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Little Voices Heard

The children of New Orleans tell how they're weathering the storm.

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Bryanna Cooper, 13, was in Mississippi with her invalid grandmother when Hurricane Katrina hit. She had gone there for a football game, and since the weather was already bad and the schools in New Orleans already had been closed, she decided to stay.

Her mother was still in the city, however, and couldn't make it to Mississippi. In the aftermath of Katrina, the mother and daughter were completely out of contact for two weeks and did not even know if the other was dead or alive. In those two weeks, Cooper cared for her grandmother as well as herself.

"Now I take life way more seriously," she says, "way more seriously."

Cooper returned to New Orleans about four months after the storm. And when Operation Reach Gulf South Summer Youth Action Camp opened on the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles avenues, Cooper joined other New Orleans children at this free summer camp, which was offered to kids who returned to the city. Some of the campers, including Cooper, participated in a film class where they learned how to operate video equipment and edit the footage they shot.

"A lot of kids were traumatized [by the storm]," Cooper says, and the final goal was that each child would create a public service announcement about how he or she was "still weathering the storm."

Because the camp was free and the children were not obligated to attend every day, organizers could not count on the kids showing up consistently. Out of the 11 kids who started out in the film class, only six -- Cooper, Tyre, Johnathan, Angela, Yorel and Marvin -- followed through to produce their own 30-second PSAs. Each child's story and announcement was documented by Joseph Van Harken in the film The Children of New Orleans: Still Weathering the Storm, which was financially backed by Mercy Corps communications.

According to Van Harken, these six children participated in more than just a film class; many of them had not talked about the storm at all until they started camp.

"It was a cathartic experience for the kids, and by the end, they had opened up a lot more," he says. "They ended up being glad they had the experience they did and let out the emotions they were feeling." Those who view the film will have the experience of seeing Katrina's aftermath and effects through the eyes of children.

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