My deployment in Hawaii was bittersweet. The people were some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Unfortunately, I was introduced into their lives when everything they had was taken away in the amount of 17 minutes. The grief process for some of these individuals all looked different and because of this, it made it very challenging for me to work for the first few days. Finding a way to do the job I love by serving this community and making them comfortable while doing it, sometimes caused me to adjust more than I expected.
I thought the backlash I was getting while only trying to help this community was various forms of grieving, but I quickly found out it was not. I soon realized it was more. It was two cultures colliding.
I was deployed as a sheltering service associate, but I also have a feeding and a Spiritual Care GAP and because of this I was able to serve in dual roles as needed. I was assigned on the Island of Maui in Lahaina. This group of people were story tellers. They loved to tell you how things came to be and how they got from this point to that point. They loved to eat while telling their stories. What could’ve been misinterpreted as ungratefulness became clearer with time. They wanted and needed someone to stop or slow down for a minute to listen to what they had to say.
It took me about 3 days to figure this out, but I was determined to get it. Once I learned how the people, I was serving operated, I quickly had to shift my mindset. I had to function and operate in the way the people were able to receive the help that the Red Cross, was offering. After doing so I received from this community more love and cooperation that I had ever seen from any other deployment.
We all had figured this thing out. We learned how to work side by side and get the job done in excellence. We realized we all wanted the same thing: to make sure that the devastated community was taken care of, and everyone was respected.
After being on that team to open a new congregate shelter and learning what I had learned everything else was the most rewarding feeling a person can have. I was soon restationed to start setting up some of the first non-congregate shelters in Lahaina. The team and I were finally able to work side-by-side with the clients and the locals with no push back.
I had to work the day of my birthday. Some of my clients, the locals and the Red Cross came together and threw the best birthday celebration that I ever had. It will definitely be a birthday I’ll never forget. I had made a connection with the locals and the clients that made the departure returning home a real tearjerker for everyone.
After every deployment I ask myself: what did you learn from this experience, whether it was good or bad? After this deployment I said to myself “Lawanda, if you don’t know the culture or the community of the people, you can’t respect the culture and the community of people, which makes it hard for you to serve the culture or the community of the people. Once you know-- then it will show”.
This was a great deployment!