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All Hands Volunteers Pull Together With Ecuadorean Communities

 

Maybe my problem is I’ve seen too many well intentioned but poorly thought out aid organizations descend on communities in the developing world and accomplish little, or even worse, sow chaos.

When my partner and I heard about the devastating earthquake in Ecuador last spring, we knew we wanted to help. But we were also wary of throwing in with an organization that might do more harm than good. Even after receiving a recommendation from a trusted friend, we were nervous as we made our way north along the Ecuadorean coast. The earthquake damage was more apparent with each mile that passed—cracks in the road, rubble, half-houses spilling reminders of normal life.

It was obvious how much help was needed, and we hoped that All Hands Volunteers Ecuador Earthquake Response was doing a good job.

They were—and they are.

 

Permenant House - Mark WhaleAll Hands volunteers working on a permanent, earthquake-resistant house in Ecuador. Photo by Mark Whale, courtesy of All Hands Volunteers.

As we worked with more than 40 other volunteers to put displaced families in first temporary then permanent housing, we were struck by the professionalism, kindness and efficiency of the All Hands staff and volunteers.

Rory Dickens, an architect with extensive experience designing earthquake-resistant bamboo structures, is the on-site project manager for the All Hands Ecuador Earthquake Response project. I worked closely with Rory while we were in Ecuador, helping to document the construction process so that the families receiving All Hands houses would not only have new homes but would also understand how their houses were constructed and why they were earthquake-resistant.

I asked Rory how All Hands was able to respond so well to community needs. He answered that it was about volunteers working together. “All Hands volunteers are people who are passionate about sacrificing their time to help solve these problems and make a change for the better,” he said.. “When we need a translator to address the community, someone steps up to the plate; when we need someone to develop an app and make our data collection more efficient—someone steps up.”

I experienced this sense of camaraderie both among volunteers and between All Hands and the community personally. As Rory puts it, “Volunteers motivate other volunteers who motivate the community.”

 

Moving Bamboo - Mark WhaleAll Hands volunteers work together to load bamboo onto the truck that will take it to a construction site. Photo by Mark Whale, courtesy of All Hands Volunteers.

Lots of volunteer organizations can claim enthusiasm, but All Hands combines this enthusiasm with knowledge of how to efficiently and respectfully work with communities. The organization has been responding to natural disasters for more than a decade, and the experience shows.

The volunteer base is a tightly run operation. Nothing is wasted, including time. Volunteers are up at 5:30 a.m., eating the simple, but hearty, breakfast provided by All Hands. Project teams convene at 6:45 a.m., and volunteers are in trucks on the way to construction sites by 7 a.m.

We worked hard each day until 4 p.m. Signs reminded volunteers to protect tools, not waste construction materials, to respect resources. Volunteers were even conscious of the cost of the food being served to them as they worked—if someone had leftovers, they shared. Nothing was wasted.

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