Kerri Murray, a veteran disaster relief professional, first saw ShelterBox in action in 2010 as Haiti was reeling from a devastating earthquake that killed 250,000 people.
“A million and a half people lost their homes in an instant,” Murray, who now leads ShelterBox USA as its president, says. “ShelterBox was one of the first organizations on the ground in Port-au-Prince, and it was among the largest providers of shelter aid.”
While deployed to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and after super Typhoon Haiyan leveled communities across the Philippines, Murray again witnessed ShelterBox on the frontlines of disaster, providing its iconic green ShelterBoxes, replete with humanitarian relief tents, cooking sets, blankets, water purification, mosquito nets, and solar lights.
“Whether you are displaced during a disaster, conflict, or now a global pandemic, shelter is one of the most tangible differences you can make in someone’s life,” Murray says. “It is the first step in recovery. And, during this COVID-19 pandemic, home is crucial to our health and well-being.” It is clear, the work of ShelterBox has never been more important than now, and they are scaling up and adapting their efforts to help more people during the pandemic.
For Murray, taking the opportunity to lead the organization in 2015 was a no brainer. “One of the biggest issues plaguing our planet is the massive displacement of people. With more than 104 million people displaced due to conflicts, natural disasters, or by the consequences of climate change, there are more people displaced today than any time in recorded history.” Shelter is an essential human need.
With a U.S. headquarters in Santa Barbara, 17 global offices, a paid staff of 130, and hundreds of highly trained, response-team volunteers being regularly deployed in the world’s hot spots, ShelterBox provides shelter to 250,000 people a year. ShelterBox is Rotary International’s official project partner in disaster relief. Their work to deliver lifesaving shelter in the world’s most extreme conflict zones earned ShelterBox two Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 2018 and 2019.
But the challenge is mounting at a dizzying clip. Murray recalls giving a speech at the United Nations/Rotary day last year. At that time, the number of displaced stood at 88 million. Within a year it had surged nearly 20%.
To meet the need, Murray wants to quadruple ShelterBox’s footprint to shelter one million people a year. And while a daunting challenge, she is heartened by her Santa Barbara neighbors, who, unfortunately, know all too well how fast disasters can destroy lives. “We live in a community with an innate drive to give back and make a difference,” Murray says. “There are so many people that care about the work of ShelterBox and believe that shelter is a basic human right. Our supporters want to help people who have lost everything, people they will never meet, but whose lives they can transform.”