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The power of community support and solidarity

Photos and birth certificates. Two surfboards. Their grandson’s Christmas presents. When Pam and Paul made the decision to leave their Kempsey property in the face of the advancing New South Wales bushfires, they faced an unimaginable choice over what to bring with them and what to leave behind – knowing that they may lose those items forever if the bushfires couldn’t be stopped.

People in Kempsey and the surrounding area were told that if they stayed in their homes, there was no guarantee of help reaching them if anything happened. Like Pam and Paul, most made the decision to go to the evacuation centre at the Kempsey Showgrounds.

An eerie feeling had settled over the area. “It’s hard to imagine,” says Paul. “But the sky was orange and the sun was pink, purple. You couldn’t see clouds, you could see nothing…no birds, no sounds, no animals, everything had just cleared out.”

It was in these circumstances that they found support at the evacuation centre, where they were welcomed by friendly Red Cross volunteers. Pam and Paul arrived in their caravan, so they had a roof over their heads, but a stream of people still came by with food and water, and volunteers were there to offer comfort in distressing times.

All those different services are around and you don’t even have to go up and ask, people actually come to you.

Pam

Emotions were understandably high. People have walked through the doors of the evacuation centre and burst into tears. There’s also some anger, and worry over what these weather conditions mean for the region long-term. Everyone knows that the way to get through this is to help each other however they can, and there’s a real sense of community and solidarity amongst the evacuees.

Pam and Paul are hoping they’ll be able to go back home and get on with life, looking after the land and doing what they can to protect it. These moments exemplify the strength of their community.

“When they talk about evacuation centres you can’t imagine what it takes. You see pictures of evacuation centres and you just see beds that people lie on. But you don’t realise all the support that’s there,” says Pam. “This has brought everyone together and you see the people, what they do even if they haven’t got a lot of money and it’s amazing what they’ve done in here.”

We go all in when disaster strikes, turning the generosity of the Australian community into effective support for the people who have experienced trauma and loss. Donate to Red Cross Calling this March and help us continue this work.

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