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:


Central Coast Event Celebrates Women’s Achievement And Explores Issues


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

Australian SRT Member Reports From Her First Deployment

Image of Australian SRT member, Peita Berzins conducts a 'train the trainer' session in Malawi

Australian SRT member, Peita Berzins conducts a ‘train the trainer’ session in Malawi

Retired teacher and ShelterBox Response Team volunteer, Peita Berzins has recently returned from her first deployment, to flood-stricken Malawi. Peita, from Bateau Bay on the NSW Central Coast, is the first female Australian ShelterBox Response Team member to deploy overseas and recounts below the steep learning curve of operating in a disaster zone.


With the worst floods in forty years, and hundreds of thousands homeless, ShelterBox deployed from mid-January to this small and very poor, agrarian based African country, assessing where the most need was for our emergency shelter. Many people found safety in school buildings and churches, and after the floods receded began to return to their villages if possible. 

I spent almost three weeks there in March on my first deployment, and can affirm Malawi’s reputation as “the warm heart of Africa.” We had teams in Zomba, Nsanji,  Chikwawa and Phalombe.

On my “nine-dayer” in October 2014, the course you must pass to become a ShelterBox Response Team member, a wise SRT said that deployment is “like drinking from a water hydrant…full on!” And my time in Malawi was exactly that….a huge learning curve of new environments, witnessing displaced, stoic villagers, collapsed mud brick houses, warm handshakes and laughter, rounds of meetings with officials, local chiefs and Traditional Authorities, government and other Non-Government Organisations, women with colourful ‘chitenje’ wrapping their babies tight around their back, intense heat and dripping perspiration, green hills and fields of corn, paperwork and phone calls, and our experienced driver Jonathan negotiating bad roads and avoiding a myriad of pedestrians and cyclists.


My experience was quite varied, spending some days in Blantyre, where ShelterBox ICC (In Country Coordinator), Alice Jefferson was based, and journeying to assess the outlying district Phalombe, past the huge Mulanji Mountain, with waterfalls cascading down. Finally, we were based in Chikwawa in the south, where my two-person team, after some intense negotiations with local officials, was able to distribute 124 ShelterBoxes to vulnerable households.

The situation in Chikwawa differed to other districts like Zomba, because land rights was a troubling issue. Farmers in the lowlands had their homes swept away in the floods, and the government indicated they must relocate to higher ground, which caused conflict as this land was owned by another Traditional Authority. Detailed verification of those most in need of shelter – the elderly and infirm, single-headed households, lactating mothers – was required. Some desperate people missed out, and this was hard to decide.

Image of Peita Demonstrating the contents of a ShelterBox to beneficiaries

Demonstrating the contents of a ShelterBox to beneficiaries

Another key learning experience for me was how crucial it is to work closely within the cluster of other emergency agencies. Shelter must coordinate with WASH groups ( Water and Sanitation Hygiene), which, for example UNICEF may help arrange. A camp can only be set up if WASH is in place, with a water source like a bore, latrines and bathing facilities. There was a real danger of disease like cholera? spreading through the camps.

A special moment was issuing ownership certificates to Kalima village. These 29 vulnerable households had been living in school outbuildings for two months. This ShelterBox certificate affirms that the tent with all the NFIs (Non Food Items) like solar lamps, blankets, water containers, cooking pots and tools, donated by generous people around the world, is now their property. The joy of these people, as each household head came forward to receive the certificate, was very moving. A sort of dance ensued as I mirrored the recipient’s bow or curtsy, and soon there was much laughter and the women began to uulate, a kind of throaty cry of happiness.

Happy beneficiaries in Malawi

Happy beneficiaries in Malawi

It is only due to donor generosity that ShelterBox can continue this important work, tailoring the need for the many people suffering around the world after disaster has struck. It is a privilege to volunteer as a ShelterBox Response Team member, and I look forward to my next deployment and the ensuing roller coaster of learning, experience and aiding beneficiaries.


ShelterBox is currently distributing 1,000 ShelterBoxes, 650 Shelter Kits and 500 tarpaulins in Malawi. You can help us respond to disasters and humanitarian crises by donating here: PLEASE DONATE