20th July 2017 Open Monthly Meeting

Our July open meeting was treated to yet another fascinating talk, delivered clearly and audibly using the new public address system via a selection of microphones, quite a novelty!

It was good to see Chairman Lynn Biggs back looking so well after her knee operation, standing firm and unsupported to welcome the members and moving around with only one stick, and she thanked everyone for all the good wishes and flowers she had received.

Denni Clarke introduced the team of three speakers led by Mike Smith, representing the organisation ShelterBox.  Right now, around 85 million people around the world have been made homeless by natural disasters and conflict – more than at any other time since World War Two.  ShelterBox is an international disaster relief organisation based in Cornwall. It’s made up of people who believe in shelter as a human right – that shelter from the chaos of disaster and conflict is vital, particularly for families.

Every day, landslides, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and conflict tear homes and families apart.  Mike and his colleagues went on to tell us how ShelterBox provides support 365 days a year, in whatever shape it is needed, giving people tools they need to rebuild homes, and the hope and power to transform their own lives.

Relief all year round for disaster-struck families – no ifs, no buts

Mike Smith and his colleagues, James and Maurice, introduced themselves as Rotarians from Bideford who volunteer with ShelterBox, which was founded in 2000 by members of the Rotary Club in Helston, and Rotary is still one of the largest single contributing supporters.  They brought with them a sample box, such as would be dispatched to families affected by flood, fire, earthquake, conflict or any other disaster, and stressed repeatedly that that their work is purely humanitarian.  They make no judgements and apportion no blame, but simply provide shelter indiscriminately for human beings in dire distress.

The audience were challenged to suggest what might be inside and found to their surprise that they weren’t thinking on a big enough scale.  For instance, there was no Swiss army pocket knife, rather a full size tool kit including an axe, no bottle of antiseptic but a proper mosquito net, no little blue cylinder camping gas stove but a heavy metal burner with four sturdy legs, and a chimney of about a metre in length, not shown in the photo.

Most people guessed blanket, ground sheet and something to cook with but no-one was prepared for a complete set of pans and kitchen implements, and a very robust tent which could house a family of ten people.

Food and medical supplies are the responsibility of other agencies, such as Oxfam and Medecins sans Frontieres.

One particularly remarkable small item packed like a flat balloon with a little panel on the side, which when inflated and activated turned out to be a cushion shaped solar powered and endlessly rechargeable lantern, the limit of whose lifespan has apparently not yet been reached.


One box, delivered on site, costs £590.  The boxes are made in Devon, then stored and packed in Helston, and suppliers of the kit inside are only paid when a box is actually sent out.  They are despatched by regular flight carriers and always welcomed without hindrance or red tape at the country of arrival, often thanks to connections in the worldwide network of the Rotary Club.  The big green boxes are delivered wherever they are needed in less than 72 hours, and may be brought by lorry, helicopter, donkey or tuk tuk.

ShelterBox’s core aims are to provide shelter, warmth and dignity, without any political bias.  When disaster strikes, a specialist will visit the area to assess the need, as smaller shelter kits are also available consisting of tools to repair those homes which can still be salvaged.  After the floods in New Orleans only tents were wanted, and following the recent Grenfell Tower fire ShelterBox sent less sophisticated gazebo style shelters for the many agencies and volunteers offering various forms of counselling and therapy.

The U3A audience were all impressed at the dedication of the volunteers, many of whom have attended tough commando style training before being allowed to embark on deliveries, and who together are available to respond to an emergency disaster situation every single day of the year.

Lindsey Sandilands