By Gail Murakami
This is an example of the ongoing ministry of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), answering Christ’s call to serve those in need anywhere in the world. In this case, the trip was in support of typhoon survivors in Guam.
An invitation from FEMA typically comes about a week before traveling but in my case, it came four days before traveling to Guam. After receiving my invitation, I called a travel agency FEMA works with to book my flight to and from Guam. And soon it was time to go. From November 11 to 25, 2023, I joined nine people from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Austin, San Antonio, Detroit and Pleasanton, TX to join a relief mission to Guam.
My team was made of ten individuals who didn’t know each other before but came to be known as Team Seven: Dan, Jim, Jeff, Justin, Leslie, Mark, Teresa, Todd, Wayne, and myself. The first day, we used what tools we brought in our suitcases the first day on job, and FEMA supplies and tools arrived later. In the meantime, we began where we could.
We had one contact person from FEMA who our leader worked with to view the job sites, ordering what tools and supplies are needed for each one. We worked on a total of four job sites with multiple projects at each site during our fourteen-day trip.
Job Site One was a home that needed a room with a roof on it and two windows with a door. Corrugated sheet metal and wooden frame formed the foundation up to the new roof. Getting materials or supplies to use, like appropriate tools, delayed this project and set us off to a rocky start. We could not bring all the necessary tools in our suitcase, so we used FEMA tools to complete the job, such as wood supplies.
Job Site Two needed a half wooden door created in the kitchen, a ceiling in two rooms, to bring in an electric light bulb in the ceiling, and electrical outlets in the rooms and kitchen. Many times, there are existing roofs or ceilings so you have to decide how to incorporate the existing measurements or slants to the ceilings in order to progress on the current projects.
On Job Site Three, the women worked with our leader and made a shelter which would be the family kitchen. The house also needed an addition, so metal corrugated sidings after frame and roof were built and we added two doors in this closed sleeping quarters area.
Job Site Four was in another Tribe neighborhood and we completed another living space for a family. We used 2×4 wood, metal corrugated sheet metal, screws, drill bits, battery-operated saw, blades, a sawhorse, battery-operated drills, metal nails for hammering in sheet metal, hammer, foam, and other materials.
Team building is a must, so when we weren’t working our daily shifts, we had a breakfast with our leader in his apartment, went on hikes, and visited beaches. Team Seven could write a book on their experiences and their adventures on these hikes during the rainy season. Most locals hike only during the non-rainy season. We all have beautiful sunset pictures as well as beach pictures! There’s nothing like laughing on a hike and having a team story to tell as you build job site projects during the day. We all came from different places, and it was important to work hard and laugh!
The same site often had multiple rooms or projects, so we often split up to tackle projects, and as a result we were able to complete four site projects in two weeks. Lunch time was a restful time for air conditioning and restroom break away from the site. It’s amazing how a cool room and restroom off-site was a good replenishing time for our team. The air-conditioned lunch area allowed us to discuss as we evaluated the progress of the site project and what was ahead to finish that day’s work. Many times, supplies arriving at the site determined the progress or time to look at another new job site to line up for our team.
In addition to building tools, we found other necessities were key to our experience. Knee pads are a must-have on the roof. Ear plugs for cutting corrugated sheet metal for the walls and the roof were also a must-have for our team. If you are near the site or cutting corrugated sheet metal, you will appreciate the earplugs, and I recommend using a neck string so you don’t lose them. Most important was sunblock and bug spray. We experimented with Off and Cutters, but the foolproof spray was Repel. On both the job sites and hiking in Guam you had to have a hat, sunscreen and bug spray all of the time. Bring detergent and dishwashing soap or get creative like we did and use shampoo for hand soap and dishwashing.
There is a two-hour window before sunset and the end of our work day, so we researched places the night before for the next day. We got lots of tips for local eats, so we tried a few for team dinners. Wednesday was the Night Market, Thursday was Food Truck Thursday, and the 42nd Japan Autumn Festival was being held near the hotel district.
My final word about it would be “people.” We are building for the Chamorro Tribes. We are people coming together as a team to work together. Laugh with your team members, keep your ears open for suggestions or alternative ways to do things from your team leader. We spoke with the local people living in Guam to learn from our time in Guam. It’s about people.