One of the most beautiful aspects of volunteering with All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response is the opportunity to create meaningful relationships with individuals from around the world. During our disaster relief program in St. John, USVI, we have been able to travel to Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and New Zealand without ever leaving the island.
“We decided to help this program All Hands and Hearts with the objective of helping those affected by natural disaster,” says Anto Segarra Sempere and Ariadna Rodriguez Machado from Spain.
“But the people with their eternal gratitude, their endless smiles and moving way of speaking have helped us and enriched us so much more. Without a doubt, it is hard work, day after day…but the base, the people and the volunteers carry something quite special. This changes your life. It makes you think and reflect on what truly matters the most and you forget about the insignificant things. We arrived knowing that our communication would be limited because we do not know English, but there is a universal language that is spoken through gestures, eyes, and the heart.”
All Hands and Hearts volunteers quickly make long-lasting connections with people brought together by the desire to help one another:
“When Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean Islands, I was on a vacation trip in Florida. My family and I had to leave a few days early because Irma was coming closer,” recalls Leonie Mion, a volunteer from Germany.
“Back in Germany, I saw pictures of damaged houses in all areas. I saw it as my duty to help the people there. One year later, I heard about All Hands and Hearts. I applied for the program in St John. I was very excited before I arrived. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would handle it with the English language and working skills. From the beginning, I felt very welcome of all people around me and the mood on the base is incredible. All people are here for helping other people who really need it and I think that’s what connects us all. It is an experience I will never forget, because there are so many special moments on the base and the worksites…Besides the skills I have learned, I had the possibility to meet so many new people from other cultures all over the world. After only two weeks it seemed as if I knew these people much longer.”
We live, eat, work, cry, laugh, and explore together. We become part of each other’s stories. We become family.
“I come from the Czech Republic and live in New Zealand. I have been fortunate enough not to live through any natural disaster,” recalls Misha Pospisilova, a volunteer from New Zealand.
“I can’t even comprehend how someone copes after such a devastating event. It’s been so encouraging, touching and mind-blowing to hear the stories from the local residents…I have learned so much not only about human resilience but also about myself. On top of that I have gained great new skills needed for the work required – from tools operation to deconstruction to rebuild…It was easy to get used to the bucket showers, communal living, early beautiful sunsets…and lastly to be a part of one like-minded international family. What an experience. There is still lots to do, but as Dalai Lama said, when asked how he got out of Tibet – one step at a time. Keep walking All Hands and Hearts and St John.”
Story and photography by Alexandra Tamburro for All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response
St. John, USVI