It’s hot – from 31 to 34 Celsius every day. It’s humid. It’s messy. It’s hard work. So why do some members of Winnipeg’s River East Mennonite Brethren Church keep going back to New Orleans each summer to fix homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005?
“The first time I went, I thought maybe I could do something useful, maybe be of a little help,” says high school teacher Reynold Redekopp. “But then a local official told us that when we come we do more than fix houses. We bring them hope.”
“Everyone there thinks they are forgotten,” says Nina Schroeder, who graduated from grade 12 in June. “By going, I can help show them that someone still remembers.”
For Lori Wiebe, who directs a local non-profit agency, it’s about feeling that “I made a difference in the world – that’s why I keep going back.”
From July 28–August 1, 17 people from River East volunteered in New Orleans with Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). They framed, put up dry wall, mudded, sanded, tiled, painted, primed, and did various repairs on five houses.
The volunteers are greatly appreciated, says Lois Nickel, who helps direct MDS programs in Canada.
“We offer help to those in Canada and the U.S. who can’t get it from other places,” she says, noting that while governments and other agencies provide funding, “the gift that MDS brings is people – it’s free labour.”
At the end of July, 1,160 volunteers had served in New Orleans with MDS. Last year, more than 6,000 people volunteered for a week or more with the agency; of that total, more than 200 came from Manitoba.
Along with feeling they’re making a difference, the volunteers from River East MB Church say the trip is also a great way to build relationships.
“We really get to know each other,” says Schroeder of the trips, which include younger and older church members. “We develop really good friendships as we work and talk,” adds Redekopp. “It’s a great inter-generational experience,” adds Wiebe.