Volunteer Spotlight: Caroline
Maybe volunteering isn’t your cup of tea, but it’s impossible to leave here with nothing.
I heard about All Hands and Hearts from the beautiful world of the internet. I was Googling around at the time, sitting in Colombia, and wanted to help out in Puerto Rico, and then stumbled upon the website. It was so easy to apply, so I applied, waited, and got a response. I’ve volunteered on three different projects. I’ve been to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and now here in Mexico.
In Puerto Rico, we did a lot of roofing. A lot of the community in Yabucoa had leaking roofs, so we would go up and remove all the temporary solutions that they had on the roof, lay down new cement, and then apply the sealant to prevent further leaking. Finally, we sanitized the inside of the house to prevent mold from spreading.
Then I arrived to the St. Thomas program and for the most part we did mucking and gutting, which means removing all the damaged materials from someone’s home so they can start over again. Even though we’re responding to the disasters, it affects people in different ways.
Here in Mexico, we’re building a school that got destroyed by an earthquake. Every community needs their own special approach based on their circumstances.
I’m on my gap year right now. I don’t have a degree, I haven’t specialized in anything yet, I have no official credentials, but I still arrive to programs and feel like I’m useful and I’m actually able to contribute to the projects. That’s a common thing across all the programs. You just jump straight into it, the first day you’re sort of thinking, ‘what’s happening?’ Then slowly, it feels supernatural, and the work becomes your thing. Since you do it for a huge part of the day, it’s really important that you enjoy it, and I do, for my part.
Once you’re in a community that’s small, everyone starts to know who you are, that gives you the potential to make an impact. Or you can screw up! But when you address the community’s needs in a positive way, that’s how kindness spreads.
In St. Thomas we had a woman come to our Thanksgiving dinner, we’d been working on her house three months back, and she would still come to the base and say hi and see how things were going. Even though the volunteers kept changing, she kept coming.
In Puerto Rico, we finished a roof and showed it to the homeowner and she started crying because she was so happy. She invited us for Christmas and if we ever came back to Puerto Rico, we’re all free to come to her house. And then you look at us, and you think: wow, I can’t believe that a bunch of (don’t take this the wrong way), but amateurs are able to do that- have that impact. I take those experiences and I hold them dearly, because that’s my payment.
The atmosphere of All Hands and Hearts is special because we are all a bunch of strangers in an unknown place. There’s this communal decision of, ‘alright, let’s just make this work somehow.’ So all your barriers are down from the start. You get so close to people so fast. You wake up in the morning, they’re there. You go to work all day with them, you come back, and spend your evenings together, and they’re still there. In a lot of institutions back home, that’s not the case. On a program like this, you’re so immersed 24/7. You’re basically 100% yourself and people can take it or leave it, and most people take it.
Maybe volunteering isn’t your cup of tea, but it’s impossible to leave here with nothing. Have I had a special moment on-project? It’s not a day or a moment, it’s a package deal. The small nuances, the conversations, the back-breaking work. That’s exactly what makes it an extraordinary experience.
You can easily trick yourself into never volunteering, and rationalize yourself out of going. There are a million little reasons to stop yourself: the travel, the time, the hard work, the fears of the unknown- but that’s exactly why you should do it. In the act of deciding to go, you’ve already proven that you’re more than capable.