Click photo to enlarge
Keith Henderson just returned from a two-week trip to Guatemala where he helped earthqauke vcitims as aprt of his effort with the international relief organization, Shelterbox

SANTA CRUZ -- Within days of receiving the pre-dawn call, Keith Henderson was on a plane.

The Santa Cruz resident covered roughly the distance he would've traveled if he'd been on a humanitarian mission to Staten Island, N.Y., or the Jersey Shore. But ShelterBox, the international disaster-relief organization for which he's volunteered since 2009, already had volunteers there. Henderson was needed in Guatemala.

He discovered ShelterBox in 2008, at a Rotary International conference in Los Angeles. The organization was founded in 2000 and, with affiliates around the globe, deploys volunteers throughout the year to help victims of natural and other disasters.

While the American Red Cross and other organizations provide aid in a variety of ways, ShelterBox -- as its name suggests -- provides strong, durable tents capable of sheltering large families for up to two years, and boxes containing blankets, stoves, cooking pots and pans, water purification systems and other non-food items.

On Nov. 7, the largest earthquake in more than 30 years struck the Central American country, killing dozens and leaving thousands homeless or without electricity or water. Henderson and his counterpart from British Columbia arrived in the San Marcos region, a mountainous area in the southwest part of the country, on Nov. 23.


Advertisement

When they arrived, ShelterBox volunteers had already distributed 100 tents and boxes filled with emergency supplies. By the end of their two-week stay, that number was up to 450. But getting the supplies through customs can be difficult, so they ordered more than they needed -- and left them behind, knowing it's more a question of when, not if, they'll be needed.

Henderson is also a senior project manager at Barry Swenson Builder, and he's been given time off to help out with relief efforts in the Philippines, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia.

Just this week, his office moved into the top floor of the Live Oak Business Park. Late Tuesday morning, he sat behind his computer, zooming in on a Google map that showed Guatemala City, where he flew in, then west to the San Marcos region, then back east to Solola. Zipping through various photographs he's taken during his deployments, he paused on one, showing a couple children standing in a dry, arid landscape, a desert-like mountain looming in the distance.

"Imagine if you were flying into San Jose International Airport," he said, "and you realize everything you see was just severely destroyed or damaged and there's just smoke and dust everywhere."

One of the things Henderson finds most rewarding about the work is the immediate gratification it provides, not only to him, but to the people on the receiving end. It takes years for a typical building project to go from concept to completion, he noted, but "this is something where, within 72 hours, I might be out on site putting up shelters and saving families' lives."

Follow Sentinel reporter Kimberly White on Twitter at Twitter.com/kwhite95066

  • Group was founded in 2000 in Cornwall, U.K.

  • The organization provides tents and non-food supplies to victims of natural and other disasters around the world.

  • Teams currently deployed in Samoa (flooding), Philippines (typhoon), Haiti (Hurricane Sandy), Nigeria (flooding), Iraq (conflict) and Senegal (flooding).

  • For information, go to www.shelterboxusa.org.

    SOURCE: ShelterBox