This past April school vacation, a team of 8 TELEM teens and 9 parents journeyed to Louisiana on a joint TELEM/Temple Shir Tikvah (Winchester) mission to help the ongoing post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. This group of rebuilders was hoping to give a much needed boost to put the finishing touches on new houses that would soon be occupied by area residents. These new houses were built by volunteers in a neighborhood being re-vitalized by the organization Habitat for Humanity. Though hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana nearly five years ago, there are still thousands of people displaced from their homes and sadly, without the means to acquire adequate and safe housing. This neighborhood project will ultimately build 37 desperately needed homes for families.
Why travel so far away to a place that you've never seen, where you know no one, and where you'll spend your vacation time working long and hard? Josh, a teen member of the crew put the answer in a simple but powerful way, "It's just what I would want someone else to do for me if I needed it."
So for five days in the Louisiana sun and heat, the air was filled with the sounds generated by the TELEM/Shir Tikvah work crews. Most teens (and adults too!) had never done any carpentry projects before. But with some training and steady guidance, saws were soon buzzing, drills were whirring and hammers were banging away. Crews laid tile and grout on kitchen and bathroom floors, put shelving in closets, installed siding and roof trim, and built decks, stairs and railings, to name a few of the projects. The job was to do whatever was needed to bring the houses closer to 'move-in condition.' And sure enough, by the time the five days were up, the houses were ever more ready for families to open the door with their very own key.
Though work days were very busy and the heat was tiring, the crew found the energy to explore New Orleans and to learn about Jewish life in the area. The word 'voluntourism' grew out of the idea that when you travel to volunteer your time in a new place, you should also take the time to get to know the area/country and people there. This crew took the 'voluntourism' idea to heart and did a variety of educational, fun, and community-building activities.