Santa Barbara-based nonprofit responds to global disasters and conflicts
When a powerful earthquake struck central Sulawesi, an island in Indonesia, in September 2018, Fatnizar’s home was completely destroyed. Many of the homes in her neighborhood survived the earthquake, only to be swept away moments later by the deadly tsunami that followed.
With no home to go back to, Fatnizar had to relocate with her husband and four children to a football field five kilometers away. They were not alone; 121 families took refuge on this field. Fatnizar’s family shared a space under a large tarpaulin with 15 other families.
They had been living there a month when ShelterBoxUSA discovered their plight and provided them with one of its sturdy green ShelterBoxes which contained a family-sized tent specially designed to withstand the elements. They were also given a ShelterKit containing all the essential tools needed to repair and rebuild their homes as soon as possible.
“We know that a home is much more than bricks and mortar or tarps and tent pegs. Our kits and boxes contain items that help transform shelter into a home, like cooking sets, solar lights and activity sets for children. We test and evaluate all of the aid we provide by talking to, and learning from, the families who use it. This fuels us to be innovative and to continue evolving,” said Kerri Murray, president of ShelterBox USA, a Santa Barbara-based humanitarian organization whose mission is to provide life-saving shelter and supplies to families left homeless in disaster and conflict situations.
“ShelterBox works to address one of the biggest issues plaguing our planet, the massive global displacement of people. With 104 million people now displaced due to conflicts and violence, persecution, natural disasters or the consequences of climate change, there are more people displaced than at any time in recorded history. And, as the world endures unprecedented challenges, it is clear how important home is to our health, safety and well being,” she added.
Over the past two decades, ShelterBox has responded to more than 300 disasters and crisis situations in 107 countries and has provided shelter to more than 1,600,000 people.
“While the need for ShelterBox is massive, we do have to make critical decisions on where to deploy. We often help in the poorest countries on the planet working to shelter the most vulnerable families impacted by the disaster,” said Ms. Murray. “ShelterBox prioritizes the most vulnerable, and they are often pregnant and lactating women, single mother and child-headed households, elderly, people with disabilities and in communities where few other shelter-focused organizations are responding.
“The toughest decision we have to make is saying no in times when there aren’t enough resources or aid to meet all of the needs in a displaced community.”
COVID-19 has accelerated the need for the work of ShelterBox because tens of millions of people displaced by conflict and violence are living in make-shift settlements and overcrowded refugee camps with little ability to social distance and slow the spread of the disease.
“In addition to the individual shelters, we have quickly adapted our aid packages to include hygiene supplies like soap and hand-washing basins, sanitizers, masks and gloves. We have also moved to smaller distribution days to social distance and protect beneficiaries and added health officers to educate communities on mitigating the spread of the virus,” said Ms. Murray, a disaster relief veteran who spent five years as vice president of Direct Relief in Goleta before assuming the helm at ShelterBox.
A former senior executive at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, she was sent in 2009 by GSK on a six-month corporate service assignment with Direct Relief.
“During my first month on the job, a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, and I was sent there to help with the crisis. That’s where I first discovered ShelterBox, which was one of the first organizations on the ground in Port au Prince. Amidst all the red tape in delivering relief supplies, here was this efficient organization providing relief tents that were used as hospital and triage facilities for the wounded, as well as lifesaving shelter to hundreds of thousands of people. I knew after working in Haiti that I could never return to my corporate life,” said Ms. Murray.
By 2015, she joined ShelterBox USA as its president and began its transformation, relocating the U.S. headquarters to office space donated by QAD, a software business in Summerland.
“While our work does not often make the news headlines, it has earned ShelterBox two Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 2018 and 2019,” said Ms. Murray. “As the official project partner of Rotary International, we have Rotarians around the world serving as volunteers.”
Like many nonprofits, ShelterBox is adapting its fundraising and engagement events, including its annual “Evening to Experience ShelterBox” benefit, which will now be held virtually at 8 p.m. Nov. 12.
“The event is free, and we hope Santa Barbarans will log in to learn how they can get involved in our work. Supporters can donate directly to help provide tents, tarps, cook sets, solar lights, thermal blankets, mosquito nets, a water purification unit and other items to fill a Shelter Box, which costs $1,000 delivered to a displaced family,” said Ms. Murray.
“Whether people are displaced during a disaster, conflict or now a global pandemic, shelter is one of the most tangible differences that can be made in their lives.”