Ajay Mangal, a senior at Pascagoula High School, lost nearly all of his possessions when Hurricane Katrina flooded his coastal city, yet he devoted himself to distributing emergency supplies to other victims immediately after the storm, and helped many families clean out their homes in the following weeks and months.
“Everything my family owned had been washed away before my eyes,” said Ajay, “I lost all hope of normalcy.” But after realizing that some of his neighbors faced even worse situations, “I vowed to do everything in my power to help my family and community return to its feet,” he said.
Ajay immediately called upon classmates whose homes had been spared to meet at the local fairgrounds and use their knowledge of the town to assist the National Guard in distributing bottled water, meals, ice and hygienic items to hundreds of survivors.
After enough out-of-town volunteers arrived to continue the relief effort, Ajay worked alongside several out-of-state church groups to clean out the devastated homes of 20 families, ripping out walls and floors, fixtures, appliances, furniture and everything else contaminated by saltwater and mold.
At the same time, Ajay made a point of providing comforting reassurances to the homeowners that everything would eventually be okay. When his school reopened, Ajay organized groups of students to assist teachers and other personnel who needed help in recovering from the storm. And after he recounted his experiences to friends in other states, they responded by helping to raise more than $35,000 for Katrina victims. The experience, said Ajay, “allowed me to learn the significance of family, love, teamwork, friends, and the unimportance of material objects.”