Last year, a series of destructive tornadoes ripped through the American South, devastating families and communities. This year, World Vision is organizing a series of mission trips to come alongside survivors as they continue to recover and rebuild. Laura Reinhardt reports on one mother in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who has already seen the compassion and generosity of others firsthand.
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“To me right now, it’s just, I still see the image of my house being there. I can’t believe what happened to us.”
That was what Bonfilia Maldonado, 26, said to me the first time I met her just a couple of days after the deadly tornadoes that tore across parts of Alabama, including the city of Tuscaloosa, in April 2011.
She was wandering through the rubble of her family’s home with two of her three children. “We just had painted my little girl’s room,” she said.
A tear streamed down her face as she talked about her family’s needs. Her 2-year-old, Maria Guadalupe, reached out and wiped away the tear.
The tornado not only wiped out Bonfilia’s home, but also her job. Thankfully, her husband, Miguel -- who had recently been laid off from his job with a roofing company -- was able to get it back in the tornado’s aftermath.
Still, Bonfilia didn’t know what the future held for her family. Her 5-year-old son, Christian, just couldn’t understand why they couldn’t go back to their home.
To help him understand, she brought him to their wrecked trailer.
“We don’t know what to explain to him, but we had to show him where we used to live…we just tell him that we don’t have a home right now.”
Bonfilia Maldonado, 26, holds her daughter, Maria Guadalupe, 2, as she surveys the ruins of her family's home in April 2011. (Photo: Laura Reinhardt/World Vision).
A happier encounter
Fast-forward to July 2011. With the help of our corporate donors, World Vision distributed backpacks, books, shoes, and games to tornado-affected children in the community of Holt, Alabama, a low-income unincorporated area just east of Tuscaloosa. My co-worker and I were interviewing someone when Bonfilia walked by with her family and greeted us. Her children carried the backpacks, shoes, games, and books they had just gotten at the event.
She explained that because we had told her story, her family's plight was brought to the attention of her dentist, who rallied a team to help the family. They provided clothing and household supplies the family had lost in the storm -- and even painted the children’s rooms inside the new trailer they got with their FEMA money.
In April of last year, Bonfillia had questioned whether or not to re-establish her family in the same location. Now, she said: “I know I might be crazy that I parked my trailer here at the same spot, but this is my place. This is my home.”
All around her, people were beginning their own rebuilding process. Seeing the volunteers moved Bonfilia.
“Knowing that there are hundreds, if not thousands [of people] putting this together,” said Bonfilia, “it means just a lot…people don’t know us. They’re reaching out to us and helping us.”
World Vision plans to remain in Tuscaloosa through April 2013, continuing to support the city’s recovery. The long-term plan includes three week-long World Vision missions trips in October, November, and December of this year, which will give teams of volunteers a chance to work alongside families and community organizations to reconstruct homes.
By coming along on a World Vision mission trip to Tuscaloosa, you can also be a part of the rebuilding efforts and help families like Bonfilia’s to get back on their feet again.
Read related story: Family survives tornado; home doesn't
Read related blog post: Mission teams: An answer to tornado survivors’ prayers and dreams
Want to be a part of a mission trip that helps tornado survivors rebuild -- and reflects Christ's love and compassion in the process? Learn more about the upcoming mission trips to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Can't join a mission trip but want to help? Check out these donation opportunities by which you can help children, families, and communities right here in the United States.