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ShelterBox team rises to challenge

When El Niño caused abnormally intense rainfall in April and May 2019, Paraguay experienced massive flooding that displaced an estimated 60,000 people. In Asunción, the capital, the Paraguay River overflowed, and tens of thousands had to live in temporary settlements with inadequate shelter and poor sanitation. With the high waters persisting for months, residents needed humanitarian assistance while they figured out what to do in the long run.

That’s how Ned Morris, a member of the Rotary Club of Walla Walla, Washington, found himself in Asunción for 22 days in July and August. It was Morris’ fifth deployment since late 2017, when he completed his training with ShelterBox, Rotary’s partner for disaster relief.

Ned Morris (second from left) worked closely with ShelterBox team members and community members to ensure that displaced people were getting things they needed.

Image credit: Alyce Henson / Rotary International

In its May 2018 issue, The Rotarian followed Morris, fellow Rotarian Wes Clanton, and Rotaractor Katelyn Winkworth as they trained to become members of the ShelterBox Response Team. After 11 months developing the skills needed to assist displaced people around the world, they were invited to participate in the intensive final stage of training conducted by ShelterBox in the rugged countryside in Cornwall, England. After nine days dealing with simulations of the disasters they might encounter on a deployment, ShelterBox welcomed Morris, Clanton, and Winkworth to its response team, which numbers about 200 people worldwide.

Since then, Morris has supported families in the Caribbean, Ethiopia, and Kenya as well as Paraguay, experiencing firsthand the power of the Rotary-ShelterBox partnership. “When we hit the ground on any deployment, Rotarians and Rotaractors are our first contact,” he says. “They help us identify safe and unsafe areas, the right places to set up base. They provide drivers and translators. We wouldn’t have the impact we do without the partnership.”

In Paraguay, members of the Rotaract clubs of Asunción and Asunción Catedral were crucial to the mission’s success. Mariana Santiviago and Oliver Lugo Fatecha helped with translation, and Gabriela Grasso, Fanny Santos, and others provided logistical support.

ShelterBox Response Teams provided shelter kits packed with tarpaulins and tools to help repair homes. They also distributed solar lights, mosquito nets, and blankets to displaced people in Asunción. As for Morris, he served on a team dedicated to monitoring, evaluation, accountability, and learning (MEAL), part of ShelterBox’s effort to garner knowledge from each deployment. “The purpose of the MEAL team is to make sure we’re providing the right type of aid that’s needed now,” he explains. “And if they need other things, we want to know what those are. If it’s something that we can bring in the future to improve our response, we want to know.”

ShelterBox distributed thermal blankets for the cold nights; mosquito nets are essential for disease prevention.

Image credit: Alyce Henson / Rotary International

Community engagement is key to the partnership’s success. The response teams work with local leaders and teach them to show others how to use the resources ShelterBox provides. That means the ShelterBox teams can be small, with lower deployment costs and greater ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The response teams also work directly with the people most affected by a disaster, but they are careful not to be intrusive. “These people are in a horrible situation and they deserve to be respected, consulted, and treated with dignity,” Morris says. “We don’t want to be a burden on them. They’ve already gone through enough.”

ShelterBox is always preparing for its next deployment, without knowing where that might be. “We fundraise for the next disaster,” says Morris, who also works as a ShelterBox ambassador, spreading the word about the Rotary-ShelterBox mission. “We already had the supplies in place that we’re delivering now. We are ready when the next hurricane or earthquake hits, wherever that might be. Whatever it is, as soon as the next disaster hits, we are ready.”


• This story originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.

The ShelterBox team, including Rotarians from the UK and the United States, worked alongside local Rotaractors; solar lights make it possible to do chores and cook at night, and provide a sense of comfort.

Image credit: Alyce Henson / Rotary International