Working Within A Cluster Group ‘Invaluable To ShelterBox’

Portrait of Operations Coordinator, Dave Ray

Dave Ray, ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, is currently working in Malawi as Deputy Cluster Coordinator for a cluster group formed to help manage the response to widespread flooding in Malawi.
Torrential rain continues to fall in Malawi as it suffers from the worst floods in 40 years and current reports suggest that more than 230,000 people have had to leave their homes as a result.
During such large-scale disasters, agencies come together to form cluster groups, so that they can coordinate their response and work towards common objectives within a particular sector of emergency response, such as health, food or shelter. Cluster groups are not only formed to coordinate a national response, but are often used as a way to work efficiently at a local level too.
Dave is working to coordinate the shelter cluster within the areas affected by flooding in Southern Malawi. This cluster is working to assist the Malawi Red Cross in its role as co-Chair of the national shelter cluster.
He explained why working in a cluster is so important: ‘Creating a cluster group gives agencies, such as ShelterBox, the space and opportunity to work together to provide a coordinated response.
‘The members of a cluster group use their experience and overall knowledge of a disaster to steer organisations towards an agreed way of working and can help set standards that everyone has to work to.
‘As part of a cluster, our main role is to support agencies so that they can give the best possible aid to those people in need of shelter.’
Coordination and communication are key
Dave is currently situated in the south of the country, where he is helping to coordinate responses in the districts of Nsanje, Zomba, Phalombe, Chikwawa, and Blantyre.
Each day includes a lot of travelling, as he is helping to set up and support cluster groups in each of the districts to make sure that aid agencies and local groups are coordinating, rather than overlapping or conflicting with each other.
Dave also spends a lot of time visiting the temporary camps that have sprung up throughout Southern Malawi, so that he can report back to the central cluster based in the capital of Lilongwe and flag up any issues or gaps in the provision of aid that need filling.
He said: ‘It’s really important to stay informed, as things can change so quickly following such a massive disaster.
‘For example, we’ve recently found that there appears to be a difference between the number of people staying in displacement camps over night to the amount that have been registered. It’s possible that some people have registered to the camps so that they can receive food, but that they are returning to flooded and unsafe villages or staying in overcrowded host communities.
‘Having a full and up-to-date picture of the situation helps to reach all of the people who need shelter’
A greater insight into the shelter sector 
Dave completed the training to become a shelter cluster coordinator last July, after the role was recommended to him by a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) – the organisation that convenes shelter clusters after natural disasters.
Dave’s role in the shelter cluster has been fully supported by ShelterBox, as his experience is providing an invaluable insight into the shelter sector and will help to inform how ShelterBox works in the future.
He said: ‘Being able to see how a shelter cluster works from the inside is invaluable, as I’ve been able to learn more about how agreed standards of working are set and the different processes of different organisations, as well as their capacity to help in terms of money and resources.
‘I can also see more clearly how different sectors and situations can overlap, as well as how conflicts between organisations could happen. For example, people using schools as shelters has implications for organisations who are trying to focus on education, as well as those whose main objective is to provide shelter
‘Most importantly, by working within the cluster, I’ve been able to get a wider, overall view of the situation and have learnt how politics come into play when responding to a disaster, as well as the wider impact of different approaches to providing aid.’
Gathering respect in the shelter community
‘This knowledge can really help to inform ShelterBox’s decision-making in the future, so that we can provide the most appropriate aid in the most appropriate way.
‘Our ShelterBox response team members, who have been working in Malawi for several weeks, are already gathering respect from the wider cluster community for their ability to work with other organisations and to provide the best possible response for people affected by the floods.
‘By also participating in the cluster process, it shows that ShelterBox is looking to have a bigger role in the sector and really understands the importance of engaging with the wider community.’
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