‘Do it!’ – Young people call other young people to join them in humanitarian volunteering with Rotary and ShelterBox
Does charity work appeal to young people? Organisations such as Rotary and ShelterBox may have an adult profile, but the momentum is growing among a younger generation to generate the next big humanitarian wave. Meet four people who enthuse about a youthful future for volunteering.
‘Do it! I would encourage any young person to look further into this.’ That is the rallying cry from Katelyn Winkworth, a young Australian who has recently qualified as a ShelterBox response volunteer, and keenly awaits her first deployment to help families caught up in war or natural disaster.
Aged 23 when she attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards in 2014, Katelyn subsequently set up a Rotaract club in Brisbane with colleagues. Rotaract – literally Rotary in Action – had its roots in American universities and local communities, beginning in North Carolina in 1968. Now it has over 11,000 clubs worldwide and 253,000 members. For young men and women aged 18 to 30, it is badged as ‘a global effort to bring peace and international understanding to the world.’
Katelyn’s enthusiasm for humanitarian work began with Rotary. ‘My Rotaract Club volunteered to help at a fundraiser for ShelterBox. When I learnt about the work that Rotary and ShelterBox were doing together, I immediately wanted to become further involved. A Rotary mentor passed on the details of an Australian Shelterbox contact, and my journey began.’
‘Humanitarian work can be very specialised and it can feel hard to get involved, but these organisations are well established, with support all around the world. ShelterBox can go into nearly any country, and be assured that there are Rotarians there who will provide invaluable support for their humanitarian work. Both organisations are supportive and provide incredible training opportunities.’
Does Katelyn feel that enough is done to attract young people to the cause? ‘Bridging the gap between older members and younger members is important! It can be a good idea to support any young person that wishes to come along to Rotary, perhaps dedicating a Rotarian to make a special effort to welcome newcomers.’
Katelyn adds that young people may assume they have to be a lot more experienced or progressed in their career before joining the ShelterBox team or volunteering. But, in fact, a quarter of ShelterBox staff are aged under 30, and two thirds under 40. She thinks visibility is key. ‘For both ShelterBox and Rotary more advertising and promotion is required, as people won’t get involved in things they simply don’t know about! Getting the word out is important.’
‘It’s so important to engage young people’
ShelterBox had its origins in the Rotary movement eighteen years ago, and now is Rotary’s global project partner in Disaster Relief. Rotary clubs have plenty of outreach programmes which support young people. The Rotary Club of Truro Satellite often meets at ShelterBox HQ, and it has had particular success in taking school computer equipment and furniture to the Romanian city of Targoviste.
Cathie Shipwright, Secretary of the Rotary Evolution Club of Truro, says, ‘From a Rotary perspective it has been a hard sell to engage young people in getting involved with a longstanding international service organisation. With the support of Rotary International, we are able to offer a different approach to Rotary membership – with a monthly Saturday morning meeting over coffee and cake. We then get involved with other charities in supporting them with events such as collecting, marshalling etc.’
Rotary clubs have been active in the international eradication of polio, and on the creative side hold art and photography competitions at local schools.
‘I believe in this modern world of technology, instant communication and social media that young people are much more aware of issues locally and internationally, and we have to find ways that allow them to get involved and engaged in an innovative and interesting way. Life for young people is very busy and they find it difficult to commit regularly, but anything that allows them to dip in and out is useful.’
‘With regard to ShelterBox – this is a great example of how Rotary can make things happen. It has become a worldwide phenomenon. The nature of its work I believe appeals to younger people and the chance to work and volunteer with the organisation is a great opportunity.’
‘Both organisations give me an opportunity to help society and people in need, which gives me immense satisfaction.’
Ashish Chaulagain lives and works in Kathmandu, Nepal, and first became aware of ShelterBox in 2007 at the age of 19. He explains, ‘My home club the Rotaract Club of Kathmandu had helped a ShelterBox deployment in the far western region of Nepal to support families affected by flooding. Later in 2008, when there was another flood in the country, I contacted ShelterBox HQ asking for help. ShelterBox sent a response team of four with 624 ShelterBoxes to the flood affected victims.’
Ashish was also first to notify ShelterBox in 2015 when a massive earthquake struck Nepal. Now a Head of Department at Thames International College in Kathmandu, he has also been a team leader on Rotary’s literacy mission in Nepal, and presented a paper entitled the ‘Call of Youth’ at the World Forum Conference in 2014.
Asish’s connections with ShelterBox continue today, and he is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of attracting young people to humanitarian ethics. He says, ‘ShelterBox is an amazing organisation to work with. I know of only a few organisations that push themselves beyond their boundaries to help people in need, and ShelterBox is one such organisation.’
‘I give most of my free time to Rotary and ShelterBox. Both organisations give me an opportunity to help society and people in need, which in fact gives me immense satisfaction. I have made my family and employers clear on my passion for community service, so it’s easy for me to get time from them and from my other appointments. They are also proud of my involvement.’
Ashish feels he brings the particular skills of communication, cross-cultural adaptability, negotiation, and above all, friendliness. Looking to the future for both Rotary and ShelterBox he sees, ‘More opportunity to involve more youngsters, with the right communication and training and development for them.’
Yannis Commino, from Newcastle in Australia, is one of ten Interns that ShelterBox has offered training to in the last year. He says, ‘I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. During my New Generations Service Exchange at the headquarters of ShelterBox International in Truro, Cornwall, I gained priceless insight and first-hand experience in disaster relief management.’
‘As I walked through the doors of ShelterBox headquarters, I was greeted by a youthful, vibrant, and enthusiastic team. I was impressed by their morning meetings, as they sit in front of four large television screens analysing the current deployments and tracking global news of the day.’
‘I truly believe this was the beginning of a lifetime of experiences.’
New Generations Service Exchange is a Rotary short-term programme for young university students or young professionals up to age 30, who are interested in humanitarian work. More details here.
All these young people, and thousands more like them, are discovering that working or volunteering in the humanitarian sector is exciting and fulfilling. As Yannis says, ‘This kind of work will enable me to merge my two passions: helping others and exploring new destinations and cultures.’
ShelterBox and Rotary are project partners for international disaster response. A registered charity, ShelterBox is independent of Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation.
To find out about volunteering with ShelterBox Australia, please visit: