BY EMMA RUBIN ’20 AND KATE TURNER ’21
The Mount Holyoke Christian Fellowship, along with other Christian faith organizations within the Five Colleges, will visit Houston, Texas during spring break on a community service trip. The project will be led and sponsored by ServeUP, an organization that leads New England college faith groups on trips to help with disaster relief.
ServeUP is part of the parent organization InterVarsity New England, a missionary movement throughout New England campuses.
In previous years, the service trips have exclusively traveled to New Orleans to provide support to the regions still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Beginning this year, ServeUP introduced new projects in Baton Rouge and Houston after the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey.
A category four hurricane with a diameter of 280 miles, Hurricane Harvey made the U.S. record for rainfall from a single storm, showering 51 inches of rain in parts of Texas and 27 trillion gallons of rain in the state overall, according to CNN. According to World Vision, 30,000 were forced to take refuge in temporary shelter during the storm and 13 million were affected by the hurricane, with nearly 135,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Six months later, Houston — a city not built with such a disaster in mind — is still in dire need of aid.
“Hurricane Katrina was the costliest disaster in U.S. history at $120 billion,” said the ServeUP website. “Hurricane Harvey will surpass that cost.”
In order to provide immediate relief to areas most affected by Harvey, ServeUP will partner with various Houston charities. Students from Mount Holyoke and the other four colleges will work with The Hub, a Baptist church in Houston, Hope Disaster Recovery, a disaster relief network and the Greater Houston Food Bank, among others.
“My experience last year was one to remember,” said Mendi Mwangi ’19, who participated in a service trip to New Orleans sponsored by the College last spring. “I think that the full effect doesn’t actually hit someone until a few months later.”
After a 26-hour bus ride, Mwangi and her fellow students arrived in New Orleans for a week. “The days were all different,” she said.
Students painted houses and cleared out plots of land within the city. “It [was] a lot,” said Mwangi. “Thankfully there are so many people [there] — leaders from each college Christian campus in the Five Colleges and Springfield College, church representatives — to help orient us and ease us in.”
At the end of each day, students gathered in small groups for guided discussions about various topics pertaining to faith, justice and their service. “We had to be pretty vulnerable,” said Mwangi. “They were scheduled for about one hour, but would often move into the rest of the evening.”
“Although I felt that that was not the point of the trip, it turned out to be rewarding in terms of the values and perspectives I gained about New Orleans and the diversity within America,” Mwangi said.
For Mwangi, the service trip was valuable because it helped expose students to some of the long-term outcomes of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina, especially regarding some of the class and racial disparities in that city. “Given that Hurricane Harvey is more recent, I think it will be a new experience for students to see the more recent effects of a disaster and what disaster relief might have looked like,” Mwangi said.
Seven thousand students from across the country have been involved in ServeUP service trips since the organization was established 12 years ago, according to the official website.
“Our campus leader Elizabeth Booher has been in contact with teams of students from other colleges that have gone to Houston in the past weeks,” Mwangi said of the new trip to Houston. “They say that the work is plenty and that it has been fruitful thus far. I’m therefore hopeful and confident in what they will be able to do.”