Volunteering for All Hands and Hearts involves fairly intensive communal living alongside the disaster relief work. I am living with around 60 volunteers and staff members in a space graciously provided by Holy Family Church, Tutu.
The camp is extremely organised and runs like clockwork. Everyone sleeps in one large room in DIY bunkbeds. Lights come on at 6.30am and we have breakfast and pack our lunch for the day (either peanut butter and jam sandwiches or mystery ration packets). Each team then meets up, gathers tools and equipment needed and heads out to site. After work, we head back to camp for the 5 o’clock meeting and full debrief. Exercise club follows the meeting then dinner is served around 6.30pm (chicken and rice). Lights out are at 9.00pm but there is plenty of space and time for socialising with the other volunteers. Volunteers have travelled from every corner of the globe to help survivors of the hurricanes on St Thomas. Ages ranges from 19 to 70. Everyone is equal and has a unique skill to bring to the table. I have truly met some of the most inspiring, positive and careless people here. Everyone is keen to make a difference, put in a hard day's work and become the change they want to see in the world.
Located directly behind the camp is one of the island’s housing projects, which was devastated by the hurricanes. During the storm, the external walls were blown straight through from one side to the other and down the hill side. Living in the area, we heard many tragic stories about people that were blown out of their apartments along with the walls. Although we did not work on these housing projects, we worked on many homes in the area of Tutu. Austin and Jenny’s home overlooked the projects. The house belonged to their mother, who unfortunately had passed away a couple of days after the storm. Jenny showed me and our team leader, Caleb, around the home but could barely look up or even walk into the rooms. There was little space to move around as the home was full of personal items that looked like they had been through a blender. The roof had fallen in through the kitchen and mould covered every single wall. We worked with Austin (Jenny’s brother) over four days to sort items. Austin assisted lifting wall after wall up the hill as we filled two skips with debris.
Jenny came back to her home on the last day. All the salvageable items were placed in one room and there were now no walls - so you could see directly through the studs. In each room her smile grew bigger and bigger and she hugged me as we moved through the house. Jenny and Austin currently have no plans to rebuild the home. With no insurance and the home being in their mother's name, they are in an unfortunate situation. Even after we finish with initial disaster relief these families and individuals have a difficult road ahead of them. Blue tarped roofs are a more than common sight across the island and most will not be replaced with anything substantial before the next hurricane season, which is looming.