ALSTONVILLE'S Mike Greenslade has just returned from Nigeria. He has been working with international disaster relief agency Shelterbox after the country was hit by the worst flooding on record, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.
"The floods in Nigeria did not have the impact on the global media that the recent Hurricane Sandy did, but the damage caused was even greater. Thousands of poor families that live on the banks of the River Niger had their homes severely damaged or completely washed away," he said.
Shelterbox delivers kits containing a family-size tent, mosquito nets, water purification and cooking equipment and other essential items to assist those in need while they rebuild their lives.
"Basically they're a family survival kit. Most people don't want to be stuck in a camp living on charity, they want to get on with their lives," Mike said.
Mike is a photographer by trade and has been volunteering with Shelterbox for the past six years. This was his 17th deployment with them and he is now a team leader with their 'first response teams'.
"This trip had a unique set of challenges in that we had to be confident we were looked after, so there were negotiations through our operations base to get assurances from the local government that we had an armed police escort wherever we went. Our job was to visit camps for displaced people, mostly at local schools. Some had been there a couple of months. Lots of people affected live on the bank of the river, often the poorest ones rely on fishing and farming for their livelihoods. Their homes were damaged or in some cases, completely washed away. We were providing solutions to get people back on their land."
Mike said he was drawn to volunteering with Shelterbox after years of travelling in foreign lands.
"I saw it as a way of giving something back to the places I'd been as a traveller... I feel very privileged when I go out and see the smiles on people's faces when we give a box of life-changing equipment."
Since they began 11 years ago, Shelterbox has responded to over 200 disasters in 90 countries. They currently have six active deployments on four continents.
For more information visit www.shelterboxaustralia.com.au.
Shelterbox Australia is holding a fundraising concert at St Joseph's McCarthy Hall, in Main St, Alstonville on Saturday, December 1.
Local talent performing includes Awesome Voices, the Accapelicans, Northern Rivers Ukulele Orchestra and Men Wot Sing. The evening starts at 7pm and tickets are $15/$12 concession or $40 for a family.