‘Our translator and supporter, Panjee from Java, must have been about 17 or 18 when the tsunami struck. Now he always wore a hat. We said to him, you must be so hot with your hat on all the time, and he said “I keep my hat on because I lost all my hair through the stress of clearing up bodies during the tsunami”. That was really so humbling at the time, to meet somebody who continued to support these efforts having been through something so utterly traumatic, and at such a young age.’ Said Sally Kettle, a ShelterBox response team volunteer, reflecting upon her first deployment in 2007 to Sumatra.
Described as ‘an adventurer with a passion for travel, exploration and people’, few people have as wide-ranging a CV as Sally – rower and yachtswoman, model, broadcaster, aid worker, motivational speaker, photographer.
Sally has three entries in Guinness World Records, including being the first woman ever to row the Atlantic twice from east to west. She not only supports ShelterBox, but also the London Sports Trust, the Children’s Trust, the British Inspiration Trust and Girl Guiding. She has also found time to raise £268,000 towards research into epilepsy.
When the tsunami hit, Sally had just completed her first Atlantic rowboat crossing with her mother, and was in the process of forming a team of girls to row for the second time towards the end of 2005. One member of her team was in Thailand at the time.
At the time, Sally was working for BBC Radio, on the receiving end of international reporting on the after-effects of the catastrophe. Sally tells us how her friend had arrived in Bangkok, but was told that everywhere in Phuket was fully booked so she should go north. ‘And it was that night that the tsunami hit, so she missed it, just by chance.’
But relief about this near miss was soon followed by another blow. While training for the second Atlantic crossing, Sally discovered a good friend of hers had died in Phuket. ‘It was really quite a difficult time’ says Sally, but led to her resolve to support ShelterBox.
In March 2005 she visited Cornwall, arranging to be trained as a response team member, and for the charity to be involved in her next Atlantic adventure. ‘Off we went on the row, with our brand new pink boat, and supported by ShelterBox.’
About being a response team volunteer, Sally says: ‘When you go out, you are living on your wits and your abilities and you’re having to deal with change all the time. Everything you need is in your backpack and that is a real freedom actually and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
‘When you come back you feel bogged down by the weight of your own possessions, the regular trudge of life with all your stuff and bills and work. It is hard. They call it post-deployment blues and that’s exactly how it felt.
‘So, ShelterBox for me has been something incredibly close to my own heart and has affected people that I know. It’s an amazing charity that I will continue to support for as long as I can.’
Sally is currently working towards producing a film ‘The Row Girls’ which will retell her story of the second row with three colleagues in memory of her good friend who lost her life during the tsunami. ShelterBox will be featured in the film.