One Village’s Miracle

One Village’s Miracle in Fiji after Cyclone Winston.

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Fiji, for many of us, is a far away land of idyllic beaches, abundant beauty and flourishing rain forest. The perfect vacation spot. But for the villagers of Delakado, Fiji is home. The village consists of about 300 people. A blissful life where community spirit runs deep, where each and every home is open to all who pass through, where even the preparation of daily meals becomes a collective effort and a veritable feast.

The rumors of Cyclone Winston were rife for the Fijians. But nothing could have prepared them for the staggering force of the winds that came howling through on February 20, 2016. Delakado, Tailevu, lay nearly in the path of the eye of the storm ­ a blistering whirlwind of flying debris as everything around its people was swept up in its wake. Too weak to withstand the power of a category 5 cyclone, infrastructures entirely collapsed as homes came crumbling down. All but one.

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The entire village somehow managed to hide under the floorboards of one particular house. Although owned by one individual, it was actually used for village gathering events. Thus, it was built with a higher standard. As a last hope from the powerful Winston, the women, children, and elderly huddled together under the floorboards of the house. The strongest stood above and with all their might, held the walls up to thrust outward against the storm whilst the brunt of the wind tore the rest of the village down. They held up the walls until the storm subsided. Amazingly, no one was killed. It was a miraculous community effort that will pave the way for what comes next, as they pick up what little remains of their village and start over.

When our response team arrived on the scene, it didn’t take long to note the incredible local capacity in Delakado. And more importantly, the unshakable philosophy of a community determined to stand on its own two feet and rebuild itself in the face of adversity. A pre­-existing spirit of volunteerism, or as local Fijians so accurately describe it, “community comes first, the individual second”.

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In Fiji, any tension or disaster can be alleviated by a collaboration supported by extensive connectedness. In fact, this is the very same credo that fuels the members of All Hands Volunteers. A steadfast belief in the power of community ­ an extended family unit of sorts that allows no ­one to go unloved, unnoticed or uncared for.

As so vividly described by staff member, Gary Pitts, who stated, “The community have really come out to support the teams in the field. We have been welcomed with open arms.. we have seen volunteers from all parts of the social structure in the village, including the Village Headman who has worked right along our side”.

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No matter how much rubble and debris there is; or how shattered, torn, and dusty the task; the people of Delakado believe anything can be rebuilt if we’re all working together. This belief kept them alive as they huddled under one roof together amidst the cyclone and is,certainly, a belief that we’ve found is worth carrying out forever–thanks to the people of Delakado.

Thakur’s Story

 

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There is something quite unique about Thakur. Perhaps it’s his warm heart or those kind eyes we’ve all come to be so fond of. At 25 years old, already a responsible husband and father to his family, Thakur earns his living as a porter, commuting several hours from his home in Nuwakot to the inner cities of Nepal, carting heavy goods over great distances.

When Thakur set out to the city on the morning of April 25, 2015, he had no idea how his life was about to change and that he’d be suffering the loss of his baby daughter. As the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, Thakur found himself running faster than ever before as he rushed home to reach his family.

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“During the earthquake, I didn’t know what was happening. I was scared and just started to run. I couldn’t find anywhere safe to escape to until I found a road and suddenly blacked out,” Thakur recalls.

When he finally came to, he ran for 2 hours until he reached his family and youngest daughter who was severely injured. He rushed her to the nearby hospital, only to find that she needed a surgery they couldn’t afford. In an urgent bid to save their daughter’s life, Thakur and his wife took out a private loan.

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However, after an agonizing 17 day wait in the hospital, their daughter sadly passed away the day before her surgery. She was 9 months old.

When All Hands Volunteers came to help clear the rocks and rubble, no­one quite anticipated the magnitude of the bond that would be created with Thakur and his family. Moved by their story and remarkable resilience in the face of such tragedy, it would have been difficult to not be equally transformed.

As noted by staff member Tim Hill:

“He opened his home and heart to me. He shared with me a story that I and many others could never fathom, a story of hardship and loss on an incomprehensible level. For someone who has lost so much, his love and honesty touched me in a way that will stay with me for the rest of my life”.

Each day, as the volunteers arrive on site, Thakur and his family await with a big warm welcome. Optimism is shared all around the site as volunteers rubble away and suddenly, a weight is lifted.

“All Hands Volunteers helped me when nobody else would.. I would have never been able to clear this rubble by myself. Because of the volunteers, I finally feel happy again.” said Thakur.

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Thakur’s wife smiles and we are once again reminded of the extraordinary fortitude of a nation that has lost so much ­ their warmth, generosity and unfailing optimism a lesson for us all.

 

Meet the Volunteers

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By: Tay and Jay

Working with All Hands Volunteers was like biting into a fruit you never knew existed, and wondering how you could have lived without tasting it for your entire life.

Taylor and I knew we wanted to travel abroad for an extended period of time, but it seemed almost gluttonous to just traipse across Asia with only ourselves in mind. So, we sought out to find some fulfilling volunteer opportunities. After applying to All Hands in June and not hearing anything for several months, we forgot about the organization and our trip planning was put on hold. Luckily All Hands emailed us in December and offered us two spots in the program, which made our decision to go to Asia seem a helluva lot more real. So with backpacks and plane tickets, we said goodbye to our families and friends and boarded a plane headed to Kathmandu.

From Nepal’s capital, we traveled five hours by bus (during this ride an elderly Nepali woman sat on my lap for roughly two hours and 30+ people sat on top of the vehicle) to Melamchi, the small city we would call home over the four following weeks. Our program was working to rebuild after the devastating earthquake that took place on April 25, 2015, claiming more than 8,000 lives in the Kathmandu valley. Measuring in with a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, the earthquake was the moat damaging one to affect Nepal since 1934.

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Now that you have a bit of background on the project, you might be wondering what exactly did we do during the month we spent in Melamchi? And what does volunteering with All Hands entail?

I’ve broken down our daily work schedule so those considering donating their time to the program can gain a bit more insight into its practices:

6:15 am Wake up and clamber out of bed. If you’re sleeping in the Love Hub (with 50+ other volunteers) try to get up quietly so as not to disturb any late risers. Also, watch out for stray dogs in the Love Hub. There are always stray dogs in the Love Hub.

6:30 am Breakfast time! One awesome thing about All Hands is that meals are provided for you. Breakfast consists of your choice of one egg, two slices of toast, oatmeal, and one piece of fruit.

7:00 am Scurry to brush your teeth before the truck leaves. Then, cram into a covered truck bed with 12 of your newfound volunteer friends. I would say buckle up, because it will be a bumpy ride, but there are no seatbelts.

7:30-8:00 am Clutch onto the edge of your seat as your local driver ascends narrow dirt pathways and honks excessively at local pedestrians and drivers. Your car will be headed nearly straight up the side of a mountain.

8:00 am Grab whatever tools belong to your team and head to your worksite on the mountain.

8:15 am Get to work! You can sing “Hi ­Ho” if it boosts your productivity, but most work sites provide speakers so that you can jam out to something less Disney and more punk rock. There are several options when it comes to what type of work you’ll be doing:

Rubble: Clearing debris and fallen rock from sites where new homes will be built.

Foundations: Digging holes that will be filled with structure beams.

Structures: Erecting steel poles that will serve as the frame of the home.

Walls: Attaching wire mesh to structure beams that will prevent the home from collapsing inwards in the event of a future earthquake.

Roofs: Securing a roof to the newly built home.

Toilets: Digging septic tank holes, pouring concrete, and erecting miniature structures for a standalone bathroom.

Sherpas: Strapping supplies to your head, and delivering various items to worksites all over the mountain.

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A few sherpas moving cement rings that weigh in at over 200 lbs each.

9:45 am The project beneficiaries will bring you tea (“chia”) and you can shoot the shit with them as you try your darndest to imagine what it must be like to grow up with tons of farm animals on the side of a mountain in Nepal. Then it’s back to work!

11:30 am – 12:30 pm By this point you should be sweating. Luckily it’s lunchtime. Grab some dal bhat, search for a shady seat, and play with some baby goats if you’re feeling feisty. Everyone on the same task eats together and is fed by the beneficiaries. Make notes and compare with your fellow volunteers as to which house has the best grub, so you can choose your assignment accordingly for the next working day. And of course, take a moment to check out your surroundings before heading back to work.

12:30-­4:00 pm Power through the second half of the day and resist the urge to fall into a dal bhat food coma.

4:00-­4:30 pm Grab your gear and your team and head back to the truck for the descent into Melamchi.

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4:45 pm Make a mad dash for the shower. There is enough hot water for 3­4 people, and the other 55 will be screwed. Don’t think about other people’s feelings, think about how much you hate cold showers and haul ass to the nearest bathroom.

5:00 pm Smush into the common room for the daily mandatory meeting. Work site progress will be discussed as well as general project updates and announcements.

6:30 pm Dinner is served. It’s always a variation on a carb + cabbage + carrots + spicy sauce.

8:30 pm Chances are you’re tempted to read a book or socialize with the other volunteers, but in reality, you’re so tired that you fall asleep without brushing your teeth and wake up with chow mein breath. Sexy.

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There you have it, folks—a day in the life of an All Hands Volunteer.

A Sparkling Effect: Oscar

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Just from the other side of the San Juanico bridge in Leyte, lives a man named Oscar, a local resident of Samar. After Typhoon Haiyan ripped through the Philippines destroying over 1.1 million homes, he responded to the needs in his community. Despite the aftermath conditions and turmoil that surrounded him, he was optimistic and decided he would find a way to serve.

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Having been part of All Hands Volunteers’ projects before, Oscar recently joined our Streetlight Program in Hernani as a carpenter. Every morning he bikes to work and cheerfully goes to great lengths to ensure the team has everything they need. He and his son­in­law plane mass pieces of wood needed for rebuild and he even frequently brings guava and papaya from his garden for volunteers on site.

Day by day we witness the unique transformation in the community that Oscar has fostered. We realize, it doesn’t take a fleet of rocket scientists to fly in and fix problems after a disaster; but rather, it takes someone just like Oscar. If you give someone like him the tools and training, opportunities for real sustainable change come alive.

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Oscar’s impact doesn’t end here. Oscar has a son, Gerald, who recently attended culinary school. Once Gerald graduated and heard about the suffering was in Nepal due to the earthquake, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined All Hands Volunteers – but this time, in Nepal.  Oscar says, “This is the life I have always dreamed of for my son.”

We are so grateful for Oscar’s vivid and inspiring example of someone who has given of himself, even when facing the greatest crisis of his life.  He has reminded us that one person’s commitment truly can change the world.

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A Lesson in Brotherhood

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Lieutenant firefighter Shane Gill from the Bogalusa Fire Department was on duty the night of the Louisiana flooding. Shane and his fellow firefighters started to respond to the rescue calls at 2:30 AM. In one night, the Bogalusa Fire Department rescued over 30 people. Because of this, they were already true heroes in our eyes. We quickly learned, however, that for them, it takes much more to qualify as a hero. It’s all about ‘brotherhood’.

When the flooding was happening, the fire department was busy with water rescues. Meanwhile, their own homes were being flooded. This included Shane, their fellow firefighter’s home with over a foot of water filling his single story home. All Hands Volunteers stepped in, working together with the firefighters.

Fire Chief Richard Moody cuts the flood damaged walls up to 3 feet

In contrast to the “thick ­skinned” exterior by which firefighters are often characterized, this was a difficult time for many of them. As one firefighter put it, “what gets us through is the bond of the brotherhood of firefighters”.

Lieutenant firefighter and AHV Logistics Coordinator Brandon checking out the Bogalusa Fire Department's Jaws of Life

The Bogalusa firemen devoted themselves to helping Shane and All Hands Volunteers worked right along beside them to gut his entire home, making it a safe and healthy environment for him and his son to return to.

Assistant chief Moses detailing the corners of the walls up to three feet with a Dremel

Like us, Bogalusa firefighters understand the joy and satisfaction that comes from helping each other. And, with or without uniform, this is their greatest measure of heroism.  For the All Hands Volunteers who worked with them, this was a day they will never forget.

Meet Rosetta

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Meet Rosetta. She is a mother of two, a widow, a hard worker with an extraordinary strength of character. Rosetta lives in Dunbar, South Carolina, a town deeply affected by last year’s disastrous floods. Far too many residents lost their homes, some of which are now lost forever. For Rosetta, however, tearing down her house was never an option. This is the house in which her sons grew up and the house that she and her husband together selected as their home.

Her fight has been a remarkable one. Having lost her husband in a tragic accident several years ago, Rosetta’s home was completely ruined by the floods. Inspectors noted it was beyond repair and she was thus advised to have it torn down. With mold infestation growing from floor to ceiling and all else against her favor, the future was overwhelming and a daunting prospect for one to face alone.

All Hands Volunteers first met Rosetta during the response phase of our recovery efforts, a memorable meeting that greatly affected both staff and volunteers.

As noted by Project Manager, Mitchell Johnson­, “One of our first homes we were working on was that of Rosetta Greene, which was a very memorable home during the Response. Rosetta and her sons worked side by side with All Hands…it’s close to a lot of our volunteers’ hearts”.

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Since then, we’ve launched our long­-term recovery program, which meant picking things up right where we left off. Whether she realizes it or not, Rosetta is our inspiration for coming back. It is one thing to find courage in the face of tragedy, but quite another to meet the petty hazards of each day with an infectious laugh that lifts those around you.

“I’m not looking at it as losing anything. but gaining more”, says Rosetta.

In times like these, when the overwhelming and the unexpected occurs, when we are hit with a far greater task than we believe ourselves to be capable of handling, hope is what binds us through. As Rosetta teaches us each day, strength does not come from what you can do. It emerges from overcoming the things that you thought you couldn’t. Rosetta never gave up hope ­ and because of that, she will return home.

Rosetta’s story teaches us the value of patience and perseverance, and that with hope all things are possible.