A few weeks ago much of my state was flooded, and people are still dealing with the aftermath. My friend an co-worker Karol told me about and organization called All Hands that is doing disaster relief here. The project is based in Georgetown. I felt moved to do something so I signed up to work yesterday.
I had planned to join the group Friday night. They are sleeping in the gym at a church and share responsibilities of cooking an cleaning, so there’s a very communal atmosphere. However, when I called my friend, Bourne, who lives there, to ask about road conditions, he invited me to stay with him and his wife Linda. They are a wonderful couple and it was nice to relax in their beautiful home, have a delicious meal and good conversation. Bourne and I are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but we pretty much managed to avoid politics, so peace prevailed.
Saturday morning around 7:45 I arrived at Duncan Methodist Church to meet my work crew and, of course, get my t-shirt. Emma, my contact person up to that point introduced me to Ethan, our team leader for the day. There are currently about 25 volunteers working at 3 different sites. They mix up the crews each day so that everyone gets to know one another. Some people, like me are just there for the day. Others have been there for several weeks. Some of the people on my crew, including a girl from England who likes to wear fairy wings, are actually employees, and don’t regularly go to the worksites. They are site evaluators and set up the projects for the volunteers. We had 3 ladies that had worked together on a project in Dominica before coming to SC, and one from Austalia who had been working in Nepal and plans to return. They are essentially professional volunteers. One gentleman, originally from Ecuador and living in New Orleans, came because of the assistance he and his family received during Hurricane Katrina. He travels frequently for his job, and works in volunteer opportunities when he can as a way to give back. One lady was an AmeriCorps volunteer who plans to pursue a career in environmental science. All in all it was an interesting crew.
Our worksite was about a half hour outside of Georgetown. It was a small house situated about 100 yards from what is normally a small creek that was dry before the rains came. Even now it is a rapidly moving river that is clearly flowing beyond its banks. The house belongs to an older couple who, unfortunately, I did not get to meet. The first thing that caught my eye when we arrived was all of their belongings pile up along the street in front of the house. Clothes, what had clearly been lovely antiques. Even though the day was a very positive experience, I never lost sight of the fact that this was someone’s home and that we were having to tear down and throw out parts of their lives.
My job for most of the day was taking down dry wall, then cleaning up all the debris. It was easier in some rooms than others. When we left there was almost nothing left but the framing. In one part of the house they had 4 layers of carpet. The stench was really awful. I helped a little when I finished the walls but I was very glad not to have been there all day. All Hands is just getting houses cleaned out. Another group will come in afterward and do the reconstruction.
All in all, working with All Hands was a great experience. If you’re here in South Carolina and can get the time, it would really be worth your while to spend a day or so working with this group. I would definitely do it again. They also have sites in other parts of the world. It was so inspiring people who spend their lives traveling around the world and doing this type of relief work. Yes it’s exhausting and sad but still so positive and meaningful. It’s not bad for working out a little stress, either.