2020 Vision: Q&A with ShelterBox Australia CEO, Mike Greenslade
To celebrate 20 years of ShelterBox, we sat down with our very own ShelterBox Australia CEO, Mike Greenslade to learn more about his experiences delivering emergency shelter and aid items to families affected by some of the world’s worst disasters.
Keep reading to learn more about the moments that have shaped his career, as well as the reasons behind creating 2020 Vision: Eyes Wide Open In The Disaster Zone, which is available to purchase online.
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Let’s start by hearing about your background as a ShelterBox Response Team Member?
I first volunteered with ShelterBox in 2006, as part of their Response Team that deployed to East New Britain in Papua New Guinea, following the eruption of the Mt Tavuvur volcano.
Since then I have deployed 22 times with the organisation to disaster zones around the world. I have assisted with the importation and distribution of ShelterBox aid, working with local authorities, international and national charities and beneficiary communities. And it is when working in these affected communities that I aim to capture images that portray the spectrum of human experience.
Why did you decide to create 2020 Vision: Eyes Wide Open In The Disaster Zone?
I have been a professional photographer for more 25 years, working mainly in the fields of fashion and editorial. Deploying with ShelterBox gave me the opportunity to explore my real passion, which is documentary photography.
I have travelled extensively in the past, but much of the time spent travelling is just ‘passing through’. My work with ShelterBox allows me to connect with people on a very different level. My subjects have been through so much, their worlds turned upside down, their future uncertain.
Yet, from my first deployment to my latest, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the resilience and indomitability of the human spirit.
Humanity is universal, human experience is not.
What’s the story behind the book, and what do you hope it brings to households throughout Australia and around the world?
The year 2020 marks the 20th Anniversary of ShelterBox and provided the perfect opportunity to raid my archive and commemorate the milestone.
2020 Vision is a measurement of visual acuity or how sharp your vision is. I wanted to bring the work of ShelterBox into sharp focus and highlight the great work that we do around the world.
My selected images aim to portray their subjects not as victims or ‘survivors’ but as ordinary people, just like you and I, in extraordinary circumstances. My hope is that the book will increase awareness of the vital work of ShelterBox and give the viewer an insight into a world I hope they never have to experience.
Photo: One-month old Sylvani in her new home, Jawi Duku, West Sumatra
You have been a ShelterBox Response Team Member for 14 years. Do you have a most memorable deployment?
Every deployment is unique and memorable for different reasons, but I’d say the 2010 Haiti earthquake response is a standout because of the sheer scale of the destruction.
ShelterBox had a Response Team and aid on the ground within 48 hours… little did the organisation know that we’d be there for the next 12 months.
I was part of team 3, arriving about a month after the quake. By this time, ShelterBox, like many other NGO’s had made the UN Compound its operating base. Later, we were to move to the grounds of the Miami University Field Hospital, where we provided tents for recovering patients.
I’d previously deployed as a team leader several times but on this occasion, I was given a roving portfolio as a photographer and general team member. As such, I got to work all over Port au Prince and travel to other areas we were working, like La Isle de la Gonave and Jacmel.
We worked with big organisations like MSF, World Vision and the US 82nd Airborne and smaller ones like the local Rotary and the Field Hospital; there was great camaraderie. The devastation was widespread and the need immense; the sheer scale of the disaster was hard to comprehend.
Haitians are very resilient, most had very little to begin with and now they had nothing.
The whole country was in shock. The public response to the earthquake was huge and donations kept coming in. By the end of the year, ShelterBox had provided emergency shelter for over 30,000 families; over one-third of those made homeless.
Coronavirus has changed the world as we know it. What role does ShelterBox have to play right now in supporting at-risk families?
That’s a good question and one that is related back to our work with the Miami Field Hospital in Haiti.
One of the tasks we collaborated on was the setting up an isolation camp for locals suffering from drug-resistant TB. It was important that those suffering from this debilitating and deadly disease could be treated away from the overcrowded and unsanitary informal camps dotted around Port au Prince.
Similarly, for those people left homeless by disasters or fleeing conflict, the Coronavirus pandemic poses an existential threat. The need to self-isolate as a family unit is even more important in places like refugee and settlement camps. When living in such close proximity to each other and already being vulnerable, shelter saves lives.
International travel restrictions mean that we are currently unable to deploy Response Teams, but by working with trusted partners on the ground, ShelterBox is able to continue its important work around the world. We’ve also adapted our aid and training to make sure distributions are COVID-safe, ensuring social distancing, providing personal protective equipment and hand-washing facilities.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that families don’t go without shelter following disaster.