Author: Rebecca A Mendoza
Twenty-three years and £1.2 million later, local Rotary and ShelterBox continue to rebuild lives after devastation
On 8 September 2023, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit just south-west of Marrakesh, Morocco, causing violent tremors throughout the region. Just two days later, a storm in north-eastern Libya brought strong winds and severe rainfall. Flash floods roared through the region, bursting dams, flatting cities, and sweeping away everything in its path.
After major disasters (such as hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and human conflicts), ShelterBox, an international charity based in Cornwall, is among the first organisations on the ground assessing needs of people. Their speciality is getting essential kits to individuals and communities who have suddenly found themselves without a home. By providing emergency shelter and essential day-to-day items, they help meet some of the immediate needs of families who have lost their homes so they can start rebuilding their lives.
With 23 years of support for ShelterBox initiatives, Rotary members in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire continue to raise awareness and funds amongst their local communities to support displaced people worldwide.
Support for ShelterBox across Rotary in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire is strong
ShelterBox began as a millennium project in 2000 by members of Helston Lizard Rotary in Cornwall. Nearly 23 years later, with global Rotary support, ShelterBox has developed into an internationally recognised, independent disaster relief organisation—providing emergency shelter and other essential items to over 2.5 million people
Helping raise awareness is Steve Woodcock, ShelterBox Rotary District 1040 Coordinator and member of Normanton Rotary. Stephen has spent 12 years in coordinator roles and is also a ShelterBox Ambassador and Network Leader—supporting both Rotary and non-Rotary activities to promote awareness across Yorkshire and beyond.
Members of Stainborough Rotary spent a day on the Barnsley high street raising funds to purchase Shelter Boxes for those affected by a devastating earthquake in Morocco in early September 2023. Photo credit: Stephen Woodcock
Stephen finds that Rotary members across the district, which includes Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, are very supportive of the work ShelterBox does. “They know ShelterBox is going to get aid out there fast,” says Stephen.
In 2023 so far, Rotary clubs across District 1040 have donated approximately £55,000 to ShelterBox. Since the founding of ShelterBox in 2000, clubs in the district have donated nearly £1.2 million to the organisation (this figure excludes money from clubs that had been part of neighbouring District 1270 at the time of donation). On average, each box costs £590.
In the last few months alone, ShelterBox has also had a presence through Rotary at several high profile local events such as the Wakefield Chantry and Huddersfield Dragon Boat Race, Thirsk and Sowerby Festival, and the Featherstone Technology Tournament. This is in addition to displaying ShelterBox kits at local fundraisers and doing presentations to schools and groups.
In 2012, Rotary was recognised as an official project partner in disaster relief and is one of 14 official partners. Rotary’s continued support of ShelterBox on international and local levels is in major part due to ShelterBox’s constant evolution. The charity works hard to meet the specific needs of an increasing number of people affected by disasters every year.
The kits contain items that meet basic human needs such as kitchen sets, water containers, basic tools, solar lights, and items for sleeping. They are also tailored to reflect what is needed based on geography, climate, and the type of natural disaster or conflict. There are often additional much welcomed items such as activity sets for children.
ShelterBox also finds Rotary support effective and unique. As an international service organisation, Rotary helps raise much needed awareness and funds at home and are points of contact for response teams in affected areas. When disasters strike, Rotary members on the ground provide first-hand knowledge, introductions, logistical assistance, and links into communities, making ShelterBox’s response more effective.
More awareness means more shelters for those in need
Amongst all the events and activities, Stephen says he always looks forward to speaking with young children. Over 12 years, he’s visited dozens of primary schools and Scout groups. In his experience, primary school aged children engage with him and ask more questions than any other age group. He finds their enthusiasm satisfying and many remember the presentations and go home and tell their parents.
One of the questions that gets the most response is when Stephen asks the children what they might need if they were in a situation where they didn’t have a home. “They often ask for things that I also think should be in there,” says Stephen. “Things like a striking tool for lighting fire, a small sewing kit, and first aid kits.”
Though fun, Stephen says he must be careful about what he says and how he says it. Speaking to young children about natural disasters and human displacement requires tact and careful word choice. “Primary children do worry about these things and care about what’s happening around the world,” he says. He makes sure that the tone and messaging is positive and reassuring.
As a result of these visits, several schools have selected ShelterBox as a way to involve students in international engagement projects. Stephen recalls that one school did a danceathon and bake sale, resulting in approximately £1,500 raised—enough for three ShelterBoxes.
When asked why he’s volunteered as a coordinator for so long he replies, “I enjoy it. I get to meet new people and visit other Rotary clubs. I see myself in a wider Rotary context, not just a representative of one club.”
Being the only ShelterBox Ambassador and Coordinator for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire is a big job—one that he’s willing to share. There are more events and groups Stephen would like to visit, but between full time work and family commitments he can’t always do them. Having more people involved would mean ShelterBox can have more reach.
Stephen Woodcock sets up ShelterBox tents and kit at Rotary District 1040 Conference in Scarborough. Photo credit: Stephen Woodcock
Preparing for the future
At the time of writing this, latest estimates show nearly 3,000 people have died from the earthquake in Morocco. In Libya, officials estimate there are over 11,000 dead, thousands still missing, and over 800,000 people affected by the flooding.
These are just two of many natural disasters to have severely impacted communities across the world this year. According to experts, the number of natural disasters, and their intensities, will continue to rise with climate change.
The effects from disasters and conflicts aren’t always short-term experiences and can last years, or even decades. In addition to providing aid after new disasters, ShelterBox also continues to support people affected by conflict, drought, flooding, and earthquakes in countries such as Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Chad, Cameroon, Ukraine, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Yemen.
ShelterBox relies on the international community and people of Rotary to continue their good work around the world. Raising funds, leading outreach events, volunteering as coordinators are just some of the ways to get involved. Every bit will help support people who suddenly find themselves without some of the most basic of human needs and allow them to rebuild their lives one day at a time.
Find out more and get involved with ShelterBox
Rebecca A Mendoza is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com
Featured Image Photo thanks to NASA