Our very own Player Development Manager for Bath Rugby and London Irish, Budge Pountney, recently embarked on his first ever ShelterBox deployment to Tanzania. Spending 10 days in the East African country, the former Scotland and Northampton Saints flanker, worked side by side a fellow ShelterBox volunteer, assessing the shelter facilities in Nyarugusu, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Here Budge speaks about the experience, explains what ShelterBox actually does and encourages more people to get involved.
Firstly you recently returned from Tanzania, can you explain what you were doing over there?
Todd Finklestone from Boston and I were sent over as an assessment team to evaluate whether a refugee camp in Nyarugusu needed any tents for shelter issues. Just recently the camp has experienced an influx of refugees from the bordering country of Burundi, which is currently facing political unrest. The camp has gone from 70,000 Congolese refugees who have been there for the last 20 years, to 130,000 refugees, with that number constantly rising. While the camp is extremely well run, the dramatic rise of people has been incredible and the infrastructure cannot cope.
What sort of impact are you hoping the ShelterBox visit will make?
Well originally we were unsure what to expect in Tanzania as ShelterBox normally attends to natural humanitarian disasters and not refugee camps of this size. However it was immediately obvious that there was a lack of adequate shelter for the Burundi people. In particular there were mass shelters that were housing more than 500 people, leaving 7000 people living in extremely overcrowded shelters across the camp. If we can help these people gain some kind of dignity back in their lives with the provision of sufficient shelter, it will hopefully leave a positive impact and make a huge improvement to the families living there.
Can you explain how you initially got involved with ShelterBox?
I heard about ShelterBox from my old friend Mark Soden who now works at Harlequins and he encouraged me to investigate it further because they were looking for volunteers to join the response team. Since retiring from professional rugby, I’ve always been chasing an environment that replicates the essence of working within a team and under stressful and often complex situations. Through volunteering at ShelterBox, I’ve been lucky to have found something which really gives me a sense of fulfilment. However that doesn’t mean the selection process was easy, it was actually very intense and included an interview, four day assessment stage and then a final nine day training phase. You had to make it through each phase which included a number of tough selection criteria’s before you could proceed onto the next stage.
How important of a role does ShelterBox play around the world?
ShelterBox is primarily concerned with providing shelter to all people displaced by disasters and humanitarian crisis. Our role within ShelterBox is to rapidly improve emergency shelter and provide vital aid, which will then help rebuild communities and lives.
Are there any opportunities for RPA Members to get involved with ShelterBox and volunteer?
Our Training and Development team are currently inviting people to apply to become response team volunteers once a year, in late winter. All you have to do is register an interest and keep an eye out on www.shelterbox.org checking the website for further information. Obviously becoming a Shelterbox volunteer will be quite difficult whilst you’re still playing but it is definitely something you should consider when you retire. On top of this, there are so many opportunities to help raise awareness and funds for ShelterBox through a volunteer angle.
Finally, where else has ShelterBox helped around the world?
ShelterBox has been all over the world and responded to over 250 disasters and humanitarian crisis in almost 90 different countries, providing emergency aid to well over a million people. For a small Cornwall organisation, ShelterBox has made a huge impact and will continue to do so for a long period of time.
For more information on ShelterBox and how you can get involved please visit http://www.shelterbox.org/ or follow them on Twitter @ShelterBox