IOWA CITY, Iowa — When disaster strikes, starvation and dehydration are not the only dangers faced by survivors. Even in relatively temperate environments, exposure can kill those whose homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods or other natural disasters. When food and water aid simply are not enough, ShelterBox USA steps in.
ShelterBox originated in the United Kingdom, and their goal is to provide relief to those hardest hit by natural disasters. The American division was founded in 2002, and with it, the same dedication to the rights of life and dignity championed by the original.
Although the Red Cross and other aid organizations provide food, water and medical care, displaced people are often unable to return to their homes and are exposed to the elements. ShelterBox strives to provide homes to survivors during difficult times. By sending tents and tools to hard-hit regions, the organization hopes to get victims back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Although private citizens contribute to ShelterBox USA, the organization’s biggest contributions come from Rotary Clubs, schools, religious groups and other service groups. For only $1,000, donors can send a ShelterBox equipped to aid one extended family through their disaster recovery.
In 12 years, ShelterBox USA has provided disaster relief in more than 90 different countries, following up after almost 240 different disasters. In 2014 alone, relief boxes have been deployed to Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Chile, Bolivia, Zimbabwe and Indonesia.
The impact of the organization is extensive.
The average box can be carried by two people on foot and is tailored to the specific needs of the affected region. Although the boxes have a standard load-out, certain equipment may be added or omitted based on the conditions of the disaster area.
All boxes contain a large disaster relief tent built to withstand strong storms and high temperatures. These tents contain customizable partitions that can be set up according to each family’s preferences. Blankets and insulated ground sheets protect against the cold and are essential even in areas with hot days, as temperatures can drop drastically overnight.
A tool kit helps families both improve their temporary housing situation and repair their home as soon as conditions allow. Hammers, saws, pliers, shovels and axes are all invaluable when rebuilding, digging a latrine or cutting brush for a fire.
That brush can come in handy when packed into one of ShelterBox’s wood-burning or multi-fuel stoves. Most boxes come equipped with one of these two types of stoves, providing not only heat, but more importantly, a safe place for a family to cook and prepare clean water. Essential dishes and utensils are also included to aid with cooking.
The boxes themselves also make useful additions to the household. Once emptied, the box — about the size of a large cooler — can function as a storage container, a newborn’s bed or the foundation for a larger cot.
Yet, sometimes the need for shelter overwhelms the need for tools, stoves or even blankets. In disaster areas where shelter takes the priority, aid boxes may be packed with two tents and all other equipment left out. In areas where the threat of malaria is serious, mosquito nets may be included in place of blankets.
Of course, like any aid organization, the true test of ShelterBox’s quality — and of ShelterBox USA, in particular — is its effectiveness, not its intentions. ShelterBox ranks high by both these standards. On Charity Navigator, ShelterBox USA ranks a 59.9 out of 70, on the cusp of a coveted 4-star rating. The organization achieved a perfect score in Accountability and Transparency, marking it as a safe investment for donors.
The tools themselves are incredibly effective and useful. Designed specially for ShelterBox, the equipment that the organization ships is brand-new, durable and engineered to endure harsh conditions. Better still, the equipment belongs to the family as soon as it enters their hands, so the organization doesn’t have to worry about collecting “borrowed” items, and the family can continue to put the equipment to use even after they have rebuilt.
Although response time varies, ShelterBox manages maximum efficiency by loading some of its boxes aboard British military ships. This way, any time disaster strikes, a nearby British vessel can drop off the boxes. In the case of Haiti, after a devastating earthquake struck the island in 2010, ShelterBox was able to deliver aid within a few hours of the disaster thanks to the preparedness of the organization and the British military.
The global impact of Shelterbox can be seen between its wide reach, its practical tools and its effectiveness. Their work improves the quality of life for disaster victims; enabling them to recover what was lost and to help them help themselves.