By Jim Robinson, Humanitarian Diplomacy and Rotary Liaison at ShelterBox
At ShelterBox we are incredibly proud of our partnership with Rotary. As project partners in disaster relief since 2012, we have worked together since our inception in 2000. Around 90% of our responses feature engagement with and support from Rotary members on the ground, right across the globe.
Rotarians, as People of Action, support our work providing shelter to those who most need it in many ways from raising awareness and funds, to the first-hand knowledge Rotarians have of the communities we look to support. Rotarians have supported ShelterBox responses with introductions, logistical assistance such as warehousing, transport and vital links to communities.
I want to tell the story of our partnership through the recent response to Cyclone Idai in Malawi. At the core of how ShelterBox operates is the principle of partnership – for an effective and timely response, it is crucial. Responding in Malawi was built on this principle.
Arriving in country, ShelterBox team members met with District 9210’s Governor Hutch Mthinda in Lilongwe and alongside national level meetings with the Government Disaster Management Agency (DODMA) and Habitat for Humanity Malawi, began to develop both the relationships and strategy to best respond to the havoc wrought by Cyclone Idai in the southern districts of Malawi.
Transferring south to Blantyre, we received a warm welcome from the Rotary Club of Limbe. President Eric Chinkanda welcomed us as his guests and conversations began. After giving a short introduction to the larger club, our focus turned to an initial meeting with the Disaster Response Committee, charged with coordinating the Rotary members’ response to Cyclone Idai in Malawi.
One of the early objectives for ShelterBox teams is to understand what has happened and where, and who are the most affected communities. As we do this, we can begin to form a picture of where our assistance can be most effective and appropriate. Early conversations with partners enable each of us to understand priorities. With the Rotary Club of Limbe raising funds to carry out a food distribution, we explored ways to support them by connecting them with relevant government and humanitarian actors.
President Eric says,
“I was, as leader of our District Disaster Relief Team, supported by ShelterBox in their early contacts with DODMA, which provided us situation analysis and needs assessment reports. We were able to move forward speedily with the food aid. Between ShelterBox and Rotary, we worked together and agreed on which team had to handle specific assignments. We scored pretty good successes through this understanding of specialization.”
In practice, this meant that we kept on talking, sharing information, contacts, experiences, challenges and successes. For ShelterBox, having trusted partners to help us understand the local context amid a fast-paced response environment is invaluable. What we learnt, we fed back to the Rotarians:
“I enjoyed the working relationships which ensued with the entire team from ShelterBox. I was kept informed of developments and progress which was being made by ShelterBox, which in turn shared with Governor Hutch and the District Disaster Relief Committee at my end.” – Eric Chinkanda
Blantyre-based Rotarian Jason Blanchard joined the ShelterBox distributions, part of our efforts to help nearly 10,000 people by providing 1,996 households with emergency shelter and other essential items alongside training to the communities. Our initial community monitoring has shown these items are providing essential support as families move out of the emergency phase and continue towards recovery.
Throughout our response in Malawi, we also worked closely with Habitat for Humanity Malawi, World Food Programme, Malawian Red Cross Society and local government. Coordination and collaboration were vital at every stage – from logistical considerations enabling aid to be brought into the country, to identification of communities requiring assistance, the distribution of shelter materials, understanding and evaluating the impact of our aid and the processes of delivery. Good channels of communication, built on integrity, enable us all to better serve those in need.
By developing the relationship between our organisations, we can continue to learn from one another and will be even better placed to work together again should the need arise. District Governor Hutch Mthinda captured this sentiment in comments to us,
“On behalf of District 9210, I would like to thank ShelterBox for coming to our rescue. We value your relief work during the Cyclone Disaster and we trust that you will continue to partner with us in future disaster response programmes in our district.” – Hutch Mthinda
It would be our privilege to do so.