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Cyclone recovery volunteer: "I just want to be useful"


Witnessing the destruction caused by Brisbane's 2011 floods from the distance of New Zealand was a turning point in Sarah Rota's life.

She says watching the flood from afar made her feel helpless, and she knew then that she had to do something significant to help.

"I was horrified at the devastation and how widespread it was and I knew a lot of families and friends back here were joining the mud army and I just felt there must be something more that people can do," she says.

Inspired to help, when Sarah returned home, she joined Red Cross, an organisation where she felt she could make the most impact.

When Cyclone Marcia hit Central Queensland in February this year, she put up her hand to help in Red Cross' recovery efforts.

Sarah was sent to Central Queensland as an emergency services volunteer working on community recovery. She found herself providing personal support to those most affected, working as part of a team visiting people in outlying towns: the isolated, the elderly, those with very little money and food; people who felt they didn't have a voice and were not sure where to go.

She says she was struck by the number of people in the community who needed the assistance that Red Cross provided.

"I felt the overwhelming need people had for support and a listening ear," she says. "Sometimes it's just enough for people to know that someone cares and they are not alone in facing their struggles.

Sarah says she was drawn to Red Cross as she was looking for an organisation with clearly defined structures and roles during an emergency.

"I know a lot of people were turned away in 2011 because they weren't with the right organisation, and you just can't go and help randomly. I figured that Red Cross would put you in the best place. It's pretty exciting for me to be able to feel a part of something and at the same time to be able to feel like you are making a difference."

So what's the biggest thing Sarah gets out of volunteering?

"On my last deployment, [the 2013 Bundaberg flood] I remember telling my husband 'I know that I am right where I am meant to be', and that's only happened a couple of times in my life where I have just known that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

"Even though at the end of the day you are exhausted and tired and it can be stressful and draining you still feel like you have accomplished something and it's all worth it.

"You feel like you are making a difference."

Sarah says she values the fact that Red Cross provides specialised training in emergency services.

"Red Cross provides the training then when you're out on the job if you are wanting to help you just know what to do and it comes to you. You get the training and then on the job you learn the skills. People are supported."