatest, kindest people who've lost everything they own and seeing how they are living is very traumatic! I was in Wave-Bay 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina volunteering, living in a tent, using nature's facilities, standing in line for food for a week. It was grueling, hot, hard work, stressful and I'd do it again in a New York minute. However, having never been in a federally declared disaster zone before, I was not prepared. You gotta see it to believe it.! The stress and trauma of visually seeing the destruction and the emotional trauma of talking and holding hands with the survivors is VERY stressful. Volunteers need a mechanism in which they can decompress. When I returned home to my house, still standing, no damage, all my possessions right where I left them, my family safe and warm, I couldn't stop thinking of the wonderful people I met in Wave-Bay.


I wholeheartedly agree with Sally.
I took two weeks vacation in early September and volunteered in Louisiana. It was all she described.
One day though, I was talking with a resident and he asked me how I was supporting my family while I was there. I told him I took 2 weeks vacation. He said "you took your vacation to come and help us out?" I replied "yes". He kind of got choked up and all he said was "Thanks man".
That one encounter made all long days and cold showers worth the trip. It was probably one of my best vacations.

would be interested in this---I think this is a tremendous Idea bcz my family has spent years 3 months vacationing in Waveland.

Comments for this post have been closed.


Trackbacks are links to weblogs that reference this post. Like comments, trackbacks do no appear until approved by us. The trackback URL for this post is: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b0aa69e200d834a0ea4969e2

More Rising from Ruin

Story tips?