Jenny O’Donnell is HandsOn Jacksonville’s Community Engagement Director. She took her vacation time to volunteer in Haiti doing disaster relief. The staff and board of HOJ are all so proud of Jenny! Here’s her story:
On June 9th I joined two excited and idealistic volunteers as we drove through the night to board our flight out of Miami heading for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Prior to our departure, we had spent 3 months diligently preparing for our adventure, connecting with several organizations in Haiti and raising funds to cover our costs. We had our bug spray, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and passports ready, however no packing list will ever truly prepare you for Haiti. As we embarked, we all had one similar goal; to contribute our sweat to humanity and to be reminded of just how fortunate we are in this country.
Upon arrival we were swiftly delivered to the All Hands Volunteer Base in Leogane and got to work. All Hands Volunteers is a volunteer-driven, US-based non-profit organization that provides hands-on assistance to survivors of natural disasters around the world. Here we lived in a communal setting, sleeping in open air bunks and tents while eating simple meals, sharing our stories and most basic amenities with fellow volunteers. The volunteers are from all over the world, including Haiti, and also shared the vision of contributing something, no matter how small, to the recovery of the country.
Volunteers spend their days tirelessly working in the heat clearing rubble off of local residences, teaching English to children, educating communities on sanitation and restoring schools. The living situation at the temporary camps are crude with overcrowded conditions, lack of running water and higher threats of communicable diseases such as cholera. During the 2010 earthquake Haitian homes, which are typically solid concrete structures, collapsed into massive piles of rubble. Rubble removal is so critical because it allows families to move out of temporary camps and pitch tents on their own property while they rebuild their homes.
To be a part of such a powerful, collective vision was inspiring and restored my hope that we can all indeed make a difference and that we are not alone in this belief. I met volunteers from as far as Australia and Europe who came to lend a hand. My brief visit to Haiti allowed me to gain humility and a deeper perspective on the reality of disaster recovery in a developing 3rd world country. Haiti and its people are in my heart daily and I have found a renewed and deep respect for the relief workers who dedicate their lives to the recovery of disaster affected communities.
To learn more about All Hands visit www.hands.org
View all photos on Flickr.