Actually, my plan for this trip was to just travel and not work. After I was welcomed so kindly by all the locals here in Dominica, I wanted to give something back, especially when I saw the extent of the destruction here. In Puerto Rico I met Fred and Sue on our jungle tour, who told me about their volunteer work with the organization "All Hands and Hearts", which helps in rebuilding following natural disasters. Before I went to Tanzania in 2014, I researched many such volunteer organizations and found about 70. However, almost all of these organisations charge a lot of money to work for them. So I was all the more surprised that this was not the case with "All Hands and Hearts". Accommodation and food are free, you donate your time and manpower. So I applied for a place in Dominica and shortly afterwards I received a confirmation.
So I went to the north of the island, to the small village Paix Bouche, to help with the reconstruction of a primary school. It was supposed to be the hurricane shelter of the community, but during Hurricane Maria it smashed all windows and ripped off the roof. The furniture and all the books were also destroyed. The aim of the project is to rebuild the school to withstand future hurricanes and earthquakes.
The directions to the project were a bit adventurous. According to it you have to get off the bus at the foot of a mountain and then walk uphill for 1 hour to get to the volunteer house. As always in Dominica I met very nice people on the bus and a man carried one of my two backpacks to another bus and said that the bus can take me to the house and I don't have to walk at all. Then he discussed all this with the bus driver and the other passengers to make sure that I would reach my destination. Then I was given a handshake to thank me for helping with the reconstruction. I am simply always delighted with the people here.
The bus ride went great and so I arrived in my new home for a week. All the volunteers were already on the construction site, so I quickly set up camp in an 8-bed room and then it all started. I went off to the construction site. The way there alone was great. All the people greeted and you immediately noticed how happy they are that people who have nothing to do with their community are coming from all over the world to help rebuild the school.
The project was only started in April and was therefore still quite young. In the first phase, some walls and floors were torn down in order to rebuild everything in a more stable manner so that the statics could withstand an earthquake. So when I got there, the school was more like a skeleton of a building.
Until then I had never really worked on a construction site and I was very curious what my tasks would be and whether I would be able to handle it at all. I was given a short tour of the construction site, including the planned construction steps. Since I didn't know that I would do this project when I started my trip, I of course didn't have any work gloves in my luggage, but 5-6 (that's the name of the main local construction worker (he has had that name since his childhood because he had one foot in shoe size 5 and one in shoe size 6) has lent me his gloves). And then it started: helmet, goggles, gloves on and offloading bricks. The rest of the day I spent shovelling concrete. This was used for founding columns that were previously reinforced with bars and clamps.
The people all received me very warmly. Most were from the USA, but England, Ireland and Spain were also represented. I was probably most impressed by Bill and Sharon, who are in their mid/late seventies and put all their energy into the worksite. Besides the All Hands and Hearts volunteers there were also a few young missionaries on the construction site, who live on a ship for some months and always help out where they are needed. Since the project has just started here, it is still a little understaffed with volunteers, so it's great that this group can help. Apart from the fact that all of them were really sweet.
In general, the whole project and the volunteer work is very well organised. Every evening there is a meeting on the roof (how cool is that?!) with a review of the day, information from the project coordinator, about the overall project status and what will happen the next day. Later in the evening there is a curfew, at 9 pm everyone has to be back on the property and in the house you have to be as quiet as possible. But as you' re tired after a whole day at the construction site anyway, after 1-2 beers everyone actually is pretty happy about sleeping early at 9pm, especially since the next day starts at 6 am with the screaming of the goat and sheep living across the street. (Sorry, had to interrupt writing, I had to fight with a big bug on my keyboard - now it's gone - let's go on...)
I got there at a great construction phase. In the time when I was there many walls were pulled up. Next to shoveling concrete my favourite job was filling mortar in stones. However, this was quite a fight with the local masons. Instead of putting one row after the other, which I could have filled nicely, they built a section upwards. Then you had to look how to get the mortar into 3-4 empty rows of bricks. In the end I developed my technique and it worked well. I also learned how to mix mortar. Maybe I'll need it sometime in my life. Next to the walls, I found the floor demolition a pretty cool thing. Here we worked with sledgehammers and crampons. And one very important thing I learned: working on the construction site is much easier with music than without it. At this point I would like to thank Kylie for his fabulous playlist.
Mittags und Abends gab’s jeweils hervorragendes lokales Essen. Von gegrilltem Fisch oder Hühnchen über Gemüsereis bis zu Klößen war alles dabei. Und durch den steilen Hang zurück zum Haus wurde das Essen auch direkt wieder wegtrainiert. Zum Glück gab’s ab und zu die Möglichkeit, hinten auf dem PickUp mitzufahren, was besonders cool war. An einem Abend konnte ich sogar noch die Gelegenheit nutzen mir nach dem Abendessen, in einer der Eckkneipen die Dominoregeln erklären zu lassen. – Ich hab trotzdem verloren 😉
One evening there was a movie night using a projector in our place - fitting to the Caribbean we saw "Cool Runnings". Further evening highlights were unfortunately on days after my departure:
- A music festival,
- an auction to collect donations (on the list was virtually everything from a hammock, to a week's breakfast, to a farm stay in England or a jungle stay in Ecuador)
- a workshop evening where anyone can give a workshop to share their skills with the others. The first workshop was a photo editing course for pictures taken on mobile phones. I thought the sharing-skills-workshop-idea is great and it's actually something you can do with your friends in "normal life".
A highlight before my departure was the Day-Off - in this weeks case on a Monday because as the walls were to be raised quickly, Sunday was also called for work the week I was there. So everyone on the worksite had been working 7 days that week. I pay all my respect to them. I have to admit I was already pretty knocked out after only four days. So the day off was moved to Monday and we went snorkelling on a beach in the north.
The week was flying by and I thought a lot about whether I should add another week. Especially in the second half of my time there I felt a bit at home and just when I got to know the people I had to leave already. But when I went over my schedule again, I decided with a heavy heart not to spend another week in order to continue with my trip and getting the chance to get to know more places in the Caribbean. And I probably would have found it even harder to leave after two weeks. Some of the volunteers accompany the project until its completion. They will then also experience how the children move back into their school...
Ich freue mich über jeden Betrag, der dort zur Unterstützung des Projektes eingeht.
An dieser Stelle ein riesiges Dankeschön an ‚All Hands and Hearts‘, dass ich Teil sein durfte bei diesem tollen Projekt und an alle, die schon unterstützt haben. Weitere Hurrikanerzählungen von Einheimischen findet Ihr im Eintrag: Dominika zerstört vom Hurrikan. So finally I had to say goodbye and go back to the south.
Before that I made a little detour for kayaking and snorkelling, then I took the bus to Roseau.
For going back I accidentally hitchhiked: This happens here easily, because the buses are mini-vans, which are not specially marked - except that they have an H at the front of the license plate. So when I got in I only realized that it is a worker who uses the bus as a transport vehicle. Well, it was the perfect fit that he had to go to Roseau, so I just got in. (Note: I didn't really want to hitchhike as a woman travelling alone - but in the Caribbean this is virtually impossible). I then helped him to unload his building material at the company headquarters and then I was back in Roseau.