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20 Years of ShelterBox: 4 Volunteer stories that take us back

by Yiota Liopetriti, ShelterBox Digital Marketing Executive 13/10/2020

As we celebrate our 20th birthday this year, we couldn’t forget the people who have dedicated their time and effort to help us make sure families receive emergency shelter after disaster.

Much of what we have achieved is solely down to the dedication of our amazing volunteers, the stories of which we’d like to bring to life.

Here are 4 of our favourite ShelterBox volunteer stories.

1. Alun’s story

I have many happy memories of my volunteering with ShelterBox, but none more so than the responses from schoolchildren when I have been able to communicate the total loss and devastation many families experience when they find their home and possessions which they have built up over many years gone in the space of a few hours.

I have found the ShelterBox message is most striking when talking to young people. One talk which stands out is from 2018 when I was invited to talk to a group of Primary 6 and 7 children at Tulloch Primary School in Perth. I was firstly struck by the courtesy extended by the children, two of them had been assigned to meet me at the school reception and to escort me, along with the demo ShelterBox, to the meeting room where the children and their teacher Miss Nicoll greeted me.

The children were very attentive and polite throughout the talk and correctly identified all the flags of the ShelterBox Associate countries and asked some very good questions. At the end of the talk, two of the children asked if they could interview me for a school project, which I agreed to do. I was very surprised and also delighted when a few days later I received the “Golden Achiever” certificate from the school. The experience made me hopeful for the future that we have such caring and thoughtful children in our society who are genuinely interested in humanitarian aid work such as that provided by ShelterBox.

Golden Achiever certificate

Above: Alun’s ‘Golden Achiever’ certificate

 

2. James’ story

It was the first tsunami that Sri Lanka experienced on 26th December 2004. It was a date extremely close to that when Radio Cornwall put out a call for volunteers to go to ShelterBox in Helston to help pack boxes. I know it was a Friday evening, as I was on my way home from work; I called in at home, ‘swept up’ my wife (not literally) and headed for Water-ma-Trout.

15 of us turned up never having ever packed a box in our lives! The warehouse staff were fantastic. They explained that each of us had a ‘station’. My wife Carol packed blankets, others the various items and I had the dubious task of placing the lid on and securing the box. We started at 6 pm and finished at 9 pm. We worked over the weekend, packing Saturday all day and until lunchtime on Sunday when the artic lorry was due to arrive to collect all the boxes at 3 pm. We finished our shift on a Friday having packed over 600 boxes in 3 hours. We believe it is/was the record – I stand to be corrected!

3. Janet’s story

Many years ago, when I was quite new to ShelterBox, I was invited to give a presentation at a special school in Peterborough local to my Rotary Club. Many of the pupils had learning difficulties, short attention spans and behavioural problems.

As I spoke you could have heard a pin drop and many of these youngsters were in tears as they heard stories and saw pictures of children involved in natural disasters across the other side of the world. A few weeks later the school held their annual fete, and I went along to support their efforts. One stand had for sale birdboxes and planters the children had made from recycled wood. When I went to pay a young man for a birdbox I had selected he started to tell me all about ShelterBox and how my money was going help people across the world. He was fluent in his grasp of what ShelterBox do. Suddenly, a huge grin came across his face and he said: “you were the lady who came to tell us these stories weren’t you?” and he gave me a big hug. I was then the one with tears in my eyes.

Two people posing with a ShelterBox artwork

Above: Janet posing with a colourful work of art made by schoolchildren.

4. Rachel’s story

Immediately after the Boxing Day Tsunami, ShelterBox were recruiting Response Team members. I was lucky enough to pass the selection process in early January ‘05 and become a Response Team member.

The tsunami response was my first deployment and I was part of the second-ever Response Team sent to assess the needs and distribute aid to those affected in Sri Lanka – specifically on the East Coast at a city called Batticaloa (Kallady region) and its surrounding areas.

We worked with local Rotary members, one of these members was a Scout leader. Through him we were able to utilise the skills of the local scout members to assist us in undertaking aid deliveries, training beneficiaries in preparing their homesites and showing them how to put the tents up. We also demonstrated how to use the water filters, water carriers and general cooking/sleeping items being donated to families. I worked with Suthan, Steve and Harry (local Scouts) to undertake these distributions whilst other team members worked with other groups of Scouts. I know this work changed both their lives and mine (and yes, we were comprehensively beaten during a rare bit of downtime in a game of cricket – Scouts vs Response Team members!).

All the households we assisted were greatly affected by the tsunami. Not only had they seen their homes literally washed away or heavily destroyed, but some had lost many family members in the multiple tsunami wave surges. Without the assistance of the local Scouts I think we would have struggled to explain what a tent is (many households had never seen a tent before), how to use the aid and also things like which direction they would like the front door to their new home to face.

We revisited the homesites a couple of days after each distribution to check how families were coping with the new aid items and to provide assistance if needed. We saw families had been able to set up lights inside the tents, the new homes were amazing and families had really utilised the tents to their needs. Some families placed the tent on the concrete base where their house stood and were starting to rebuild the house around them, others lived by the side of their ruined homes and were able to reclaim materials and were getting ready to rebuild.

A damaged house in Sri Lanka, after the tsunami of 2004
Rubble after the tsunami of 2004, Sri Lanka
A group of 4 people posing in front of tents

Top images: Devastation in Sri Lanka, where Rachel was first deployed. Image above: Rachel with local scouts helping to deliver aid to families affected by the tsunami.

 

Volunteers are vital to ShelterBox. They raise funds, support our teams at Truro HQ, tell everyone they can about what we do, and deliver aid to the people who need it. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re not currently recruiting any new volunteers. However, if you’re interested in getting involved with our work, you still can!

We always need help raising funds so that we can deliver life-changing aid to more people, and there are so many creative ways to do it. To find out more, visit our fundraising page.

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