ShelterBox and Rotary – inspiring young people to take action

‘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 on completion of her pre-deployment training with Shelterbox

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 (left) and his Rotaract colleagues were instrumental in ShelterBox’s response to the 2015 Nepal earthquakes

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.’

Yanni found working at ShelterBox HQ inspirartional

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:

https://www.shelterboxaustralia.org.au/volunteer-with-us/

 

ShelterBox Team in Kenya Following Severe Floods

‘Access to affected communities is challenging’ – ShelterBox team in Kenya to assess shelter needs after major flooding and a burst dam

Flooding in Kenya has so far claimed 170 lives. Last week a dam in the Rift Valley burst unleashing reservoir waters that careered into two villages killing more than 50 people. ShelterBox is now in Kenya to see if it can help, as an estimated 300,000 people have now been forced from their homes.

Across Kenya heavy rain and landslides have caused over a quarter of a million people to leave their homes. Some in remote communities needed rescuing by helicopter.

A dam burst on a commercial flower farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley has killed more than 50 people in two villages, half of them children. The reservoir, situated on top of a hill 120 miles from Nairobi, gave way a week ago today as nearby residents were sitting down to their evening meals. The deluge swept away powerlines, homes and buildings, including a primary school. The search through mud for bodies is still continuing.

International disaster relief agency ShelterBox is expert in providing emergency shelter for displaced communities, and can supply essential items such as solar lighting where power is down, tools and tarpaulins for rebuilding, and water filtration where there are fears of water-borne disease.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Rachel Harvey is currently in Nairobi, and says, ‘The rains this year have been heavy and protracted. The cumulative impact on roads and other infrastructure has been severe which makes access to affected communities challenging. Even when the flood waters recede the damage will take time to repair.’   

Two ShelterBox response volunteers flew out to Kenya yesterday to talk to government agencies and the aid community to see whether there is a role for ShelterBox in this ongoing disaster response. Operations Coordinator Jo Arponen says, ‘Initially it seemed the local authorities and the Kenyan Red Cross had enough resources to manage the flooding situation. But now we are hearing that stocks of high quality shelter materials are running low. So our team will be working out what is needed where and how long it might take to get ShelterBox aid into the country. We need to make sure that any aid we send is appropriate and timely.’

ShelterBox has responded in Kenya several times over the years, including in 2010 to flooding in the Turkana region, to widespread drought in 2011/12 when 7,000 tents were supplied, and to help families fleeing conflict in neighbouring countries in 2006 and post-election violence in 2008.

Rotary And ShelterBox Renew Partnership To Aid Disaster Survivors Worldwide

Greg in Vanuatu

Last year, Rotarian and Australian SRT member, Greg Moran (far right) became the first serving District Governor to deploy with ShelterBox. (Image – Vanuatu 2015)

The following is a press release from Rotary International:

Rotary and disaster relief charity ShelterBox renewed a three-year agreement to provide immediate, lifesaving assistance to survivors of natural disasters and conflict.

 

Rotary clubs worldwide have mobilized to provide immediate relief to thousands of displaced people quickly and efficiently with ShelterBox for 16 years. To date, Rotary members have donated US$48 million to provide shelter for families in need – 40 percent of ShelterBox’s total of US$119.6 million raised.

 

Australian SRT member, Peter Pearce takes part in Exercise Sea Dawn

Australian SRT member and Rotarian, Peter Pearce deployed 20 times with ShelterBox and was recently awarded the OAM for his humanitarian service. (Image – Exercise Sea Dawn with the ADF 2014)

 

“The partnership between Rotary and ShelterBox has provided a place of refuge to people facing some of the most difficult and uncertain moments in their lives,” said John Hewko, general secretary of Rotary. “We are happy to renew this project partnership and honor our ongoing commitment to taking action to help communities devastated by disasters and conflict.”

 

Each ShelterBox container typically provides a tent designed to withstand extreme weather conditions, along with regionally appropriate supplies such as a water purification kit, blankets, tools, solar lights, and other necessities to help a family survive for six months or more after a disaster.

 

As part of the communities they serve, Rotary clubs help ShelterBox identify and prioritize immediate relief needs in disaster-affected areas and assist with the deployment of shelter kits, education materials and lifesaving supplies. Rotary members also fund aid boxes, become trained relief volunteers, assist with shipping customs clearance and connect with governments and other organizations in impacted areas to facilitate the delivery of boxes and aid. CEO of ShelterBox, Chris Warham said, “Rotary and ShelterBox will always stand side by side to help those less fortunate. This project partnership renewal simply indicates the strength of our long friendship, and recognizes the immense practical and funding support provided by Rotary members worldwide to enable us to reach out to families in distress.”

Derek Locke in Nigeria 2012

Rotarian and SRT member from the US, Derek Locke recently received the ‘Service Above Self’ form Rotary International for his work with ShelterBox. (Image – Nigeria 2012)

 

About Rotary

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteers dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 35,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. To access broadcast quality video footage and still photos go to: The Newsmarket.

 

About ShelterBox

ShelterBox has provided emergency shelter and lifesaving supplies for families affected by more than 270 disasters in more than 95 countries, and has already helped over 1 million beneficiaries. Based in Cornwall, United Kingdom, with 18 international affiliates, ShelterBox is an international disaster relief charity that delivers emergency shelter, warmth, and dignity to people made homeless by disasters worldwide. The agreement with Rotary reaffirms the charity’s volunteer base, enhancing its capacity to respond rapidly to disasters while keeping costs low. ShelterBox teams and their distribution partners are currently operating in Ecuador, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Niger, Cameroon, Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

ENDS

ShelterBox Australia General Manager, Mike Greenslade (himself a member of the Rotary Club of Alstonville) said,

The renewing of the Project Partnership agreement with Rotary International is great news for both organisations. ShelterBox has moved on hugely since the original agreement was signed, for instance, we no longer only supply ShelterBoxes but instead have a large range of equipment that we can tailor to suit the needs of the beneficiaries. ShelterBox provides a great opportunity for Rotarians to get involved with international service wether it be an Ambassador or a Response Team member.

June in Seoul

ShelterBox Australia Ambassador and Rotarian, June Wade at the RI Convention in Seoul 2016

I’ve deployed many times with ShelterBox and have seen the value of Rotary in action in almost every country I’ve visited. Here in Australia,  Rotarians are essential to the day-to-day running of the organisation and fundraising from clubs and Ambassadors forms a huge part of our income. Put simply, without Rotary we would not be able to help so many people in desperate need’

Central Coast Event Celebrates Women’s Achievement And Explores Issues

Peita-image1

ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, Peita Berzins with some young supporters

 

ShelterBox Australia attended another successful Central Coast Women’s Expo, held on Saturday March 5 at Ourimbah campus, which is part of Newcastle University. The event promotes awareness about women’s issues and uniting the community.

ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, Peita Berzins said, 

It is uplifting to see how much good is being done by volunteers in so many local organisations. These included WOW (Women of the Waves), Days for Girls, Central Coast a Capella, Breast Screening as well as many health related stalls. As well, seminars ran throughout the day. I attended a thought-provoking, well-presented one on Gender Equity.

Our ShelterBox stall was comfortably ensconced right near the entry between various local Rotary club stalls and it was very nice to see friendly faces like Christine Owen and Tina Latham from Kincumber Rotary, Joan Redmond from Woy Woy Rotary as well as Sandra Davies from Terrigal Rotary.

Many attendees were interested in the recent Fiji cyclone and people gave generously, almost $150 was donated.

We are also pleased to welcome more people to become ShelterBox Ambassadors on the Central Coast – anyone who may be interested, please contact me at berzinspj@westnet.com.au

Desperate need for shelter in Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston

Cyclone devastation in Fiji

 

ShelterBox Response Teams are working across Fiji to provide shelter for families after Cyclone Winston, the worst storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

The storm hit on 20 February, bringing torrential rain, wind speeds of 200 mph, and 40ft waves to the country’s 330 islands. The sheer force of the storm has obliterated up to 90% of structures and left an estimated 120,000 people without shelter.

On the island of Makogai, the villagers put on life jackets and sheltered in their homes as the winds gathered speed. As the houses began to tear apart, schoolteacher Sakaraia Balebuca and his family decided to hide underneath their raised brick floor.

As Sakaria moved to crawl under the house, one of the walls broke and crashed into him. Without the lifejacket he was wearing, Sakaria would have been crushed. More people joined the family under the brick floor until more than 40 villagers, including children and mothers with infants, were all hiding together.

When a ShelterBox response team arrived, they found the whole village sheltering in the only four buildings left standing.

 

boxes being off-loaded from a small boat

A ShelterBox Response Team delivers aid to the Fijian island of Makogai

 

Thanks to prepositioned stock in Fiji itself, as well as New Zealand and Australia, our ShelterBox response teams have already been able to deliver tents and ShelterBoxes to families on six remote islands, including Makogai. To reach these islands, we have teamed up with Sea Mercy; a charity that uses a network of luxury yachts to deliver aid and medical expertise in the South Pacific.

More aid is on its way, including 2,000 solar lights that will provide light and safety to communities without power, but it’s not enough.

There are still many tiny islands too remote to have yet received help. We need your support to send another 2,000 ShelterBoxes to reach these communities and give people like Sakaria comfort and safety.

Please help the people of Fiji today.

 

ShelterBox aid arrives in the cyclone-struck Fiji islands – by superyacht, catamaran and traditional long boat

boxes being off-loaded from a small boat

 

A flotilla of boats has been mobilised to spread aid across Fiji’s 330 islands in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.

ShelterBox is using its Australian and New Zealand affiliates, a response team from the USA, and an alliance with  Sea Mercy, a charity that uses super-yachts and catamarans, in order to get aid to Fiji islanders left without shelter in the wake of Cyclone Winston.

On 20 February the most powerful storm ever recorded in the South Pacific hit the paradise islands of Fiji with winds over 200 mph, torrential rain and 40ft waves. The cyclone left 42 dead, buildings flattened and crops destroyed. Around 35,000 people sheltered in 424 evacuation centres, and 97 schools were damaged or destroyed. A state of natural disaster was declared by the Fiji Government, and they put a call out for international aid.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Phil Duloy says, ‘We already had some ShelterBox aid stored with Rotary colleagues on the islands. Our response team from the USA were on the islands as soon as flights were restored. Working out of the capital Suva, they are now busy visiting smaller islands such as Batiki, Lautoka, Kubulu and Taveuni to assess the situation and evaluate need.’

‘The United Nations estimates that as many as 350,000 people may be affected, over a third of the Fijian population. Fiji has 900,000 people spread over more than 300 islands, so this will be a complex international aid operation. ShelterBox is working in tandem with the Fiji Government and Shelter Cluster partners.’

ShelterBoxes coming ashore on Makogai Island

‘We are in constant touch with our affiliates in New Zealand, Australia and the USA, and are calling on large volumes of ShelterBox stock stored in Melbourne, Dubai and Subang. There is a shortage of timber for building as a result of the storm, so we will use tents in the immediate phase to stabilise the population and provide them with a platform for their recovery.’

ShelterBox aid is once again proving its portability, with ShelterBoxes lashed to the decks of vessels of all kinds, including the islanders’ traditional long boats. ShelterBox is also using the services of Sea Mercy – a US-based charity that delivers aid and medical expertise via a network of luxury yacht contacts, with a base at Port Denerau in Fiji.  

SBox in rib, calm sea

ShelterBox has already dispatched 2,000 LuminAid solar lighting sets, as many communities in Fiji are still without power.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that access to fresh water remains a particular concern. 67,000 Fijians had been suffering drought conditions in January due to El Niño, and most of them live in the corridor affected by the cyclone. Poor road access and communications difficulties are constraining the delivery of aid. On Viti Levu the UN teams found damage was most intensive inland, with some villages having 80% of housing damaged. An OCHAfield team has just returned from Koro island reporting that damage was worse than expected, with nearly 1,000 homes destroyed in this one location.

Photo Feb 27, 13 43 20

 

You can help those affected by disaster by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Five Ways A Parade/ Festival Unites The Community

ShelterBox Response team member and ShelterBox Australia Ambassador, Peita Berzins reports from The Tuggerah Lakes Mardi Gras on the Central Coast of NSW.

Shelterbox volunteers at the Mardi Gras

L-R Peter Pearce, Con Bartos, Margot Caulfield, Torben Neilsen, Peita Berzins

Yesterday ShelterBox ambassadors and The Entrance Rotary participated in the Tuggerah Lakes 63rd Mardi Gras Parade and Festival. What a great day it was, and our interactions had many mutual benefits:

1. Fun…seeing children and families and friends enjoy the parade, and the rides, stalls and entertainment. There was the visit from Santa, and later the traditional lighting of The Memorial Park Christmas Tree and the favourite renowned fireworks display.

Santa sitting on a ShelterBox

2. Belonging…the parade and festival reinforces our web of relationships, through friendship, community groups, business, schools, hobbies, sport.

The parade lines up

3. Celebrating diversity… different cultures and races, beliefs and customs on display from indigenous dancers to gym fitness instructors to surf life saving clubs to beauty queens to dance troupes to a high school marching band.

local indigenous dance troupe

4. Familiar figures the crowds love…Batman, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, Sponge Bob and of course Santa Claus.

Super heroes!

Super heroes!

5. Music…everyone lives to tap their feet and even join in the performances.

We put up a tent, gave away helium balloons to the children and pamphlets to the adults, held a raffle and made lots of new friends, spreading the word about our disaster relief charity.

A big thank you to President Torben Nielsen from The Entrance Rotary, and his band of willing helpers Margot Caulfield, Con Bartos and Carrol and Allan Coats. Ambassadors Joan Redmond, Peter Pearce and myself couldn’t have done it without them. A big thank you to Ivor Berzins who donated generous prizes to the raffle – four rounds of golf at Shelly Beach Golf club, and a cricket bat signed by Michael Clarke. Thank you to for The Entrance Majestic Cinemas and The Italian Cake and Coffee Shop for their sponsorship. “

www.shelterboxaustralia.org.au

Aniya And The Malawi Floods – ShelterBox Reports

 

ShelterBox beneficiary Aniya Hassan now has somewhere safe to look after her five orphaned grandchildren.

ShelterBox beneficiary Aniya Hassan now has somewhere safe to look after her five orphaned grandchildren.

 

Earlier this year, Southern Malawi suffered from some of the worst floods in more than 40 years. For almost three months, ShelterBox response teams worked to reach people in the districts of Zomba, Chikwawa and Mulanje who had lost their homes and possessions to the floodwaters.
One of these people was 90-year-old Aniya Hassan, who takes care of her five orphaned grandchildren by herself. When the river started to rise, one of the children raised the alarm and Aniya called for help. She has trouble walking, so some of the villagers came to help carry her to the safety of higher land. They managed to dig out a few possessions, but the flood washed the rest away.
In this video Aniya talks about the disaster and how much she appreciates the help she has received from ShelterBox and its supporters.

Royal Gurkha Rifles Join Forces With ShelterBox

Response team members Sallie Buck (left) and Becky Maynard (centre) work alongside Gurkha soldiers to distribute aid in Nepal

Response team members Sallie Buck (left) and Becky Maynard (centre) work alongside Gurkha soldiers to distribute aid in Nepal

 

The Royal Gurkha Rifles have helped ShelterBox to distribute shelter kits to families in extremely isolated mountain communities in Nepal.
The Gurkhas are a unique unit in the British Army with a reputation of being amongst the finest soldiers in the world. All Gurkha soldiers are recruited in Nepal, but officers are recruited from across the UK and Commonwealth.
One of our ShelterBox response teams first met the 13-man advance party from the Royal Gurkha Rifles Light Role Battalion in the township of Chautara, which is being used as an aid hub for deliveries to hard-to-reach communities.
The Gurkhas, who are incredibly experienced in working in this inhospitable terrain, offered their help to get ShelterBox aid to some of the most isolated communities in the mountainous landscape of Nepal.
ShelterBox response team member Becky Maynard said: ‘Our plan was to focus on areas that were inaccessible by vehicles, even 4 wheel drives, by creating a forward logistics hub and then visiting communities by foot.
‘In the first phase two separate recce teams visited different areas to assess the need for emergency shelter, and the potential for storage of aid, safe accommodation and a safe central distribution point in a forward hub.’
After reviewing four different sites with the support of the Nepalese Army, they decided to use a school in Taatiguan in the hard-hit area of Phatsila, as a base for aid delivery and community support.
This proved very challenging, as the second major earthquake delayed the arrival of lots of aid by 24 hours, while aid had to be transferred into smaller vehicles to make the difficult journey to Taatiguan. It took five separate journeys, which each truck being hand-loaded by the Gurkhas, ShelterBox and the Nepalese Army.
In total, shelter kits were provided to 670 families in the area of Phataksila, giving them the tools to clear rubble, to create dry shelters or to waterproof what remained of any buildings.
Fellow response team member Sallie Buck said: ‘It was a hugely challenging exercise to reach these remote communities, but by working in partnership with the Gurkhas and the Nepalese Army we overcame the numerous obstacles put in our way.’
‘The team of Gurkhas, some of whose own families had been badly affected by the disaster, were some of the warmest and kindest people I have had the pleasure of working with. Their generosity of spirit really shone through as they supported these devastated communities alongside us.’

Thoughts From Flood-hit Malawi – An Australian SRT Volunteer Reports

Australian SRT volunteer, Jeff Barnard from Valla Beach, NSW reports from his first deployment, to flood-hit Malawi.

Image of Australian SRT volunteer, Jeff Barnard with local Red Cross volunteers

Australian SRT volunteer, Jeff Barnard with local Red Cross volunteers

Zikomo (thank you) Malawi” for your hospitality and warmth.

The local people I worked with on deployment with ShelterBox displayed a level of generosity rarely seen in people who own many possessions. Days were long, beginning by collecting local Red Cross volunteers and others from Govt buildings and loading up the 4×4 vehicles for the long, rough journey to isolated villages. Working with true empathy for  their countrymen’s plight, with little to no financial gain, I have the greatest respect for them all. Malawi, while landlocked in the heart of Africa, is about one-quarter covered by Lake Malawi. The area my team worked appeared to be the flood plain which links the massive  lake to the Zambezi river in Mozambique. The level of destruction and need in the small villages is staggering, particularly given the lack of international media attention. I am told, it is estimated that 200,000 people have been left homeless. So many mud homes reduced to a pile of soil, which, for want of a better solution, now supports a healthy crop of corn while families take refuge in the schools and churches. A bag of cement costs less than $1.50 here, but this is a luxury these people cannot afford. Therefore their mud homes, made solely of the silty soil, are washed away by heavy rains and flooding.

Local women pack sand bags to protect tents from further flooding

Local women pack sand bags to protect tents from further flooding

Initially, we continued to focus on shelter in the form of camps, often located in the school grounds, due to people’s home sites remaining flooded. However, as the ground dried, the change to home deployment occurred, aiming to free up the schools so that the children may resume normality. While far more time-consuming and physically demanding, locating people at their home sites also saves the long walk to and from their crops each day to tend them.  I will remember the huge smiles of stunning women navigating the rough tracks which link villages, often carrying large bags of food balanced on their head, a small child strapped to their backs with a colourful sheet of cloth. These tracks wind through corn fields (the staple food made into a flour, then cooked to become firm, like mashed potato), with occasional tobacco, sunflowers, and rice. Seemingly all small farms with grassed roofed, mud huts dotted throughout. 80% of the population (13 mill) work in this subsistence sector, while the rest primarily in the processing of the crops.

After a hard day's work, the family can enjoy their  new home

After a hard day’s work, the family can enjoy their new home

Probably the most obvious shock coming from collecting beneficiary data is the clear effects of HIV on the family make up in many villages. So many single mothers or grandmothers caring for 5 – 9 grandchildren, some sadly also on medication for the illness. The most difficult decision is in determining the most vulnerable as limited shelter will not go close to meeting the  needs of each community.

Families receive ShelterBox aid, outside of Zomba

Families receive ShelterBox aid, outside of Zomba

Life is harsh, but people are tough, simple things light up the faces of these poorest of people. A hand shake awakens a grin from the heart and laugh from the belly. Banter between the men and women have them slapping knees and gossiping wildly. An empty 500 ml water container handed to a child makes their week, and has them running to show friends. A boiled egg given to a small child is shared between 6 siblings. I do not remember being asked for anything once in my time there, but the Zikomo,s (thank-yous) were everywhere, along with spontaneous clapping of homeless women realising they may receive shelter.

SRT volunteer, Jeff Barnard with a local volunteer in the ShelterBox camp in Chikwawa

SRT volunteer, Jeff Barnard with a local volunteer in the ShelterBox camp in Chikwawa

 

You can support ShelterBox’s efforts in places like Malawi by donating here: PLEASE DONATE