By Laurel Jansury, GWU IDS Student
I could never understand how people could fall completely head over heels in love within a matter of days. I never understood, that is, until I went to the Philippines. Over winter break I had the opportunity to spend two and a half weeks doing earthquake relief on the island of Bohol.
On October 15th, 2013 at 8:12 am a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Visayas region of the Philippines with a majority of the damage being sustained in Bohol. The earthquake caused over 35,000 families to lose their homes. Unfortunately for those affected, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit 23 days later with a ferocity that caused many relief organizations to shift funding and man power to the neighboring island of Leyte. While this lack of aid had a detrimental effect on the population, many volunteers, like myself, came to the program because of their interest in volunteering for Super Typhoon Haiyan relief. I had previously wanted to work on natural disaster relief but wasn’t able to because of school or other commitments. This time, since school was on break for the winter holidays, I jumped at the opportunity.
The organization I volunteered through, All Hands Volunteers, focuses on deconstructing unsafe houses, allowing the residents to be able to begin to rebuild. Knowing that a majority of the work would be manual labor I was unsure what the experience would be like and I definitely did not expect it to enjoy it so much. At 7 am every morning we would load up onto the jeepneys, which took us to our work sites for the day, and come home around 4:30 pm, with a break at 11 for lunch. Teams of 5 to 8 people would go to different sites throughout the area surrounding our camp. The deconstruction included pulling tin sheets off roofs, prying apart wooden support beams, sledge hammering concrete columns and moving loads upon loads of rubble. While we were doing the work to help others, they weren’t the only ones benefiting from the work; there is nothing like sledge hammering and some creative visualization to get out a bit of stress!
The most rewarding part of our day by far was the ride to and from the sites we were working on. Easily recognizable (mostly because we were the only vehicle on the road with 10 gringos riding on the top), children would come out of their homes to yell hello and wave to us. Seeing their smiles and enthusiasm gave us the strength we needed to continue to do our work day after day.
While the work was gratifying, my fellow volunteers are what made the experience so much fun. Living in a communal space like our camp, eating, working and spending your free time together helps you to get to know people pretty quickly. Nothing bonds two people together more quickly than commiserating over flooded tents! Though all the volunteers came from such diverse backgrounds, they came together because, for no matter how short the time period, we all wanted to help. By the time I left our project, we had 147 volunteers from 17 countries, who contributed 14160 hours of labor and finished deconstructing 71 houses, 5 chapels, 3 schools, 1 town hall and 1 church.
Though I knew that this experience would give me new insight into doing development work, I never expected that it would actually change my life so completely. Having completely changed my concentration and area of focus, from international education to humanitarian assistance, I am already planning to return to the Philippines for the summer to continue the relief work there.