When Rachel and I were coming up with the vision for our lives and Gypsy Sols we decided that ideally we would have a location independent source of income that allowed us the flexibility to travel, raise a family, and volunteer with organizations we care about. Over the past year we have been putting a lot of focus on growing our businesses and traveling which unfortunately has made it a little harder to volunteer as much as we had originally envisioned. That is why we were SUPER excited about volunteering with All Hands and Hearts for two weeks. It also helped that the location for our volunteer trip was in my favorite place on earth (BVI’s).
How we choose All Hands and Hearts
Finding All Hands
I first came to know of All Hands and hearts when I was searching for a charity to donate to. Before we quit our jobs to focus on Gypsy Sols, Rachel and I donated 10% of all of our earnings to church and charities (5% church 5% charities). We alternated who got to pick the charity every month which ended up being super fun. I found All Hands on charitynavigator.org and loved what they were doing so we donated.
Choosing a Location to Volunteer
Several months into our world trip I received an email from All Hands with a list of the project they are working on. When I saw that they were doing a project on Tortola in the BVIs I immediately asked Rachel if she would want to do it. Rachel and I both LOVE the BVIs and were devastated when we learned about all of the destruction caused by Irma. She was excited about the idea so we settled on a volunteer trip in June.
Ethics of Volunteering
One of the things I am super cognizant about is wanting to volunteer with projects that are benefiting the people they are set up to help (rather than focusing on generating money). At first, I was turned off by the idea of doing construction and demolition work as I feared that it might take away jobs from people that desperately needed them. Luckily, All Hands had also thought of this and they focus all of their relief efforts to assist other non-profits, schools, and families that can not afford to pay to get the work done. They also higher, train and pay locals to assist with each of their programs.
As another note… The destruction was so vast in the BVIs that my fear was completely unfounded. There is way more work that needs to be done than any of the local companies can keep up with. If you are interested in volunteering with this project please go here for more information.
Applying to Work with All Hands and Hearts
Another thing I love about All Hands is that they accept just about anyone with a good heart and desire to help. (This is important to me given my lack of ‘handyman’ skills.) There is no cost to be a volunteer and they even provide meals and lodging during your stay. To apply just go to their website, research the programs that you are interested in, submit the online application and wait a couple of days. If you do not have a lot of time to volunteer they can still use your help as a day volunteer. If you want the full experience I recommend at least a week (unbeknownst to Rachel I signed us up for two weeks).
What It’s Like to Volunteer with All hands and Hearts
All Hands is focused on helping communities immediately after natural disasters. Using their “Smart Response System” (read more on that here) they are able to identify potential projects and deploy volunteers extremely quickly. The work varies based on how far along each project is. The BVIs are still in a ‘response’ phase which means a lot of demolition, concrete, and roof work. We helped rebuild a school, day care, and autism center.
A typical day consists of lights on at 6:30 and heading to the work sites by 7:15. You get an hour for lunch and breaks throughout the day before returning to base at 4:00. We brought PBJs for lunch from base sometimes, but we loved getting jerk chicken at a local spot.
Its hot, dirty, physical work but the site coordinators and team leads do a lot to make sure you are enjoying the experience. As I mentioned I do not have a lot of experience with this kind of work and Rachel has even less. Nevertheless, by day two we were both comfortably using all sorts of power tools and having a blast. By the end of our time with All Hands Rachel concluded that we could build our own house if given proper plans. Rachel also got to volunteer on an art project at a local school which is way more up her alley.
Life on Base
Back in our day we were both dorm sharing, hostel traveling, backpackers. Today however, we prefer Airbnb and if we absolutely have to do a hostel we almost always get a private room. When we realized that volunteering meant sharing a room, bathroom, and kitchen with 20+ people we were a little hesitant. After thinking it over we eventually conceded that we could do anything for two weeks.
We ended up meeting so many amazing people that living on base quickly became our favorite part of volunteering. Our base coordinator was a rock star and did a great job of making sure everyone felt included and welcome. We did a deep clean twice a week so the “hostel vibe” never quite took over and the community feeling more than made up for anything we missed by not having our own space. It was kind of like an adult summer camp!
The conditions were definitely closer to camping than a 5-star hotel but if you are prepared it can be part of the fun. Think cold showers, no A/C, and lots of mosquitos. But we adapted quickly and it’s hard to complain given the overall mission of the project.
Schedule on Base
After returning to base at 4:00 every day there is a team meeting at 5:30 to go over the day’s activities and upcoming projects and then dinner at 7:00. Other than that you are free to do whatever you want. Our particular project had a curfew of 10:00 in the evening, so we were expected to be back by then (not a problem is given the early wakeup). We had one day off per week (Sunday) but I know some projects get two. On days off there is no curfew or mandatory meetings but you are responsible for your own food. We became really close with the other volunteers and we had a lot of fun on the off days exploring new beaches and having an epic scavenger hunt across Jost Van Dyke.
During the week we had margarita nights, dancing classes, charity auctions and shared the responsibility of doing dishes, cooking and maintaining our home. Dinner is either delivered from a local cook or prepared by the volunteers. We had a great time seeing everyone’s various skills as chef. I can’t speak for “base life” at every program but if you are doing the BVIs program living on base is great. (It probably helped that it was located steps from the sand and the Caribbean Sea).
Check out this video All Hands created showing a day in the life of a volunteer
Overall Impressions of All Hands and Hearts
All things considered, we could not be more happy with how our volunteer experience turned out. We learned a lot of new skills, made amazing friends and truly felt that we had made a difference in the BVI’s. Rachel and I even tied for Volunteer of the Week! We are already talking about where we want to volunteer with All Hands and Hearts next. If you want any additional information on our experience please feel free to shoot me an email.
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Photo Cred: Mark Whale