On your next holiday to Bedruthan, make sure you include the ShelterBox Visitor Centre on your list of must-do day trips. It’s one of only about three emergency relief visitor centres in the world, and it’s right on our doorstep here in Cornwall. If a day out at a disaster relief centre sounds like an odd suggestion, read on anyway, because we’re sure if you do go, you’ll be very glad you made the effort.
What Is ShelterBox?
ShelterBox is a charity that sparked into life here in Cornwall 18 years ago and chooses to maintain its HQ in Truro, even though it is now a major global provider of emergency disaster relief to people hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, warfare and other disasters.
The charity, its work and supporters are an important feature of the landscape of ‘real’ Cornwall, rather than the prettified surface version so often served up to tourists and beyond which we know many visitors would like to explore.
ShelterBox’s staff, supporters and volunteers all believe shelter is a human right, not a luxury, and that shelter from the chaos of disaster and conflict is vital.
What Does ShelterBox Do?
Simply put, ShelterBox empowers people.
If you’ve been made homeless by a natural disaster or conflict, as some 85 million people around the world today have, then ShelterBox can deliver you a green box full of emergency shelter materials, tools and other useful things that will enable you to keep your family together, start to rebuild your life and regain your independence.
If you’re someone who feels frustrated when you see the devastation of an earthquake, volcano or tsunami unfolding on the news, then ShelterBox gives you a direct and practical way of making a difference, so you don’t have to sit there watching helplessly.
“We hook up people who want to help with people who need help,” as ShelterBox’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Johns puts it.
ShelterBox is as beautifully simple as that, and far, far more complicated too. And that’s what the visitor centre so engagingly explains.
What’s a Disaster Relief Visitor Centre Like?
There’s nothing depressing about it. It’s an interactive exhibition that’s interesting, moving, up-lifting.
It’s suitable for young children, teenagers and adults alike, there’s a volunteer guide there to talk you through the exhibits, answer questions and sometimes share moving personal stories of frontline experiences.
The exhibits are fascinating. They transport you into the lives and realities of families made homeless by tsunamis, typhoons, cyclones, floods and warfare. Video, imagery, text and artefacts all help to explain the realities of life for huge numbers of people around the world, and the ways in which ShelterBox and its supporters help them to get back on their feet.
One of the most powerful exhibits is the school tent, which tells the story of some Iraqi children who were bombed out of their classrooms and forced to do lessons in hats and gloves in a cold, dark cave.
When ShelterBox responders saw this, they applied one of the charity’s core values: that it’s important to understand the impact of each emergency and the need this creates within individual communities.
Adapting their response to suit circumstances in the field, they came up with a SchoolBox to complement the traditional ShelterBox, which provides:
- Blackboard paint that can be painted on any surface to set up a classroom almost anywhere
- 1,000 pieces of chalk to keep a school running for months
- Yellow waterproof school bags to carry school materials as children love having a bag of their own
- A solar/wind up radio to enable classes to tune into lessons taught on the radio
- Colouring books and pens providing children with a fun way of expressing themselves.
Another is a brightly coloured rickshaw that children can sit in. It sums up how much more than shelter you give when you support ShelterBox. After an initial period of recovery, a survivor of the 2004 tsunami eventually sold his ShelterBox tent and used the money to buy a rickshaw to support his family.
All in all, the visitor centre is a great hands on experience and a chance to hear some of the fascinating experiences of frontline responders.
It teaches you that you can help, and that ShelterBox is so much more than its signature green box.
The centre tells a fascinating tale of the logistics and complexities of providing appropriate shelter around the world. For families, the exhibits prompt lots of interesting and educational discussions about disasters, politics and war.
As part of the exhibition you can also try your hand at packing up a survival box yourself to see the key survival tools that go into each box.
Don’t miss your chance. Find out more about ShelterBox and its brilliant work at the ShelterBox Visitor Centre, Falcon House, Charles Street, Truro, TR1 2PH. Opening times are 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday. Call 01872 302600 for more information.