World

Plumbers Without Borders

March 25, 2021 by

Kevin Maendel
Kevin working on a house in Austin, Texas. Photo by author.

Often when I read about a big disaster I dream of being a hero. I’ve imagined being a surgeon who, after seeing tents full of dying people on FOX news, swivels around in my home office chair, logs onto Doctors Without Borders, and immediately books a flight to the hot zone. It must be so rewarding.

That instinct was active when I recently heard about the frozen homes in Texas. Cold homes are bad enough, but reversible in a few days. Much of the real damage comes from the pipes that burst because of the shock of freezing. These do not come back on their own. As a plumber, this was one big disaster that I was perfectly equipped to help. So I did my own internet search and in a few minutes came across – and I kid you not – Plumbers Without Borders! Geronimo! I’d be volunteering jointly with Water Mission, which generously paid the expenses of the team I joined for ten days.

We started out in Austin, dispatched from house to house. The people we met had been out of water for three weeks, relying on scarce bottled water for everything from drinking, cooking, and bathing, to flushing a “number two.” To the untrained eye, most of the houses looked fine, almost like there was no problem. The leaks needed to be diagnosed by briefly turning on the water and listening for the signs of early flooding. Then we’d turn it back off and go to work cutting out the split pipes and replacing them.

insulationFixed pipes. Photo by author.

I was working with a three-man plumbing company from Georgia and one plumber from Brooklyn, and we managed to get a lot done. We were all here for the same reason: to get people’s water turned on! As we worked through the lists given to us we quickly saw the unsurprising pattern of the homes hit the worst – working class families in trailers or double-wides, whose off-the-ground position had given them more exposure. Some had been without power for twenty-five days. The look on their grateful faces, sometimes whole families of different ages, was all the pay that we needed.

Although exhausting, the ten days were too short and full of rewards. One woman told us, “when you get to heaven, see if there’s room for me,” and we assured her that she’ll be there with us.

Who would ever have thought of Plumbers Without Borders? As sensible as it is, it wasn’t on my radar until this disaster hit. You too may be surprised at all the ways there are to help others. Next time you hear of someone who is in need, or doesn’t have the basic necessities of life, I encourage you to do something about it.


Kevin Maendel lives at Bellvale, a Bruderhof in Chester, New York.

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