I believe we can learn to give more of ourselves.
Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes and each has their reasons for doing it. My reasons were personal and related to losing my own home in a fire in 2003. I recall family, friends and strangers offering help and support and how that outpouring gave me the strength to drag myself out of bed in the following days. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity was my payback and the chance to give that which was given to me. Love and Hope. Was it worth it? In my case, it was. However, it wasn’t until I returned home that I understood what I had learned and how much the experience forged change and growth in my life.
My stretch as a volunteer began in June 2006 and my destination was New Orleans, ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. Assigned by HFH to St. Bernard’s Parish and wielding pry bars, hammers, shovels and the like, we gutted homes, enabling property owners to decide whether to rebuild, sell or abandon their homes. Most decided they would rather abandon what remained than try to salvage what was left of the lives they had once known. Gutting homes is difficult work, made more difficult by stifling temperatures, extreme humidity and the smell of decay that is constant and everywhere. I anticipated the heat. I did not, however, anticipate how emotionally difficult viewing all of the destruction would be and just how toxic the city had become.
What can be learned from the experience? Why do it?
What I learned was how to give in a tangible and meaningful way, like those that gave to me. I learned about helping others in their time of need and to care when it seems that no one, government included, does. I learned perspective about the trivial matters of my own life by bearing witness to real destruction, tragedy and hopelessness. I learned and observed first hand the failures of FEMA and the Bush Administration to quickly aid the citizens of NOLA and the entire Gulf Coast, before and after Katrina came ashore. And finally, I learned about the value of individual contributions to the massive task of rebuilding a city and a culture; One home at a time.
As for the why, you can to decide that for yourself. That Katrina lives on in the form of misery and despair for thousands should be enough.
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