Life on the edge – ShelterBox team reports from Bangladesh’s Rohingya border camps

Over half a million Rohingya people face new perils in the makeshift camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh as the coming cyclone season threatens to wash away the flimsy plastic shelters. 

Imagine the entire population of a city the size of the Gold Coast crammed into a little over three square miles. This is the result of over half a million Rohingya people – more than half of them children, thousands separated from their parents – arriving in Bangladesh by foot or by river crossing from Myanmar.

More than 500,000 Rohingya are now settling in makeshift and spontaneous camps in the Cox’s Bazar area. Poignantly, from these vantage points many of them are now able to see their former home villages burning in the distance across the border.

ShelterBox response volunteer from Gloucestershire UK, Liz Odell, says, Conditions are dire, with most people living in small shelters made of flimsy black plastic sheeting and bamboo poles. There is little space between the shelters, and the paths between them are a congealing soup of oozing mud. Most of the inhabitants have no possessions and only the clothes that they were wearing when they fled from their villages in Rakhine state. Many are traumatised by their experiences and the loss of loved ones.

Liz also worries that the sites they are using, on terraces high above rice paddy fields, will be prone to collapse as the cyclone season fast approaches. Liz says, Much of the area around the camps is rice paddies – they are under water so the Rohingyas are forced to build their shelters on the precipitous slopes of the surrounding hills. Once the cyclone season arrives, these terraces are likely to collapse.’

ShelterBox, an international disaster relief agency specialising in emergency shelter for families displaced by conflict and natural disasters, is making arrangements to bring in aid including portable solar lighting, which has helped reduce gender-based violence in refugee camps worldwide. Tools and tarps will help with waterproof shelter construction, and to bring basic comfort to families without any possessions ShelterBox is also aiming to bring in blankets. ShelterBox teams had arrived in Bangladesh in response to the worst flooding for decades, but now find themselves responding to a human flood as well.

Liz and her colleague Jimmy Griffith from Nelson, New Zealand have visited the two largest camps, Kutupalong and Balukhali. Here teams of aid workers are working round the clock to install water tanks, wells, latrines, medical facilities (including a 95-bed field hospital) and child friendly spaces.

But Liz says it is a race against time. ‘The influx has been so monumental and so fast that the facilities become overwhelmed as fast as they are built. One water and sanitation health worker told us that as fast as they dig latrines, they are overflowing and they don’t yet have a system for disposing of the faecal sludge. Imagine the smell. On a positive note, the weather has been dry the last few days and the knee-deep mud is beginning to dry up. The World Health Organisation are in a race against time to administer 300,000 cholera vaccinations before the inevitable outbreak of the disease.’

Mohammed, Hannah and Nurusaffa’s story

Liz and Jimmy visited a camp at Unchiprang, a spontaneous settlement which houses a relatively few 28,000 people, yet the sea of black plastic shelters still stretches as far as the eye can see. Liz says ‘We met some of the survivors who settled here a couple of weeks ago, and asked them to tell us a little about themselves.’

Shakier Mohammed and his wife Hanna are sharing a small shelter with his sister, Nurusaffa, and her two sons aged 8 and 12 years. Hanna is 5 months pregnant. Nurusaffa’s husband was killed, and their house was set on fire before she managed to flee with her two sons. It took them three hours on foot to reach the border in temperatures of 36 degrees centigrade, and then another 2½ hours by boat to cross the River Naf which forms the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh. I asked her what possessions she brought with her and she said ‘nothing’. I asked what she needed and she said ‘food, blankets, water carrier.’

Most of the Rohingya want to return home but at this time, that seems a remote possibility.’

‘There was a bright spot in the middle of the sea of mud and black plastic: a child friendly space. This was an airy, open-sided shelter with colourful floor mats, balloons and decorations. There was space for up to 200 children with a toy corner, an art corner, a library and areas for music and adolescents. The children have dedicated latrines, and are fed water and biscuits while they are there. The children were sat in a square, singing songs. It was gut wrenchingly poignant – the children’s ability to have fun despite all they have been through, given the right support and surroundings.’

‘ShelterBox can’t help everyone. We are a small cog in a large wheel here, but we can make a difference to the lives of at least 4,000 families.’

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Helping Isolated Communities Despite Second Deadly Quake

Image of old Nepalese lady walking amongst runis

A resident walks through the remains of the Pipaldanda, a village in Sindhupalchok, Nepal that was completely devastated by Nepal’s earthquakes. (Liam Arthur/ShelterBox)


As Nepal struggles to come to terms with a second major earthquake, which hit this morning, our ShelterBox response teams are continuing their work to provide shelter to isolated communities in the country’s mountainous regions.
Before this morning’s earthquake had hit, our ShelterBox response team in the district of Sindhupalchok had managed to provide emergency shelter to almost 1,000 families who had already been made homeless by the first earthquake to shake the country two weeks ago.
The team, which is made up of Liz Odell and Liam Arthur (both from the UK), has been working with the Nepal Red Cross Society to reach some of the country’s most remote communities.
This video, shot by Liam Arthur, shows the challenging terrain and utter devastation they have come across while distributing aid to families:
Despite these difficult conditions, the team has succeeded in delivering 438 United Nations specification tents and 500 shelter kits in the last few days. The tents and shelter kits, which can be used to create temporary shelters and repair existing structures, have been chosen as they are easy to transport, collect and carry over difficult ground.
Unfortunately, the road to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is currently impassible, which means that no more kit or response teams are able to travel to the district for the time being.
However, the team, who are based in the humanitarian aid hub sent up in the town of Chautara, still have more than 70 tents left. Some of the tents will be used as field clinics to treat people wounded by the quake, while others will be provided to families who have lost their homes in the immediate vicinity.
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Video: Flash Floods And Broken Bridges Create Extra Challenges In Malawi

ShelterBox response team members are helped to transport ShelterBoxes over a large river in Malawi by boat, rather than risk the fragile bridge. (ShelterBox/Rebecca Swist)

ShelterBox response team members are helped to transport ShelterBoxes over a large river in Malawi by boat, rather than risk the fragile bridge. (ShelterBox/Rebecca Swist)

As the rain continues to fall and the floodwaters keep rising in Southern Malawi, ShelterBox response teams have been working hard to deliver vital aid to communities that have lost their homes, despite various challenges.
Since mid-January, Malawi has been facing some of the worst flooding in 40 years, which has left more than 230,000 people without homes and destroyed countless farms and livelihoods.
Response volunteer Liz Odell is part of a team working in the Malawian district of Zomba, where they’ve faced several challenges reaching remote communities near Lake Chilwa.
In this video, she describes how flash flooding, impassible roads and washed-away bridges mean that the teams have had to find alternative methods to transport ShelterBoxes to families in need of shelter.

Despite such difficulties, the teams are continuing to provide aid in Zomba and Chikwawa – another heavily flooded district. So far, we have been able to deliver ShelterBoxes to almost 400 families.
In addition to our specifically designed tents, the boxes also contain mosquito nets and water purification units that will help to prevent diseases such as malaria and cholera, which thrive in areas affected by flooding.

ShelterBox Distribute Schooling Supplies In Flood-Ravaged Zimbabwe

SchoolBoxes arrive at Chingwizi camp. Photo: Liz Odell

SchoolBoxes arrive at Chingwizi camp. Photo: Liz Odell

This year, Southeastern Zimbabwe has experienced the worst flooding for 40 years after a fractured dam caused over 20,000 people to abandon their homes. As one local farmer put it, ‘we are living like refugees in our own country’. ShelterBox has been helping for over six months to shelter families, and now to support their children’s education.
The ambitious 16-year project to dam the Tokwe and Mukorsi rivers in the African republic of Zimbabwe was meant to bring much-needed irrigation and power to farm communities. Instead, weakened by record rainfall and flooding, the dam partially collapsed in February. The resulting swollen reservoir backed up, engulfing farmlands, drowning livestock and driving whole communities into a refugee existence dependent on aid.
Samuel Marebe, a 43-year-old farmer from Nungirai village in the Chivi district, survived the flooding and now lives in the camp with his five children. He told Aljazeera’s Ihsaaan Haffejee, ‘We were attacked by the water. My family managed to leave before our entire home and farm went underwater. Other people became trapped and had to be rescued by helicopter.
‘Now we are here at Chingwizi camp. Conditions here are difficult. With the overcrowding we are worried about the health risks to our children, and they are also missing out on their schooling. We hope the government allocates us land very soon because now we are living like refugees in our own country.’
ShelterBox has been distributing tents and equipment with implementing partner the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). This work continues at the vast Chingwizi refugee camp, but ShelterBox response volunteers Liz Odell (UK) and Richard Loat (Canada) are turning their attention to the displaced children and their need for education.
In addition to the familiar green ShelterBoxes and white tents, Liz and Richard are overseeing the distribution of stocks of SchoolBoxes. These blue boxes with red lids each contain school equipment for up to 50 pupils, as well as wind-up radios, and blackboard paint and brushes that can turn any flat surface into a focus for learning. Bright yellow schoolbags containing stationery, pens, pencils and drawing instruments, become a source of pride for young people who have lost their own possessions back on the flood plains.
Richard says, ‘The Chingwizi settlement, home to over 3,000 families, has been the focal point of ShelterBox’s efforts. Their children have been uprooted to a location that was barren of homes, schools, or anything resembling a community. They are building new relationships, villages, and a new society from scratch. At the core of this has been the opening of three primary schools and one secondary school, to ensure that Zimbabwe’s generations of tomorrow are not short-changed of an education and a future.’
School supplies reach their destination at Chingwizi camp. Photo: Richard Loat

School supplies reach their destination at Chingwizi camp. Photo: Richard Loat

The 39 SchoolBoxes being delivered now mean that nearly 2,000 Zimbabwean pupils will be able to continue their schooling, while their parents try to rebuild their lives.
Headmaster Gumbo, leader at Chingwizi Primary school, told Liz and Richard, ‘Each pack actually gives students the tools necessary for us to assign homework, that they can complete now that they have supplies to take home. This is going to allow us to teach them so much more.’
At Tokwe Mukorsi Primary School a teacher named Willard spoke of the struggle students had just to attend school. While his daughter, 4 year old Antonetta, excitedly opened her ShelterBox school pack, he explained that some of his students travel upwards of 10 kilometres a day, many without adequate footwear, just to attend classes.
The headteacher of Nyuni Secondary School best captured the impact of ShelterBox’s work on the ground, saying, ‘ShelterBox’s tents provide comfort for the children at home, which allows them to come to school in the right mood to learn. ShelterBox’s school supplies give them something to call their own, which motivates them to learn as we all get through this difficult time.’
You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

ShelterBox Tents Save Lives in Philippines

SRT members Abner Tayco (PH) and Liz Odell (UK) speaking to one of thousands affected by Typhoon Utor, Philippines, August 2013.

SRT members Abner Tayco (PH) and Liz Odell (UK) speaking to one of thousands affected by Typhoon Utor, Philippines, August 2013.


Typhoon Utor wreaked havoc in Luzon, one of the largest Philippine islands, two weeks ago. The storm has not only displaced thousands of people but also damaged infrastructure including hospitals, affecting much needed medical services, particularly in the Aurora Province where ShelterBox has been assessing the needs of the communities.   
‘The hospital’s roof was completely blown off on the night the storm hit,’ said Dr. Nelia Diesta, the assistant hospital administrator in Casiguran municipality hospital. ‘We were forced to move patients to the small area of the hospital that remained intact which has meant that many patients are being made to stay outside under some tarpaulin. Patients are also being seen to slowly due to the lack of space.’
The hospital is already relatively small and serves four municipalities, it cannot close. Furthermore, rebuilding efforts are likely to take months to make the building safe again. Therefore a few ShelterBox tents that were already prepositioned in the country are being used to accommodate patients.
Damaged hospital in Casiguran, Aurora Province, Philippines, August 2013.

Damaged hospital in Casiguran, Aurora Province, Philippines, August 2013.


‘There has been an influx of patients since the storm as it inflicted injuries, like lacerations, upon people,’ said ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) member Liz Odell (UK). ‘Setting up the tents here enables more patients to be seen per day quickly and gives them a clean private space to recover. It’s the only hospital for 100 miles and therefore a vital contribution to the communities’ wellbeing.’
The SRT continues with assessments in and around the capital city of Manila as heavy rains continue.
‘Even being from the Philippines, I have never seen such poverty and isolation,’ said SRT member Abner Tayco (PH). ‘Typhoon Utor has had a particularly destructive impact on the region as it was the strongest to hit in many years.’
You can help families affected by disaster by DONATING HERE. Thank you



ShelterBox Toolkits Help Rebuild Lives in Philippines

Destruction left behind by Typhoon Utor in Casiguran, Luzon island, Philippines, August 2013.

Destruction left behind by Typhoon Utor in Casiguran, Luzon island, Philippines, August 2013.

‘It was like the end of the world for us,’ said Mayor Racky ‘Rick’ Bitong of Casiguran in the Philippines following Typhoon Utor. ‘95% of our evacuation centres were destroyed and the evacuees had to run to neighbouring houses. Thankfully no one was killed.’
Typhoon Utor hit Luzon, one of the main Philippine islands, early last week. Bitong continued to tell the ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) whilst it was carrying out needs assessments that even though the isolated area is used to storms, rebuilding efforts have been hampered as even the family-run small hardware businesses have been destroyed and are therefore unable to supply the communities’ needs.
ShelterBox is filling this need by sending toolkits from in-country prepositioned aid in Clark, Manila to be distributed in the area.
‘In my eight deployments, this is the toughest challenge I have ever had to face in terms of travelling through very rough terrain simply to reach the affected area,’ said SRT member Liz Odell (UK).
Mrs. Zaliver Baranguy Lual standing where her home and store used to be before the storm hit, Casiguran, Philippines, August 2013.

Mrs. Zaliver Baranguy Lual standing where her home and store used to be before the storm hit, Casiguran, Philippines, August 2013.

‘The community in Casiguran has no basic equipment to help them make repairs to their homes so the toolkits will be vital in the displaced people’s ability to begin rebuilding their lives.’
Fearing for their lives
The toolkits will help people like Mrs. Zaliver Baranguy Lual, who lost her house and her family’s livelihood, a small store on their property. While she huddled with her four children, her husband tried to keep their belongings secured under tarps. Fearing for their lives, they took shelter in a neighbour’s masonry home. That home, in turn, lost its roof during the storm and they were forced out again.
‘We were hugging all together and crying, frightened that we were all going to die, for several hours as the storm continued through the night,’ said Zaliver.
Thank you
Thanks to our generous supporters worldwide, Zaliver, her family and the rest of the community in Casiguran have the opportunity to start over and not only rebuild their homes but also their livelihoods.
This the first of many typhoons forecast to hit The Philippines this year, help us be prepared to respond quickly,

Typhoon Survivor Rosalie Tells her Story in Philippines

SRT member Liz Odell (UK) with ShelterBox beneficiaries in Baganga, Mindanao Island, Philippines, February 2013.

SRT member Liz Odell (UK) with ShelterBox beneficiaries in Baganga, Mindanao Island, Philippines, February 2013.


‘I used to live in a small house across the creek over there, together with my husband Abundio, and my six children: Rudyard Voune (13), Vinsun Mark (12), Reynel John (10), Christian (9), Anthony (3) and 11-month-old baby James.

‘We had heard on the TV that there was a typhoon coming but we didn’t worry as we had never had a typhoon here before, so we didn’t make any preparations. The wind and rain started to get very loud at about four in the morning, then at seven we realised that the stream had turned into a raging torrent and was flooding very fast and coming towards our house. We ran away from the house and escaped to some higher ground, where we found shelter on the top floor of a two-storey house.

‘We were trapped in the house for two days until someone came and rescued us in a boat, and we were taken to the local gymnasium which was being used as an evacuation centre. We stayed there for a week but it was so crowded that we decided to leave and go back to the ruins of our house. It proved impossible to live there as well, so we left after another week and spent the next five weeks staying with relatives until we were given a ShelterBox tent at the end of January.

‘My son Christian injured his foot really badly on some broken glass as we were escaping from the flood and he is still unable to attend school. We are all traumatised, especially the children who get frightened when it rains heavily and don’t want to go to school.

Read more here: BOPHA

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Ugandan Grace Gives Birth to Bob in ShelterBox Tent

Grace Mutuwa with her baby boy Bob who she gave birth to in her ShelterBox tent, Bududa, Eastern Uganda, November 2012.

Grace Mutuwa with her baby boy Bob who she gave birth to in her ShelterBox tent, Bududa, Eastern Uganda, November 2012.

Grace Mutuwa used to live in her house in Bududa, a district in eastern Uganda. But, like many others, she was made homeless last July when heavy rains caused landslides on the slopes of Mount Elgon burying her home. ShelterBox responded and delivered tents to families in need, heavily pregnant Grace being one of them. 

A ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) travelled to assess the need following further flooding in northeastern Uganda in the Kibaale District and the Teso and Lango sub-regions earlier this month. With no need found, the SRT returned to Bududa where they met Grace.

‘When we came across Grace, she was also with her baby boy Bob,’ said SRT member Liz Odell (UK). ‘She had given birth to him in her ShelterBox tent one month ago. They are both doing fine.

‘We also saw several other families who had been living in tents for over three months while waiting to rebuild their homes. They told us the tents have made a real difference to their lives following the landslides as they gave them more space and privacy after having to share a single house before.’

‘People afraid’

Bruce Dearnley makes up the other half of the SRT: ‘The ground in the area is still unstable with large cracks appearing around the homes on the higher slopes. People are afraid to return to their houses, especially when it rains, so we will be sending an additional 100 boxes to bring them shelter and safety.’

Meanwhile another SRT is travelling to Uganda in response to the conflict in the south.

The rebel group M23 assaulted and captured Goma, a city in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), bringing violence and tensions. As a result 700 people are crossing the border from DRC to Uganda each day.