Today was, without a doubt the most difficult and disgusting day I’ve ever had with All Hands (actually, that’s a lie. I wrote this post several weeks ago and am only putting it up now. Oops!) That’s a pretty big statement given that I’ve probably worked with them for around a year of my life on five equally muddy and dirty projects.
It was tough. I spent the afternoon alone with my shovel the a front room of a house that had been torn apart by the flooding. The roof was completely gone and the place, being below ground already, had been destroyed not only by the flooding caused by Typhoon Sendong in mid December, but also by some recent rains. The front room had been used as a small shop by the owners so it was filled with bags of rice and other products that had been waterlogged and left to rot.
For me, this equals a room full of disgusting things – maggots, biting ants, rotting rice and some unbelievable smells. I’ve got a strong stomach but I spent the afternoon fighting off the urge to puke while also refusing to be defeated by the room. It was wet and super smelly. My gloves were saturated in water that was full of who knows what kind of grossness. Mud was splashing all over me from head to toe. It was pretty nasty, my friends.
Fortunately, there were six other people on the job site dealing with exactly the same thing as me. Different rooms, different challenges, similar levels of grossness. Plus on that same day there were another 30 volunteers on different job sites dealing with their own nasty mud-filled houses while coping with muscle pain, injuries, and the blazing heat. Then, when the work for the day is done and everyone has had a shower and is relaxing, if a job needs doing (like shoveling out the gutters in the tent city during a rain storm, or unloading 4,000 ceramic toilets from two shipping containers) it gets done with no complaints.
I had a conversation later that night with a new arrival, curious to know what she was getting herself into here. She had asked myself and one of my oldest friends from this disaster volunteering thing, about what inspired us about All Hands and why we kept coming back. We both mentioned the desire to help people, loving the work we get to do and getting to interact with the local communities on a level different from travelling through as a tourist. But what both of us really got passionate about and what is my core reason for continuing to do this is the people I get to meet and work with on each project I do.
These All Hands projects tend to keep former volunteers coming back to them so it’s great to know that I’ll see a lot of familiar faces on every project I do. It’s like a roaming base for me and I always feel instantly at home as soon as I arrive. Plus the people who do this sort of volunteering are slightly insane, I think. It’s nice to be surrounded by like-minded people! The work is really hard and the conditions are tough but people here just get it done with few complaints.
It’s a hard thing to describe so I’ll just say that the people I meet on these projects really inspire me. Not just the foreign volunteers… locals volunteer as well and we’ve had a bunch of Filipino volunteers pass through which has been great! Even in Haiti where I don’t think the concept of volunteering even exists, All Hands ended up with a waiting list of local volunteers. There are always so many inspirational people around me when I do these projects and that’s what keeps me coming back for more.
All Hands have recently extended their project in The Philippines to run until August. They’ve teamed up with Habitat for Humanity and will be building over 200 homes for people who lost their houses in the typhoon. If this sounds good to you check them out!