Sivi Domango, 44, was the Dean of Students/Assistant Principal at the New Orleans Charter Middle School in New Orleans when she heard reports of Hurricane Katrina’s imminent landfall. She and her family didn’t pay it much mind at first, even her mother, who after surviving an earlier hurricane, was extra cautious.
Eventually, though, everyone in Domango’s family except her mother, aunt and nephew, fled to Baton Rouge, while her mother stayed behind with family at an apartment building on high ground.
But when the city flooded, they had to be rescued. Domango remained in the River Center shelter in Baton Rouge, an entertainment facility converted for the purpose, while her mother, fleeing the storm with her sister and Sivi’s dog, Princess, was relocated to Amarillo, Texas.
Because of the storm, Domango lost communication with her mother for a week. Once in the shelter, residents there had little contact with the outside world except for a sole TV where they picked up bits and pieces of information that revealed the bad news for many: that their lives, homes and neighborhoods had been destroyed.
Domango ultimately used her background as an educator to start a makeshift school at the shelter, where she remained for almost three months. She went on to work at a school in New Orleans, commuting there from Baton Rouge for 2 years.
She sent her son, Jovan, now 20 and a student at Southern University, to Houston, Texas to live with her sister while she helped rebuild the decimated New Orleans educational system.
Now the Co-Director of the Arthur Ashe Charter High School in New Orleans, Domango says that while the city has improved in some areas, the issues of poverty that existed before Hurricane Katrina and the trauma many experienced in the aftermath have not been fully dealt with.
Here is more of her story:
There were moments when I felt I was lost. It was this sense of depression and disbelief and it just was sad. And you could feel that being placed on the children that were there.
The newscasts would show you what areas were flooded and at one point the aerial (shots) showed New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, Mid-City and Canal Street, so you knew they were flooded. [Sivi’s home, destroyed in the storm, was in New Orleans East.]
Education was my safe haven. Not only did it lift their spirits, it lifted mine. Children’s Charter School in Baton Rouge allowed my boss to open up the River Center School. We said to the kids ‘We’re not giving up on ourselves, so we’re not giving up on you.’
We were anywhere between 1st and 2nd to the 7th grade. We’d take the kids and bring them upstairs every morning. We created a system where the parents and kids were engaged. Still today, when I see parents that I worked with during that time, they say ‘Thank you.’
The reason I had the means to even apply for a job was because I had an education. And that’s what I told the kids – the way to get yourself out of any situation is by making good decisions and the first good decision is to get an education.
A year after Hurricane Katrina, Domango’s mother, Irma Thorpe, died of an aneurysm at age 53. She never returned to New Orleans.
Losing my mother was the most devastating of all.
Sivi returned to New Orleans to teach at the Samuel J. Green School, which was damaged in the storm.