Carolyn and Huw Thomas are two British cyclists spreading the word
about ShelterBox, which is used to aid the victims of disasters.
by Teresa Dovalpage
Originally published in The Taos News
In the cozy living room of the Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast, the aroma of freshly baked cookies greets visitors. The innkeeper and co-owner, Prudy Abeln, brings out coffee and muffins. She makes everyone feel at home and so does Jake, her energetic Cavachon dog.
A youthful-looking couple is ready to begin their talk about an unusual fundraising ride. They are Huw and Carolyn Thomas, two British cyclists who have embarked on a long journey-they plan to cover 10,000 miles around the world on a tandem bicycle to spread the word about ShelterBox.
ShelterBox was founded in 1999 by Tom Henderson, a Rotarian and former Royal Navy search and rescue diver. An international disaster relief charity, its aim is to deliver emergency shelter to people affected by disasters worldwide.
The organization has already sent more than 93,000 boxes of aid to countries all over the world. It helped thousands of Gulf Coast residents after Hurricane Katrina and delivered aid for around 220,000 people to Haiti following the January earthquake.
At the heart of every ShelterBox is a disaster relief tent that can accommodate up to 10 people. A box costs $1,000 which covers all the supplies included, plus packing, storage and distribution to individual recipients.
Huw and Carolyn have set up a tent in the lush gardens of the Dreamcatcher Bed and Breakfast. Abeln, an active member of the Rotary Club, is hostess to the Thomases during their three-day stay in Taos.
The tent is a marvel of packaging efficiency. It has privacy partitions that can be adjusted and its contents include survival equipment like thermal blankets, insulated ground sheets and ponchos. In areas where malaria is prevalent, mosquito nets are provided too. A multi-fuel stove with pots, pans and water storage containers makes a small, but effective kitchen.
There is also a basic tool kit. “It helps people to start rebuilding their homes whenever possible,” said Huw, “as well as to chop firewood and repair broken items.”
The box itself can be used for storage or as a cot for a newborn baby.
A children’s pack contains drawing books, crayons and pens. “The kids treasure every piece of it,” said Carolyn.
They share with the attendees the inspiration for their trip — a short and moving video filmed in Java of a young girl whose home had been destroyed by an earthquake.
“After I saw it, I knew I wanted to do something involving children,” said Carolyn. “My original idea was to cycle around England giving talks to schools, but my husband thought that wasn’t ambitious enough!”
And so the 10,000 miles fundraising tandem ride was born. By the end of their journey, they hope to have inspired enough people that ShelterBox can pack and send another 200 boxes of aid.
Each box has a unique number that allows it to be followed until it reaches its final destination.
“Donors can track their box through the website,” Carolyn explained, “so they feel directly connected to the people they are helping.”
The background of Huw and Carolyn, both from Cornwall, England, is in journalism and PR. Between 2006 and 2007 Huw was in charge of fundraising for the ShelterBox headquarters in the United Kingdom while his wife went to Pakistan with the ShelterBox Response Team.
Now they are biking 10,000 miles for disaster relief.
They began their ride from Vancouver on August 8 and are now on their way to Florida.
“We look forward to reaching Tampa in time for Christmas but this is just the first part of our trip,” said Huw. “Next, we’re going to ride the length of New Zealand and from Brisbane to Melbourne in Australia. Then it’s back home for the European leg of our trip.”
The couple still has a long way to go. But they said they enjoy every minute of it, despite the challenges of the road.
“It was a tough ride getting to Taos,” said Huw. “The pass from Angel Fire was the highest we’ve crossed on the whole trip so we were really glad to have a short rest here. We’re only sorry we didn’t have longer because it’s such a lovely place.”
Carolyn agreed. “It’s a fascinating and really attractive town. The only good thing about leaving is that it should now be mostly downhill to Texas!” Among the local Rotarians present were Prudy Abeln, Anita Bringas, who represented Rotary in a Group Study Exchange trip to the Philippines earlier this year, and Yale Jones, past club president and a member of the Millicent Rogers Museum Board.
The Taos Milagro Rotary Club hopes to raise enough money to purchase at least one ShelterBox.
“I have been most impressed with the sheer generosity of the American people,” Huw said.
To read more about the duo’s amazing trip, or to make a donation, visit their blog at tandem10.wordpress.com
Individual tax-deductible donations to ShelterBox USA can be made at http://www.shelterboxusa. org. For information or to make a contribution by phone, call (941) 907-6036.