By Alex Youlten, ShelterBox staff
In 2000, the idea for ShelterBox was conceived by the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The club was an established group of around 40 people, who had been involved in a variety of charitable activities, both at home and abroad.
The idea was sparked by watching the news and wanting to do more after seeing that people seemed to be left with nothing after a disaster. The club loved the idea of helping in a practical way to make a tangible difference.
ShelterBox was launched by the club that same year. The initial hope was to help 8 to 10 families a year with a box containing a family-sized tent, sleeping bags, water purifying tablets, trenching tool and pots and pans.
In the first year, this group of passionate volunteers took the idea and developed it into something more. They investigated the emergency items people needed and worked to understand transport and logistics. They spoke to manufacturers and found a sturdy box. They visited the Rotary International Convention to drum up support and float the idea more widely.
In the first year, Rotary clubs alone donated £88,000. The faith shown by the Rotary community led to the first-ever response supporting families affected by the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India.
ShelterBox became a registered charity in 2003, with the trustees and board members all belonging to the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard.
“Fairly early on the club realised that this project was going somewhere and was quickly growing. Our motivation was always to provide emergency shelter and essential items to help people to preserve dignity after disaster.
We were keen to learn and develop every time we helped people in a new disaster. We always wanted to try new suggestions. As a result, the kit and the way we worked changed over time.”
– James Kingston, Past President of Helston Lizard Rotary Club
In the past two decades, ShelterBox has grown to become a global humanitarian organisation providing emergency shelter, essential items, and support to over 1.5 million people. Operations are managed by experts trained in disaster response, and the Board brings together renowned leaders from the humanitarian and disaster response sectors to provide key strategic guidance. ShelterBox also has fundraising teams in 15 countries – all founded by Rotary members.
In 2012, with Rotary members around the world rallying behind a shared vision, the partnership between ShelterBox and Rotary was formally recognised when ShelterBox became Rotary’s official project partner in disaster relief.
Rotary remains at the heart of ShelterBox. Clubs and members around the world support our efforts by raising vital funds and awareness at home, and local Rotary contacts also provide essential assistance in countries affected by disasters.
ShelterBox was built on a firm understanding of the value of collaboration. Today, ShelterBox continues to go further and reach more people by working with a range of influential partners including the International Federation of Red Cross and the International Organisation for Migration.
In 2020, the need for emergency shelter is more urgent than ever, with 88 million people living without shelter after disaster. We remain as determined as our founding Rotary members to do more.
Whether it is through your advocacy work, support with deployments, or introductions to key leaders, thank you for your support. Help us reach more families after disaster: learn more about our anniversary year 20 for 20 challenge.