Alumni Spotlight; Mia Tengco

Moms know best – a lesson proved true for alum Mia Tengco. After her mom learned of All Hands programs in Leyte, Philippines, Mia joined the program for a week, returned for another 2 weeks, and, after leaving her business in Manila to her partners, ‘followed her heart’ back to All Hands for a third time –

“I found my people!”

On Program

As a volunteer, she quickly became a Team Leader and was promoted into site leader for carpentry in the 83C temporary shelter reconstruction program. Coming from a business background, Mia quickly developed not only carpentry skills but also leadership and teamwork skills with All Hands.

She leveraged her professional experience to support All Hands in a partnership role in Manila, as well as being one of our greatest fundraising advocates.

“I enjoyed that – trying to find people, asking them to give money, pitching AHV to others, speaking about something from the heart.”

When the 83C housing construction project concluded, she felt like it was time to explore opportunities on the new social development pathway All Hands had set her down.

After Program

While in Leyte, Mia met Lennart, whom she traveled on with after program. Together, they volunteered in a children’s home in Nepal and trekked the region. In time, Mia decided that she wanted to make social development her life and sought programs in Development and Disaster Management. Ultimately, she chose the Amani Institute’s post-graduate certificate in Social Innovation Management, studying and interning in Kenya for 5 months. The intern work was with Tunapanda Institute, and organization teaching tech and business skills (coding, graphic design, etc.) to youth in the largest slum in Nairobi. In speaking to her classmates, she realized that she shared a background with many who realized their passions and career paths through volunteer experiences helping communities.

From All Hands to Further Volunteer Opportunities

Recently, Mia volunteered with another program in the Philippines, this time supporting education in Kalinga province. Using AHV as a benchmark for program operations, she has helped structure the program to best make use of the volunteers that come to site – “I made a volunteer info pack. I know it needs to be organized! Who are the coordinators? Who’s cooking?” All Hands made her conscious of how meaningful and life-changing a volunteer experience can be, which is the driving force for her commitment to make this new program experience a positive one for incoming volunteers.

The field experience, and lessons that come with that, has been the most valuable skill Mia has taken from her time with All Hands.

“There’s no education like really being there. Being on the ground, learning directly from people, peers, colleagues, the community. It’s so valuable”.

 When writing her application for the Amani Institute, she included her All Hands roles in her essay.

“I believe that All Hands has given me an “edge” because it an experience that people find unique and even somewhat crazy. It is an advantage in your application in a way that, through it, people can see your passion for something you believe in.”

At school, she learned how to give a 1-minute elevator pitch about yourself and your skills to a hiring manager. She always added a piece about All Hands, “People are always very impressed because sometimes they think “no way I could do that!” It’s very impressive.” So, use this unique advantage in your applications to stand out amongst the candidates!

 Since All Hands, Mia has followed her ‘volunteer spirit’ to find her next opportunities. For example, soon she’ll travel to Palawan to take photos for an organization called Roots of Health. She was able to get this opportunity by emailing them, saying that she would like to volunteer as a photographer and learn more about their work in the process. While she’s not getting paid monetarily Mia believes that there is valuable experience to be gained experience and it will be awesome exposure in a new field.

 She concludes: “I’m not really sure what the future holds for me and where I will be working but I do know that it is now important to find something that means something to me, something with purpose and impact. I realized this during my time on project: You can be tired, frustrated and challenged but you will keep going for something you care deeply about, something that makes you feel fulfilled and happy.”

Alumni Spotlight; Lennart Bakker

It was a fateful coin toss. Indonesia or Philippines for a surfing trip with friends. Around the time Lennart was making his decision, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Bohol, Philippines and left the island devastated. Determined to give back while on his holiday, he checked WorkAway to find meaningful volunteer work and found All Hands Volunteers. Feeling confident that he could manage the ‘no experience required’ demolition work, he joined knowing that the skills and experience would come in time.

Experience with All Hands

In typical All Hands fashion, he showed up knowing nothing about construction and demo, and was promptly asked to be a Team Leader. This was his first step towards taking ownership and responsibility for recovery programs in the disaster-struck country. After Bohol, Lennart went back home and found his bus driving job to be unsatisfactory. He quit his job, sold most of his belongings and went back to the Philippines to build houses in Leyte. While on project he was asked to be the Program Manager for the Hernani Evacuation Centre Program in Samar.

In the immediate sense, AHV provided incredible opportunities to develop leadership skills and responsibility – from managing small teams to running an entire program, that he was able to take with him to the next phases of his humanitarian career.

After Program

It was in Leyte that Lennart met Mia, and – still riding the high of program life – the two travelled together after AHV. Inspired by their volunteer experiences in the Philippines, they signed up to help in a children’s home in Nepal, before travelling on to Kenya.

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While Mia studied in Nairobi, Lennart worked for The Saviour Project, an NGO providing technology training to children in Kenyan refugee camps. After so many months in community-based roles with All Hands, his new office position in data management and finances was frustrating and uninspiring. He left after a month. The experience made him seriously reconsider if the ‘humanitarian and development’ field was the right career path, and realized that perhaps he needed a Plan B, a strategy where he could apply his volunteer experience to the skillsets he already possessed

Today

Today Lennart works as a Manager for ProRail, the Dutch railway management company. Together with a team of maintenance engineers he is responsible for the preventative maintenance on the rail track infrastructure and for resolving disturbances quickly.

All Hands and the Application

His All Hands experience was key in obtaining this new role, which required someone who could manage unpredictable and sudden challenges. As a Program Manager, he never knew what each day was going to bring, so he learned how to go with the flow. In the case of a power-cut, or a broken mixer, he learned to adapt and find solutions to move the project forward.

I Got This

Second, the job sought a team player – someone who could thrive while working with others. With All Hands, Lennart was always communicating with people – from volunteers on the ground, to contractors, to local governments. This experience, from which he could pull examples and discuss in the interview, was incredibly useful during the application process as well as in the current role.

Tips and Advice for New Alumni

Reflecting on his experiences, Lennart realizes that he learned more through hands-on experience s in the field than he did in the classroom for his degree. It’s difficult to find a job right out of school, and All Hands is a great catalyst for developing (leadership) skills after education.

Pride but not Ego – We all get caught up in the whirlwind of project life, but he warns

“Don’t try too hard to make it happen. Have pride but not ego.”

Leaving project, he thought too much of himself, and strayed from what his true interests were when pursuing a development role in Kenya.

“Good things will follow… but only if you keep on following you personal passions. In Kenya I had to take a good hard look at myself and remember what I liked so much about All Hands (in my case: leading teams and making an impact together), and take that as a starting point to see how I could do that outside of project.”

Speak passionately – All Hands has a big impact on many volunteers’ lives, and we all speak to others about our experiences. Use this passion in interviews, as that really shines through.

Houston team helps family with special needs

By Laura Halleman

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When the flooding came following Hurricane Harvey, Miss Olivia knew she had to get all her children, including her disabled daughter, Diana, to safety. They were evacuated by boat from their community in Houston and taken to safety in a shelter.

What waited for them upon their return was a home filled with black mold and personal items, such as photo albums, strewn about in the flood water, only to have to be tossed to the curbside for debris pickup.

All Hands volunteers knew the urgency of gutting and mucking Miss Olivia’s home prior to going in. Her daughter, Diana, has Rett Syndrome, a rare neurological and movement disorder that primarily affects females. Diana is wheelchair bound and has gone through over 10 spinal surgeries. She also eats from a feeding tube and requires breathing treatments several times a day. Their home was a priority for All Hands.

Led by team leader, Colette, volunteers went into the home, where black mold was already growing up the walls and behind the bathroom and kitchen cabinets. They started with Diana’s room and bathroom first, where they knocked out drywall, bundled up wet insulation and took apart her bathroom, piece by piece, taking it to the mounting pile of debris outside.

The sooner they finished, the sooner Miss Olivia and her children could begin the rebuilding process. They were staying at a hotel an hour away in Galveston. This made it difficult on the entire family, but to keep some sense of normalcy Miss Olivia would drive back to their home each morning to ensure Diana was picked up by her school bus to go to school. It was a hardship Diana never complained about, but Miss Olivia felt it was taking its toll.

After three days, the mucking and gutting of their home was completed by All Hands volunteers. Mold sanitation was a priority and more volunteers came in to complete that process so the rebuilding process could begin.

On the last day of gutting Miss Olivia’s home, the volunteers watched as Diana was dropped off at the bus stop and they were eager to finally meet her. Smiles and tears were not in short supply. Soon, Diana and her family could move back home again.

Hurricane Harvey Story: Maria Ojeda & her Family

By Laura Halleman

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When Maria Ojeda brought out fresh, homemade tortillas to the group ofWhen Maria Ojeda brought out fresh, homemade tortillas to the group of volunteers from All Hands, they didn’t know how generous a gesture it was.You see, Maria and her husband, Carlos’, home had been flooded after Hurricane Harvey and they were waiting for the volunteers to finish gutting her daughters home next door, before they began hers. Every time she cooked on the stove, she would receive mild shocks from the water in her home. But, despite that, she still graciously made tortillas for the volunteers.

Maria and her family live in a small town about an hour west of Houston named Sweeney. She lives there with her husband, daughter Michelle, son Eric and grandchildren; Jefferson, 5, Zaydon, 18 months and little Rose with her swatch of baby fine, dark hair, 2 months.

During Hurricane Harvey the entire family left after a mandatory evacuation. The heavy rains had forced the nearby San Bernard River over its banks and the water poured into theirs, and their neighbors’ homes.

When they returned, they drove through water to see the damage for themselves. Both Maria’s and her daughter’s homes had been completely flooded and would need fully mucked and gutted. That’s where All Hands volunteers came in. Crews of residential and day volunteers came out in force to gut and muck first Michelle’s home and then Maria’s. They did so never complaining that it was near 98 degrees inside the homes with no breeze or relief, except for frequent water breaks to ensure all volunteers were staying hydrated.

They tore out drywall and insulation, removed cabinets and bathtubs and pried up flooring. The piles of debris grew larger outside as each day went on, until the volunteers were finished and the homes were ready for the mold sanitation process. Maria left me a voicemail message after we were finished with her, and her daughter’s, home. She wanted to tell all the volunteers that she loved them all. She expressed such gratitude for all the work they did to help expedite the rebuilding process. And she called them her angels, never to be forgotten by her or her family.

Built to Last

Strength is not a characteristic unfamiliar to the Avila family. Having survived yet another hurricane, Isaac Avila warmly welcomed the All Hands Volunteers crew that was onsite removing tree debris from his family’s home post Hurricane Harvey.

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Isaac offered water, and coffee, and introduced the volunteers to his dancing, music-loving bird, who also survived the hurricane.

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This day, however, was different. This was Isaac’s birthday, and his uplifting spirit – despite the storm, infused the volunteer crew with positivity.

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Isaac, who lives together with his sister, Norma Castillo, and their 93-year-old mother, Cecilia Avila, came from a strong foundation. Having welcomed volunteers from other organizations in the past due to prior hurricanes, Isaac was protective of his home and of his family. His family’s home, a symbol of their resilience, strength and love, was built by Isaac’s grandfather years ago. Isaac believes their home, much like their family, is still standing after numerous hurricanes because his grandfather built it with bolts, instead of nails.

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The All Hands Volunteers crew spent the day with the Avila family, entertained by Isaac’s dancing bird, but more moved by the strength and resilience of his family, and the story behind the nuts and bolts that housed and protected them. After a job well done, and approved by Isaac himself, the crew headed off to the next home. But as they loaded their gear into the truck, they walked a little taller and smiled a little wider – thanks to one kind family that is clearly built to last.

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Please help us stay for as long as we are needed and donate today. 100% of your donation will go to those impacted by Harvey. We are currently in Houston and the Gulf Coast.

 

Make a Difference in Louisiana

2016 proved to be a difficult year for me.  Following my parents’ passing, I took a leave of absence from the company where I’d been working for the past 17 years.  My journey of grieving eventually took me to Louisiana. It’s in a New Orleans hostel that I first came across the All Hands Volunteers organization, spotting a flyer that had been placed there at the end of my stay.

I talked to my manager about getting extra time off – an additional five months – so I could join the Louisiana Rebuild project.  I had never heard of All Hands Volunteers but I committed to joining them without even having set foot on the project.  Something about it felt right.  On April 10, 2017, two days after I was originally scheduled to be back at work in Florida, I arrived at the All Hands base in Denham Springs.

This experience has humbled me. Like many others, I had heard about last August’s floods but I was not aware of the extent of the devastation.   still struggle with witnessing the homeowners’ emotions, watching them part with their belongings as though one would throw away a piece of their lives. It’s really dramatic and sad. Most of us don’t think that water, something that helps you live, can also kill you.

As a new volunteer, I did not know what to expect when I came to Denham Springs. The mucking and gutting activities were mostly completed, and so much work had already been accomplished. Yet there is still lots to do. I really enjoy being a part of this project, which tackles the finishing stages of rebuilding so people can move back into their homes.

All Hands has been a great platform for me. Within weeks of my arrival, I was able to start leading teams of volunteers on job sites. The skills and construction knowledge I’ve picked up during my time with All Hands Volunteers so far are invaluable. In the wake of a difficult time in my personal life, the work is soothing in many ways, and I feel fulfilled walking away from local homes day after day, knowing my team and I have made a difference. Everywhere we go as a group, someone recognizes us and thanks us. I’m happy and proud to be a part of this.

Working Side by Side with Resilience | Louisiana

Brent was on his way back home to secure his personal items as the water was rising. When the Sheriff Department asked if anyone knew the area and could assist with boat rescues, Brent did not hesitate.  Leaving his belongings in his flooding house, he only grabbed 8 life jackets that a neighbor had given him some time ago, and joined boats that rescued a total of 600 to 700 people.  These life jackets were instrumental, he explains, as the currents were so strong that when he got out of the boat to rescue a lady who was stranded on top of her car, the water took a shoe right out of his foot.

Following the floods, Brent, who had been in the construction industry since 1985, helped pressure-wash and sanitize flooded homes in the area.  He did not charge anyone. Sadly, he was infected with MRSA 4 times as a result of germs and pathogens from the floods, landing him in the hospital.  

Brent used to train home builders and inspectors, and was excited to work closely with the volunteers as they helped rebuild his home.  “I was really disheartened.  And then you guys came and lifted my spirits and I appreciate that”, he says.

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HOW TO HELP:

All Hands Volunteers remains in Louisiana,  repairing and bringing damaged households, institutions, and daycare centers back to full recovery in collaboration with long-term recovery partners to help. Hundreds of volunteers are still urgently needed to lend their hands to these rebuild efforts. For further information, go to www.hands.org/ or apply to volunteer