Mary Queen of Viet Nam: Building a Green Future in the Gulf, from the Ground Up

Authors: Mary Queen of Viet Nam

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans residents were scattered all over the country. Rebuilding our community was the most pressing — and most daunting — task facing Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation (MQVN CDC). We organized to help our congregation come home, and about 90% of the people who lived near the church returned.

The next step was to organize to keep our community thriving and alive. We successfully shut down a landfill that was polluting our air and water, and started other projects to rebuild our community and help it grow economically. Our three target areas for local economic development were all in the green economy, even before this year's BP oil disaster. We have been working to help our community prepare for jobs and business opportunities in green construction, urban agriculture, and gulf coast restoration. Former fisherpeople are already working as contractors doing energy efficiency and solar installation work. And as part of a White House initiative, a solar company is donating solar panels that we'll be putting on our upcoming health clinic. These developments, along with work we did earlier this year where a local solar company financed panels on several key community leaders' homes, are starting to educate our community and build demand for clean energy. This demand will help us create jobs and businesses outside of fishing and the oil industry.

One of our most exciting projects is the Viet Village Urban Farm, a 28-acre agriculture project that will build on our community's cultural strengths – generations of experience in farming and fishing – and create new jobs and businesses. In fact, the farm itself will employ 75 people once it's going full speed. As we develop the Viet Village, we have already started working with community members who sell fresh herbs, vegetables, and fish at a weekly market. The urban farm will follow sustainable, ecological, and organic practices. We will use energy efficiently, manage the farm's water on site, and recycle its waste. Viet Village will include a produce market, commercial agriculture, and community gardens, as well as an aquaponic (fish farm) component that will provide opportunities for displaced fisher people.

MQVN CDC is also working to develop a permanent Community-Owned Health Center. Our health center will provide comprehensive and preventative health care services for low-income, working, uninsured, and underinsured families of New Orleans East. The health center is addressing:

  • The near absolute lack of primary, secondary, or tertiary care in the area;
  • Lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate services for the limited English proficient population; and
  • Geographic isolation from principal sources of care in the center of New Orleans.

These services will be a big help to our community, where people struggle with the lack of quality, accessible healthcare on a daily basis.

Aside from our ongoing economic and community development work, MQVN is now working hard to help people in our community cope with BP's oil disaster. MQVN has been providing front line services to fisher people, particularly to Vietnamese-American fisher people. We hear people talk every day about how fishing work is the only work their families have done for generations, about how bills are piling up, about how the spill had robbed them of their livelihoods but they couldn't even get jobs in the clean-up efforts, because of barriers in BP's process. We've supported these families with immediate aid, provided mental health services, and helped them navigate the claims process.

Helping people navigate the BP claims process, which Feinberg will now be running, is a key issue for us. Of the more than 150,000 claims that have been filed, only 30% have resulted in any payment at all. Those payments usually top out at $5,000, a poor substitute for the $60,000 fisher folk expect to make in the peak summer season that is supposed to earn them enough money to carry them through the rest of the year when there are no fish. BP has profited from the gulf for decades, and has now cost families their livelihoods for decades to come. We all need to hold them accountable to compensate these families fairly, and help them get a fresh start.

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