10 Things I Loved About Volunteering in the Caribbean
Charlotte Gadilhe from the USA was keen to travel with purpose and came across All Hands and Hearts, a non-profit organization that recruits international volunteers to help with the immediate and long-term needs of communities in post natural disaster areas.
Charlotte applied to volunteer with All Hands and Hearts and was placed on a project in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here she shares her experence and why she recommends everyone should do something similar.
1. Discovering the Spectacular Caribbean
First of all, I was in St. Thomas. The Caribbean is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Even amidst the hurricane destruction, everyone is surrounded by pure beauty which helps lighten the heaviness of the situation.
2. Helping All Hands and Hearts - a Fantastic Organization
This was my first ever “real” volunteer experience, and I feel it will be hard to do another organization except All Hands and Hearts. They were so helpful and cheerful via email before arriving I could tell instantly this is a legit organization who knows what they are doing. Their arrival instructions were very detailed and easy to read complete with a packing list.
During my week stay they were insanely organized with all aspects of the operation – everyone knew exactly what group they were in the day before we went out to sites, team leaders were assigned to every group, and there was always a group meeting at the end of the day when team leaders got to share their accomplishments for the day and anyone who wanted to speak their voice could. LOTS of clapping and hoots and hollers during these team meetings!
3. Communal Living
I LOVE communal living because it’s like one giant happy family. Everyone works together/takes turns in terms of cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, etc. No one wants to be the person who isn’t doing their duty, so everything actually gets done. Every dinner was delicious and felt like Thanksgiving with everyone sitting at round tables swapping stories.
4. Meeting New People
There were a lot of volunteers I met who have done this kind of work a lot. They were so POSITIVE. If there was a problem, they didn’t whine about it – they tried to find a solution. That went for the houses we were gutting plus just having conversations about life in general, they would ask me the question, “Ok, so what could you do about it?” Really got me thinking instead of complaining so much. No wasting time. Plus, a lot of the volunteers had traveled quite a bit so it was refreshing and inspiring to hear about their trips to places I had never heard of or even thought to visit. A reminder there is a great big world out there with so much to see and experience.
5. Working Hard, Playing Hard
We would sweat our asses off from about 9am-3pm every day wearing Tyvek (Dexter looking suits), respirators, and gloves while pulling down drywall, cleaning up debris, and removing nails and such, so by the end of the day a cold beer tasted pretty freaking good. It was the first straight week in a long time that I didn’t watch any TV or get on my phone to scroll mindlessly through social media. After dinner everyone would want to either sit around and share stories, play ping pong or basketball, read, write, or do whatever new game popped into their head. This would lead to making great friends very quickly in a short amount of time.
6. Eye Opening Experience
I learned to use some heavy-duty tools for the first time. The team leaders were very encouraging and patient and did not try to do everything for you. They would say, “Here do/use this”, so we did! It built up my confidence in terms of working in harsh conditions amongst (at first) strangers and eventually after a few days I had new volunteers asking ME what tool to use or how to take something down! The knowledge easily filtered down and there was always a job for everyone to do. Every pair of hands counted and was useful. It felt good to know, to see, to feel, to touch the work being done for those who lost their homes.
7. Having Fun & Raising Money for Good Causes
Every Monday night was auction night. And boy did they take it seriously – in a fun way, of course. Throughout the week you could sign up to put up for auction pretty much anything you wanted. For example, I’m a yoga teacher so I auctioned off a private yoga session and some essential oils. There were some pretty crazy ones. Some others included a haircut, a hand massage, a Yoda statue, a date, making their lunch for a week, a vacation, telling jokes, you name it, it was at this auction! So much fun – lots of laughs, plus the money raised would go straight to All Hands and Hearts.
8. Freetime to Explore
We had one day off a week, so where did we go? The beach, of course! Enough said.
9. The Food
We were fed three meals a day except for our day off. Breakfast and lunch we were on our own – the kitchen was STOCKED with eggs, oatmeal, cereal, fruit, coffee, sandwich fixings, and other snacks galore of our choosing. Dinner was made every night by two volunteers and it was always a delicious FEAST!
10. Getting a Life Changing Experience
At the team meetings every night after announcements and duties were assigned, if it was your last day you had the option to say a farewell speech to everyone. Loved that they gave the floor to anyone who wanted to say something and not just the staff or team leaders. Lots of happy tears occurred during these moments. My speech included a few things, but the main words were, “Not only are we helping those who lost their homes, but this in turn helped me on so many levels internally. I will definitely be back.”
By Charlotte Gallagher