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Rewards with recovery

Don says volunteering gives you a positive reward and makes you want to get up in the morning and do it all again.

Don Boyd has assisted in almost more emergencies than he would like to remember during his ten years as a Red Cross volunteer. Don says each emergency has left a lasting impact on him and those he helps.

"It doesn't matter the scale of the disaster, if it's a flood, a cyclone or something else, if you've lost nothing or everything, they're all important to the people that are adversely affected."

Don began volunteering when he moved to Cairns. He was semi-retired and looking to give back to the community. "There was a natural disaster which required people from within the community to help and I was able to react in a positive way and since then I've been to all parts of Queensland," Don remembers.

Don has assisted in numerous and various emergencies across the state, the most recent was Cyclone Yasi.

In the past year, Red Cross staff and volunteers supported more than 16,600 people across the state, checking to see how they were coping and ensuring their needs were being looked after.

"Disasters affect people in a way that requires a whole new group of skills that they didn't know they had, to get people to dig deep and move on as best they can," Don says.

Red Cross Volunteers like Don are still providing support to people who continue to feel the emotional impact of Yasi's fury, a year after the cyclone.

Don says people are pretty welcoming and most just want to see a friendly face, to have a cup of tea and talk about what they have been through and what they are experiencing. He says each visit is different.

Don says the important thing is to go in to every emergency and every home with an open mind, finding people in all sorts of situations.

Many people cope well, says Don, though there are quite a few people who need ongoing assistance. "Sometimes we can't work things out on the day, but we can make some suggestions to options which might help them move forward. We revisit them in a few weeks to see what progress they've made and it's usually a good outcome."

Don admits that the work can be emotional as people's stories and situations are individual and unique to their experience and ability to cope.

"You've done it a number of times and you've experienced different emotional reactions, so you are able to better address and work with those experiences when they happen again."

There is a focus on making sure that Red Cross volunteers spend time to talk about what they have experienced. "There are times that can be challenging, but a major part of our training is that we debrief. We talk to a family and say goodbye, hop in the car and talk about the interaction with that family to check if you or your colleague needs to talk or have a break."

Over the years, Don has worked in many places and he is very impressed with the way Red Cross works with its volunteers. "Red Cross gives you a lot of support and training so you can give people the best assistance they need."

Don says the best part about his job is that when he assists people he feels rewarded. One of those is 86-year old World War two digger, Ray Jenkins, who Don has been visiting for the past year. Don says Ray always opens the door with a big smile, ready for a cup or tea and chat.

"It's a feeling of reward in a positive way. Makes you want to get up in the morning and do it all again."

Photo: Australian Red Cross / Leigh Harris

Back to Queensland cyclone Yasi 2011.

Rebuilding from the rubble


Ray Jenkins lost his Cardwell home when Cyclone Yasi hit North Queensland. Read more.