The Longview Noon Rotary Club learned Wednesday about how its donations over the years have helped families recover from natural disasters around the world.
Bill Woodard, an ambassador with international disaster relief organization ShelterBox, reported on how the rotary contributions have kept families from sleeping outside and helped them cook when food is scarce.
Rotary clubs across the world make up for about a third of ShelterBox’s funding, Woodard said during the Rotary Club has donated about $15,000 over the years.
ShelterBox creates durable, portable boxes filled with 10-person tents, water filtration systems, solar lights, tool kits, blankets and small cooking stoves. The contents are customizable by disaster and region.
A box typically costs $1,000 and a smaller kit for repairing existing shelters goes for $75. The kits are funded solely by public donation.
Their portable solar lights are becoming the most popular product, Woodard said, because they can be used to establish homes, make people feel safe at night and help light classrooms.
“In this part of the world, we don’t understand the role of light in security,” Woodard said. “We take it for granted.”
In a village in the Philippines, he said, women and young girls were confined to their homes from sunup to sundown because they dared not venture out at night. Installing lights, Woodard said, freed them up to form social circles and and use communal bathrooms.
Woodard worked in retail for 32 years before retiring in 2003, when he started spending more time traveling with his kids. Seeing poverty firsthand inspired him to look into helping humanitarian organizations.
Woodard said he wanted to find one that gives families dignity along with hope and shelter. Too often, he said, those receiving help are also made to feel inferior or unfortunate.
“I really felt I needed to be more than a casual observer,” Woodard said.
ShelterBox also has a product line called SchoolBox. It contains enough supplies to help two teachers and 60 students create a functioning classroom. Woodard said in times when a community is destroyed, establishing normality for the youngest members first helps their elders find peace, too.
“Getting the kids stabilized gets the parents stabilized, too,” Woodard said. “Often (the parents) are more upset by seeing what their kids are going through than losing their home.”
Woodard said ShelterBox has deployed its volunteers about 325 times since its founding in 2000 — because of advances infrastructure and communication methods, only about five of those deployments have been within the United States. To keep volunteers from getting weary, they are usually in the field for three or four weeks and then replaced by a new team.
Woodard is one of about 160 workers worldwide assisting with relief. While he doesn’t do first response anymore, he is now on the board of directors and continues to monthly give presentations — like the one for Longview Rotary Club — in hopes that ShelterBox will continue to be widely-used for disaster relief.
Mike Robinson, of Battle Ground, is following in Woodard’s footsteps. He has been an ambassador for ShelterBox for about six months. He attends Woodard’s speeches and presentations to practice spreading the organization’s mission.
Robinson retired from a career as a professional forester in Hawaii, but has spent years doing similar humanitarian work in West Africa through the Peace Corps.
“What I’m searching for in retirement is how to spend the next 20 years giving,” Robinson said. “ShelterBox seemed like a good fit.”
Robinson said he is eager to help ShelterBox by raising money and carrying the message on their own. He said he has enough experience with similar volunteering to share an understanding with ShelterBox about the needs people have after facing a natural disaster or being displaced by conflict.
“Having a safe shelter with light and some level of security is essential to their recovery and their well-being,” Woodard said.