I learned about All Hands when researching relief volunteering after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At the time they were the only organization that didn’t require you meet one of these criteria: volunteering with a group, pay to volunteer, or have a special skill (chainsaw operation, construction, etc).
I enjoyed my experience so much that when hurricane after hurricane came baring down this summer I paid closer attention to their updates to see what opportunities there would be to help beyond just donating money. I was particularly concerned with the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico because they had taking a hit from both Irma and Marie and it didn’t seem like they were getting the assistance they needed to start their recovery.
Things being up in the air with work I kept putting of volunteering worried that the timing may be bad. Eventually I realized there never seems to be a good time to take a vacation so I completed an application and was provided dates they could accommodate me.
I took a red eye flight to Miami, endured an early morning long layover, then arrived on schedule to St. Thomas’ Cyril E King airport. It was oddly surreal because I remembered seeing pictures of the damaged airport on the news.
I collected my bags and caught a taxi to the volunteer base. I don’t recall going through a single intersection with a working signal light. There were large potholes where the road had washed out. A single cruise ship sat in port. I was told there was another anchored on the other side housing FEMA workers and Americorp volunteers. The devastation is not as obvious, the steep hillsides and vegetation do a fair job of hiding the scars.
I arrived at base and was greeted by the volunteer coordinator. She showed me around, pointed out an available place to sleep, gave me a rundown of the daily schedule, then left me to get settled in. There were 40+ volunteers living communally in this church hall. Its hard to imagine it being very harmonious but somehow it works.
By 5pm all the teams had returned from the field and gave a report on their day. New volunteers were given an opportunity to introduce themselves. Departing volunteers got an opportunity to say their goodbyes. And housekeeping duties were assigned.
At dinner I made some new friends then retired to bed early in hopes of catching up on sleep before a long day of manual labor.