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Acting for humanity, no matter what lies ahead

Kym Pfitzner, CEO Australian Red Cross

Can you remember where you were when you first heard about COVID-19?

At the time none of us knew what was ahead.

For Australian Red Cross, one thing has become more clear with every passing day - it is people in the most vulnerable situations who are affected the most.

So far, during the pandemic, Australian Red Cross has supported more than 250,000 people in Australia. That’s a quarter of a million people who are in the most vulnerable situations in our communities.

As an example, people who are socially isolated and lonely. It is a deeply heartbreaking experience. Especially for those who are in vulnerable situations due to health conditions, or who are elderly or otherwise in circumstances not of their choosing (such as insecure visa status). That decision involves giving up precious time with friends or family.

For the past 12 months, Australian Red Cross teams have been heading off some of that pandemic-driven loneliness.

I am thinking of our people in Western Australia, assisting people who are isolated and vulnerable, while also responding to and recovering from a bushfire that destroyed 80 homes the outskirts of Perth.

I am picturing our team in New South Wales, who were regularly calling people in hotel quarantine, but also had to respond to a major floods disaster that forced 18,000 people to suddenly evacuate their homes, for their own safety.

It is terrible that many of the people affected by those floods had dealt with the awful 2019-20 summer bushfires less than two years ago.

I am picturing our team in South Australia, where I grew up, making a call to someone in self-isolation due to possible COVID-19 exposure. Australian Red Cross has made 50,000 of those calls in SA alone and recently, the team of more than 100 volunteers and staff packed 18,0000 care packages for people waiting in very long COVID-19 testing lines.

I am thinking of our people in Queensland, making almost 150,000 calls to people in self-isolation or hotel quarantine.

In many cases these are Red Cross volunteers, making calls from their homes. They offer information, and a friendly, listening ear.

They offer psychological first aid for people in distress.

It’s not just phone calls – we also assist people on temporary visas, or with no current visa, in extreme hardship. These are people with no access to Centrelink or Medicare, and who are increasingly struggling to be assisted by family overseas.

Other disasters are not ceasing, despite the pandemic – just this week we have had the crisis in Afghanistan, more than 1300 dead in the earthquake in Haiti, and at least 20 dead in a fuel tanker explosion in Lebanon.

Today is World Humanitarian Day.

Red Cross is the world’s largest humanitarian movement. No matter what is ahead – good, bad and downright ugly – we at Red Cross will continue to assist people in vulnerable situations. We will continue to act for humanity.