I took a break and rested the sledgehammer on the floor, heavily leaning on it as a support whilst I caught my breath. Sweat dripped from my forehead into my eyes, blurring my vision as I struggled to view the massive hole I’d made in someone’s bathroom wall. “You’re killing it,” came an enthusiastic American voice from behind me. A mandatory fist pump ensued.
By simply responding to an email a few days earlier, the seven of us Brits, all complete strangers, took two weeks out of their lives to join Team Rubicon UK and volunteer to assist the community of Baton Rouge and help clean up after the devastating floods in Louisiana, USA.
On August 12, 2016, a significant long-term weather event occurred in Louisiana. During the subsequent days, many areas received 20 inches of rain after severe flash flooding. A state of emergency was declared. The incredibly dangerous initial rescue phase lasted four days and involved 20,000 helicopter and ground-based rescues. 140,000 homes were affected and over a dozen lives tragically lost.
Six weeks later, some houses were still under water. Most of the people affected didn’t have insurance to rebuild and repair their houses, therefore families had to rely on charities like Team Rubicon to rebuild their lives and get back into their homes. Team Rubicon deployed 181 volunteers from the United States, Norway, Canada, Australia, and the U.K who worked over 16,000 hours, to assist the community of Baton Rouge.
As one of those privileged volunteers, I spent ten days moving sodden furniture, ripping out bathrooms, pulling down walls, removing floors and helping families get back into their homes when they had no one else to help them with this massive task. Many still have to live in houses that would be condemned in the UK, as they have nowhere else to go.
The work was physically very demanding in temperatures and humidity levels in the 90s. Every day my clothes were soaked through with sweat and my hair looked like I’d put my finger in an electrical socket it was so frizzy due to the humidity. I didn’t smell good either and was covered in more dirt than any lady should ever wear.
Despite the hard work and heat, my belly ached with laughter each day. I had so much fun and made some great new friends. I’ve loved every moment of it. I felt like a power ranger kicking down walls, destroying a flood damaged snooker table with a sledgehammer, throwing around sand bags and ripping out kitchens. I’d have been afraid to use a saw power tool before this, now I’ve torn up metal corrugated roofs and ripped through chunky wooden support beams without hesitation.
I’ve seen more mold than I suspect there is in a blue cheese factory, pulled thousands of nails, fed an army of bloodthirsty insects and eaten more fried food than I’m willing to confess.
Team Rubicon was originally set up for veterans to give them a community and sense of purpose once they’ve left the forces. Luckily for me, they also include civilians to serve a common cause. I’ve learned a lot about the struggles some veterans have and how important the Team Rubicon community and support is to them.
One of the many great things about the trip for me was how volunteers from five nations, all previously strangers, worked so well together and made the hard work seem easy with humor. We confused the Americans with our sarcasm and self-deprecating humor, shared friendly banter with the Aussies, avoided upsetting the Norwegian Vikings and taught the Canadians some dance moves. I think I can speak for us all when I say that we were proud to represent the UK and worked just as hard for each other and for Team Rubicon as we did for the communities we served. This experience has proved that strangers can unite and achieve great things given a common purpose, while having a lot of fun. It’s been an experience I’ll never forget and has given me so many ideas of new ways I can give back.