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Dispatch from Houston

September 18, 2017 by

A group of twenty Bruderhof members spent two weeks in Texas volunteering with Save the Children, an NGO dedicated to promoting children’s rights, and providing relief and support for children in developing countries and areas of disaster. Their primary work involved providing safe play spaces for the children who are housed temporarily in several mega-shelters, allowing parents some free time to sort out their lives and the kids some precious time just to be kids. And day-to-day that’s mostly what they saw: kids being kids. But they also gathered snatches of stories that offer a different view.


Downtown Houston. Post-Harvey. The George R. Brown Convention center has been repurposed as a mega-shelter housing several thousand evacuees. Here, each passing day brings seismic shifts in atmosphere, morale, and human fortitude. The constant? This building providing temporary shelter to those who have lost all or nearly all when they could least afford to, and providing opportunity for others willing to give what they have to reconstruct out of the flotsam.

Children and volunteers playing in a child friendly space in a hurricane shelter in Texas

“Can you get any sleep at night?” we asked two little girls.

“No. It’s always loud. People are always yelling. One man, he kept yelling, and the police came and told him to be quiet – but he still yelled.”

“When our house was flooded, my baby and I were offered a helicopter rescue,” a teenage mother told me. “My mom, who is not old enough to qualify for elderly rescue, would have been left behind. I had to decide in a moment whether to accept rescue and separate our family, or decline rescue and stick together. I declined the helicopter rescue, and we waded through waist-deep flood water with my baby to a place where my grandmother picked us up in her car.”

“I went back to my house today, but it’s full of water that smells like fish,” reported a young Hispanic boy.

A young boy playing with jenga blocks as a volunteer watches in a hurricane shelter in Texas

“The night Harvey hit,” one woman told us, “I woke up to find the water waist-deep in my house. My four-year-old son was sleeping with me instead of in his own bed because he had been frightened by the thunder. If he had been in his own bed I don’t know what might have happened to him. We had to go upstairs in our house and wait for one of my relatives to canoe eighteen miles to come rescue us.”

“I’m still bringing stuff out of my house,” said another woman, her arms full of clothes as she rode the hotel elevator. “Yeah, I got flooded. I’ve never been flooded before.”

“We came here in a helicopter,” said one little girl.

“I came in a boat.”

“My neighbors had a bear on their front porch. It was drowned.”

A little girl playing peekaboo with a volunteer at a hurricane shelter in Texas

One volunteer told me: “I live local, and I just came over to the shelter to see if there was any way I could help. I was playing with one young boy and he just stole my heart, so I asked him to take me back to where he was staying so I could meet his family. Turns out it’s a single mom with four young kids – the youngest are a two-year-old and an eighteen-month-old – and no one to help her out. The mom was absolutely exhausted, and just needed someone to watch her kids so she could have a small amount of time to sort herself out. She’d been watching her kids around the clock for days in this place which is not exactly a safe environment for kids.”

“We, along with our neighbors, were the sacrificial lambs of the city. We were flooded by the controlled release which was a safeguard against the dams breaking and flooding downtown. While we had anticipated staying in our home, we were suddenly forced to evacuate by canoe as the water rose to our front door.”

“I have colon cancer and can’t eat most of the food offered here. But I am thankful! This is a positive experience. We are safe and I thank God!”

***

And suddenly the stories that we are accustomed to reading from the comfort of home or office, the scenes we watch on the news, no longer live on paper and screen. The virtual  is replaced by reality, and we’re in the midst of a threadbare humanity, trying to add patches on patches.


Do you want to see more of what our team did? Watch this video:

Watch on YouTube.

Photo credits: Susan Warner-Lambert

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About the author

Melinda Goodwin

Melinda Goodwin

Melinda is the current webmaster of Bruderhof.com, social media manager, and a weekly vlogger.

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