A day in the Ahr Valley flood recovery zone

When Germany’s Ahr Valley flooded, Hylanders showed up for a day of volunteering

In July 2021, much of western Germany experienced more than a month’s rainfall within a span of 24 hours. In Ahrweiler, a stretch of towns and villages dotting the basin of the Ahr River, flash floods swept away homes, businesses, vehicles, bridges, roads and entire communities. The flood collapsed the electricity and water supply, and 133 people lost their lives. Numerous towns were affected, some of which are more than 100 kilometers apart; however, the Ahr Valley was hit the hardest and was the worst flood disaster that people in this region have had to experience in nearly 500 years.

Inspired by the volunteer activities of our U.S. colleagues in Specialty Sales, Sales Manager Volker Krause suggested that the RPA Specialty Sales Team travel to the Ahr Valley for a day to lend a hand. Using their Volunteer Time Off, a Hyland benefit that allows employees to take up to 12 hours of paid time off for volunteering a year, three more colleagues answered the call, who also packed their Hyland backpacks and selflessly went along to help.

Lending a helping hand

After the flood, houses and streets had to be cleared of mud and dirt, and people’s destroyed belongings had to be disposed of. Most of this work had to be done by hand, and thousands of volunteers showed up to do this hard but invaluable work in order to make the houses habitable again. The Hyland team was ready to step in and be part of the recovery.

“When we arrived at the assembly point, we were assigned to the work of ‘chiselling’ — presumably because our young colleagues make such a sporty and fit impression,” said Michael Schmidt, account manager, SLS Specialty Sales. “We were given several hammer drills and chisels and taken to the village of Altenburg. From a distance, the village did not look too bad, but the closer we got, the more we noticed that most of the houses were no longer inhabited and many buildings had neither windows nor doors.

A muddy brown edge on the houses clearly shows how high the level of the river was here. The water not only destroyed the furnishings but also damaged the building fabric to such an extent that the houses had to be restored to their shell. Screed and plaster had to be knocked off the walls — that was also our task. Wearing hearing protection, safety goggles, face masks and gloves, we stood in a former family home and scraped the plaster off the walls and ceiling. In places, we noticed how damp the plaster still is, and the smell of mold and dust was spreading. The water carried dangerous germs into the walls, so we had to work in a protected way and had every small injury treated immediately.”

When Germany’s Ahr Valley flooded, Hylanders showed up for a day of volunteering

Making a difference

In addition to the physical work done to help this community, the Hyland team was able to meet some of the residents and hear their stories, learning firsthand how their volunteer work was making a difference.

“In front of the house, an elderly lady sat on a camping chair, the former resident,” said Schmidt. “She told us a bit about the day that turned her life upside down. How the bridge in front of her house could no longer hold the masses of driftwood and washed-up caravans from the neighboring campsite and collapsed. How this wave then swept away the house that originally stood in front of hers and how she endured the whole time on her roof.

She is now getting money to rebuild. Her children want her to buy a new condo with it, but she doesn’t want to leave the place where she has lived all her life. So, she lives in a temporary shelter and is at her house every day, helping to make it habitable again.”

After several hours of noise, dust, dirt and handling heavy machinery, our Hylanders had given it their all.

“Our arms became very heavy and our faces very tired, but we actually managed to knock off all the plaster left in the house and drive the rubble to the door,” said Schmidt. “It’s a small miracle, says our resident.”

Our Hylanders continue to amaze us with their selfless acts of helping others. Giving back is at our core at Hyland, and we are inspired by all of the work our employees continue to do.

Tracy Petrakis

Tracy Petrakis

Tracy Petrakis is Hyland’s Community Engagement manager. Community Engagement programs include corporate giving and volunteerism, focusing on employee engagement and Hyland’s philanthropic focus of building and inspiring careers in technology.

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