16 July 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Voluntourists at Home

She and her family had been forced to evacuate their home when Hurricane Katrina was approaching. They hadn’t been back to New Orleans for more than two weeks, and when they were finally told it was safe to return, they packed up some of the belongings they had salvaged and started the long drive home. When they pulled into their driveway, they saw that many trees had fallen, some on their roof and many across the property.

Her mother walked around the house and returned looking shocked. There were people in the backyard!

The family walked around the house to find a group of volunteers cutting down their trees. They had traveled to Louisiana with a visiting church group and proclaimed that they were here to help. They had already cut down a number of trees and were currently cutting down one that had only a few branches missing and the top had fallen off.

The family got together to chat, to figure out what to do. They were a bit annoyed as they realized the volunteers had been dragging away wood they could have saved for firewood, and they were currently cutting down trees they could probably save…. plus it was stressful to have uninvited people in their home when all they wanted to do was settle in and assess the damage on their own as a family.

But they realized these volunteers had good intentions! Plus, they didn’t want to offend them and tell them to leave, since they’d traveled all this way to try to “help”.

The volunteers had already removed most of the trees that had fallen on the house. While the trees had damaged the house, they had also prevented additional water and debris from entering their home as the trees had been stoppers, filling the holes they had created.

When they pulled trees off of the roofs there wasn’t always apparent exposure to the elements but inside it led to additional leeking. The family was so glad that they had returned home just when they did, as the volunteers had just removed a tree from their house which, unbeknown to them, actually had some branches protruding through the roof that they couldn’t have seen just by looking at it from the outside, only from the inside. (There CERTAINLY in another analogy in that!)

They looked over at other houses on the street that the volunteers had already cleared and realized that some neighbors, who were not scheduled to return to their home for more than a week, now had holes in their house exposed to the elements.

“But how do we tell them to LEAVE?” the family asked each other? Instead they politely asked them to keep the rest of the firewood rather than drag it away, and waited as the volunteers marched off to the next home.

A woman who was just on a course I instructed in Cambodia told me this story about her experience living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and I am sharing it here with her permission.