Legendary Emergency Services volunteer Hemi Taiapa has been at the front line as a volunteer aid worker around the world and around Australia for more than 20 years. And he's still one of the first people Red Cross sends out when a disaster strikes in Queensland, because of his experience working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Hemi says he relishes his work in community liaison, drawing on his decades of experience and recognising the dignity of each person he supports.
After more than 10 years in the international arena, he has worked at the frontline for Red Cross after natural disasters in Mitchell, Roma, Condamine, Dalby, and St George. He is a familiar figure at the front of evacuation centres, where he can be seen kindly and gently meeting and greeting people.
Hemi has strong ties with the Pacific Islander communities, a well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and with migrants and refugees.
"I was brought up in a multi-cultural system," the Maori elder says. "We are all different and we all need to be treated with respect.
"I believe in listening. I never give advice. I listen all the time."
Hemi says he gets much satisfaction, especially when he reconnects with people he has helped previously. "They say 'Good day, Uncle. Good day, brother.'"
He says his secret comes down to one simple word. Respect.
Dealing with an emergency can be stressful and exhausting. Recovering from an emergency is a complex process that may take months, even years. Red Cross supports people on their recovery journey. We talk with people in emergency-affected communities to identify gaps in support and our volunteers work with them in the days, months and sometimes years after an emergency. We are particularly mindful of people's different cultural backgrounds when working with them on recovery.
Red Cross volunteers work in recovery centres, visit homes, attend events and support community activities to provide both practical and emotional support and information. We also provide referrals to recovery services. We can help communities understand and plan their recovery process and advise governments and agencies on good practice.