Monday, May 12, 2008

Rotary clubs provide emergency shelter, aid to thousands in Myanmar

As the humanitarian crisis worsened in Myanmar’s delta region after a powerful cyclone hit on 3 May, a response team of four specially trained volunteers moved into devastated areas on Thursday to distribute more than 800 ShelterBox containers.

ShelterBox, a grassroots disaster relief organization supported by Rotary clubs around the world, was among the first charities to reach cyclone victims. Desperately needed aid from many other international groups had been stalled at the border for days by Myanmar’s military government.

More than one million people have been left homeless by the disaster, and 100,000 are feared dead, the United Nations reports.

The team will work in cooperation with local groups in Myanmar to line up transportation and determine where the shelters will do the most good amid the massive devastation.

The first deployment of ShelterBoxes will benefit more than 10,000 survivors. Each container provides a tent, stove, water purification kit, blankets, tools, and other necessities to help a family of 10 survive for six months. Some include two 10-person tents, doubling the usual shelter capacity.

With no Rotary presence in Myanmar, Rotarians’ direct involvement in the relief effort will be limited. But Beth Palmer, executive director of ShelterBox USA, has noticed a spike in online contributions and says her phone has been “ringing off the hook” as Rotary club members have called to donate. ShelterBox offices in Australia, Canada, and Germany have reported a similar increase in contributions.

Tom Henderson, a member of the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard, England, and the founder of ShelterBox, says 224 containers left Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday. Another 220 boxes have been sent from Melbourne, Australia, and 400 are en route from ShelterBox headquarters in Cornwall, England.

ShelterBox was launched in 2000 as a project of the Helston-Lizard club and quickly garnered support among Rotary clubs worldwide. To date, the nonprofit has raised US$29 million and delivered aid to over 40 countries in response to more than 70 disasters. Each complete ShelterBox costs $1,000 to sponsor, and Rotary clubs provide about half the charity’s funding.

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