In early September, a few volunteers that are part of a wonderful organization called ShelterBox (www.shelterbox.org and www.shelterboxusa.org) came to Swaziland, and visited with us at St. Philip’s Mission.
ShelterBox is a registered UK charity with groups in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and Southeast Asia that provide aid for disaster victims throughout the world in the form of 3x2x2 ft green plastic containers.
Inside each 100 lb container are such supplies as a rugged 10-person tent, thermal blankets, tools like a hammer and saw, a wood-burning stove unit, mosquito netting, water purification tablets, and containers of various sizes for water and food.
To many of us in the “first world,” this looks like a list for a weekend camping trip. But the reality for many around the world, especially those in the midst of a natural or man-made disaster, is being without some of these basic items required for human survival.
In 1999, ex-Royal Navy search-and-rescue diver Tom Henderson came up with and developed the concept of deliverable shelter solutions, and since then ShelterBox has become one of the most effective relief organizations in the world. The items in the boxes are bought by donations to ShelterBox and distributed by Rotary Clubs affiliated with ShelterBox throughout the world.
Four volunteers with ShelterBox came to Swaziland because of the forest fires that were raging here in July. All in all, 110 boxes were distributed through Cabrini Ministries to our surrounding community, meaning that we did the assessment of who needed them the most, we and the four volunteers distributed the donated boxes in September, and we are continuing to distribute more boxes now after they’ve gone.
Most of the families in our community that received ShelterBoxes were families of our kids in the hostel, or our healthcare patients, or the elderly. Basically everyone has thatch roofs, but some people have nicer thatch roofs, and some have thatch roofs that are very leaky or sparse. One man that received a box was living in a teepee-like structure of sticks where the diameter was only about 3ft and the height about 4ft. Another woman was living under a tree only, too sick to even sit up and feed herself. She is only about 30 years old, but has terrible TB and HIV. She received a ShelterBox.
People cried when they got them. They thought they had died and gone to heaven. For us it was also amazing the way we were two different organizations working together collaboratively for disaster relief. It’s a new definition of disaster relief, because it’s not Hurricane Katrina or the tsunami, but there is a disaster going on in Swaziland. I’ve seen this for a long time. But we worked together in a complementary way, because we can’t really provide housing for all the people in our community that desperately need it, and the boxes are so ingenious that they are really some of the best housing people have in the area.
A big thanks to Larry and the volunteers from ShelterBox, and all our friends and supporters. A box- who would have thunk it? These are the kinds of great ideas that save the world!
Sr. Barbara Staley