A few years back, my husband and I concocted a dream: to travel around the country volunteering at different disaster sights, living out of a camper. My husband, with his mad carpentry skills, could head up the jobs with other volunteers helping out, and I’d take care of the kids, manage volunteers, cook, whatever. It’d be a hoot, or at least “an adventure.” But although we had the time and interest, energy and skills, as a family of six living on a single income, long-term volunteering without financial support was beyond our means.
But then hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, and after my husband went there in January (his report of the situation: There’s lots to do and Yep, we’d be a good fit), and after consulting with family and a few close friends, we sent a proposal to Mennonite Disaster Service, which we knew usually only relies on short-term volunteers.
May through August, we said. And we speak Spanish.
The worst they could do was say no.
But they said yes!
And then we were like Wheeeee! followed immediately by WE’RE ACTUALLY DOING THIS, YIKES.
The details are hazy, for both us and MDS. For MDS, long-term volunteering usually means two to four weeks, not four months, and often it’s retired folks providing the volunteer leadership, not families with four children needing financial support.
Plus, the situation in Puerto Rico is complicated. Normally after a disaster, it six to twelve months to begin the rebuilding, so at just barely six months, MDS is in the beginning stages. They are moving carefully, wanting to be as sensitive and sustainable as possible, so lots of components are up in the air.
What we do know is this: My husband and I will be leaders, answering to the three in-country coordinators, and managing volunteers and overseeing a building project or two (currently, there are about nine). The two older kids will be mostly full-time volunteers and the younger two will tag along, helping out wherever they can and (hopefully) staying out of trouble. But about our specific tasks and location and living situation, we know nothing. Oddly enough, this doesn’t much bother me. A person can do just about anything for four months, right? It’ll be fine.
Oh, and as for finances, we only have to raise enough money to keep the home fires burning, and, thankfully, our sweet, generous, kind, supportive church has agreed to back us, Thank you, Church! They’ve even provided a handy-dandy online donation spot (choose the line that says “Mennonite Disaster Services.”)
Here’s a video of my husband’s January trip to Puerto Rico. It’ll give you a good sense of what MDS is all about. (Esther makes me tear up every time.)