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The best of humanity in the worst of times

When a disaster like the Black Summer bushfires strike some wonderful people step in to help, says long-time Red Cross volunteer Sally Dowse.

Sally Dowse was one of thousands of Red Cross volunteers who has helped in the wake of the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

“You don’t realise until there’s a disaster how many people are out there doing amazing things and they pitch in,” says Sally, who has volunteered with us for more than 20 years. The Canberra local herself did not think twice when the call came to help at the Batemans Bay evacuation centre during the bushfire crisis.

Sally, who was holidaying nearby with her family, says lots of people helped out. “We’re doing the same as everybody else is doing, we’re all helping out here.”

Like the Batemans Bay Greek community who helped feed the hundreds of people who took shelter at the evacuation centre on New Year’s Eve as fires threatened the town.

The Greek community had been planning a big New Year’s Eve celebration, she says. “Because it didn’t happen, they bought all their food here. They made kebabs and they brought barbeques in. They catered for everybody.”

Or like two brothers who volunteered in the evacuation centre’s kitchen day after day, says Sally. “They’ve been in their swags sleeping out [and] they’ve been helping in the kitchen. They’re probably 18, 19, and they haven’t left; they’re working from eight (in the morning) till eight at night.

“You get a lot of people come in – even though they’re not wearing a uniform and not volunteering for an agency – there’s some amazing people round.”

As a Red Cross volunteer, Sally helped to register people as they arrived at the centre. Trained in psychosocial first aid, she also provided emotional support and comfort.

They see our shirts and our tabards, and they come over for a hug. We can look after them … they see the Red Cross emblem and they feel comfortable, at ease, they know they’re protected.

Sally Dowse

Sally says because a lot of other evacuation centres had opened along the South Coast when she first arrived they were short of helpers. “When there’s not enough volunteers you do whatever you can; get hampers together for people, we were cleaning tables, vacuuming floors, helping in the kitchen. Everybody works together … you’re sort of a jack of all trades.

“The agencies, all the volunteers are the same, they’ll pitch in and do whatever needs to be done.”

To Sally volunteering is about doing her bit and helping the community. “Once you start, you can’t give it up, can you? It’s great to be able to get in there and help people.”

More than 2,800 people like Sally have been deployed to help as part of our response to the many bushfires that have hit Australia since July.

Sally Dowse (left) and fellow volunteer Deb Egan chat with Peter who lost his home in the bushfires. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera

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