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Beirut Explosion Appeal | Volunteering in prison - report launch | Highlights from my week

14 August 2020

Highlights from my week

Hi everyone,

We’re in the second week of Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria and growing challenges in NSW, ACT, QLD and SA. It continues to be a difficult time for many. Wherever you are, please take good care of yourself.

Victorians, your colleagues nationwide are keen to check-in and show their support. It can really help to chat with someone and break up your days during this challenging time.

Last week I took a 'holiday' – a stage 4 lockdown type of holiday.  This was very different for me.  At the beginning of the week I was reminded of a book I read a while ago called ‘How to Climb Mt Blanc in A Skirt’ about women adventurers. While not as brave as those women, I’m normally much more adventurous in my holidays than being in the backyard. 

Despite lockdown and curfew I surprised myself, relaxed and had a great break.  Some highlights included:

I've returned feeling rejuvenated and ready for what's next. I hope you too enjoyed your day off last Friday, and that you too are finding ways to bring some joy into your everyday. 

Beirut Explosion Appeal

I’m sure you’re aware of the tragic explosion in Beirut. We’ve set up the Beirut Explosion Appeal to help Red Cross teams on the ground to provide immediate and longer-term humanitarian support to those affected, including:   

  • Critical emergency relief assistance such as food, water, sanitation, shelter and health initiatives including first aid, ambulance services and blood;
  • Longer term assistance for Beirut’s recovery, with a focus on health, shelter, water and sanitation.
  • Support for our local partner, Lebanese Red Cross to rebuild its damaged buildings and equipment, and to safely operate during the pandemic.

Since the explosion on 4 August, at least 200 people have died and more than 5,000 thousand have been injured. At least 200 people are missing and others are still trapped beneath the rubble. 300,000 people have lost their homes.

The blast happened against a backdrop of severe economic crisis and COVID-19. 

Our colleagues at Lebanese Red Cross are doing everything they can to help. 

To mobilise our support, Australian Red Cross have connected with numerous organisations and networks representing the Australian-Lebanese community to enable us to maximise our assistance. Read more on our website.

Lending a hand during COVID-19

You continue to amaze me with all the work that you do, despite the challenges of this pandemic.   

In the Northern Territory a team of 74 staff and volunteers from Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs made more than 7,200 phone calls across more than 5,200 hours. A huge effort with far reaching impact. 

The team dealt with complex cases, from people who were suffering with high levels of anxiety to people who were determined to make use of the time alone to learn new skills; from single parents isolating with young children to people very much alone and, in one case, isolating for the third time in a short period.

“I learned a lot. I was able to get experience delivering psychological first aid to people in isolation. I had many positive conversations with people and they were appreciative of my call because it made them feel like they were being looked after. One woman received the wrong insulin medication. I was able to offer different alternatives from different stores. The woman was appreciative of my efforts.” - Jake Christian (Red Cross Darwin Logistics Officer & Tele Outreach Volunteer)

In Western Australia we received and distributed a massive donation of 50,000 masks from the Chinese community to support Victorians in lockdown. 

And the Helensvale Branch was featured on 7NEWS Brisbane showcasing our volunteers transforming all types of material into face masks for seniors.

A huge thank you to everyone for providing such amazing support and making an important difference to people doing it tough at this time.

COVID Connect Customer Experience Insights

In April we launched COVID Connect, a new national telephone service to help people isolated by the pandemic. 

Feedback from the corporate and Red Cross volunteers who are making the calls, and the customers receiving calls, makes me so proud.


  • 83% saw an overall improvement in their wellness due to COVID Connect
  • 89% said COVID Connect was just what they needed right now and that it’s important to have someone to talk to
  • I got fed up with isolation and not doing my usual social stuff and activities and I was getting really down as I live on my own and needed someone to talk to.”
  • “I am more at peace with the whole situation, the fear is gone, anxiety gone, I feel so much better each day.”
  • “I've spoken to several different people from different states, all pleasant and interesting and it has helped me a lot.”
  • “It’s really helped put things back in perspective. Literally helped me stay sane.”


  • Gave an average score of 8.49 out of 10 for Satisfaction with their experience
  • "Volunteering is a great way to give back to community, especially during the COVID crisis. I get great enjoyment out of being able to reach out to isolated people to make their day a little bit nicer.”
  • "Speaking to people from different backgrounds and coming into contact with people I wouldn't ordinarily cross paths with. I find it really heartwarming to possibly make a difference to how isolated someone is feeling by simply making a phone call and connecting.”

Thank you to everyone involved, you’re making a big difference to many.

Volunteering in prison - report launch

Yesterday we launched an evaluation of our Sisters for Change Community Based Health and First Aid (CBHFA) program run at the Townsville Women’s Correctional Centre. Red Cross commissioned the research by Flinders University research over 12 months.

CBHFA is a health promotion program developed by the IFRC which was first introduced to the prison setting in Ireland in 2009, where it led to dramatic reductions in violence and improvements in prison health and culture. At Australian Red Cross, we started our first pilot of CBHFA in 2018, and we now run the program in four prisons across Australia. 

CBHFA recruits prisoners to become Red Cross volunteers. The volunteers are then trained in first aid, mental health first aid and community development, allowing them to effectively engage with and consult their community. The training includes many elements that are also helpful after being released, helping with reintegration and taking up new opportunities, and reducing the risks of reoffending.

“The program and projects undertaken are led entirely by the volunteers who are empowered and supported to improve the health, wellbeing and safety of their prison community. The methodology ensures that volunteers learn by doing and encourages personal development and accountability. These skills benefit volunteers and the broader prison community and have long term benefits for volunteers that transfer beyond the prison gate,” said Rachel Montgomery (Team Leader, Community Justice and Partnerships).

I encourage you to read the evaluation summary on our website and listen to this ABC Radio National discussion which features Garry Page (Director, Queensland), Aunty Florence (Elders for Change) and former prisoner and Sisters for Change volunteer “Maree”.

Bridging the digital divide

Another uplifting story this week from Channel 10 in Perth (31:55 onwards) is on how a local business has donated computers for recently arrived Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees, after a Red Cross study revealed only a third of refugee families had their own devices at home.

Our colleagues from the Humanitarian Settlement Program worked on an innovative partnership with the State Library of Western Australia and Total Green Recycling that provides people with digital literacy skills as they start new lives in Australia. Red Cross volunteers provided face-to-face sessions in Tigrinya, Arabic and Chin at the library as well as refurbished laptops and smart phones from Total Green Recycling.

Youth Engagement for Global Action

Yesterday we celebrated International Youth Day with the theme 'Youth Engagement for Global Action' highlighting the great work of young people globally who strive to make this world a better place. 

I've asked Elvis Martin (Chairperson, Red Cross Youth) to share his thoughts...

“More than ever young people are raising their voice on humanitarian issues. In every community around the globe, there are passionate young people who want to make a difference. Greta Thunberg is a powerful example from Stockholm, Sweden, with her activism inspiring millions of students across the world to strike and rally for climate action. 

Young people are passionate, determined, and have the energy to make a difference. We have insight that demands attention. Decision makers need to start listening to young people and to include us in decision making, because the decisions of today impact not only the present but also our future. We must be consulted on the decisions of today! Finally, I want to thank all my fellow youth volunteers at Red Cross. You are making a big difference and you should be proud of it!

As Australian Red Cross President Ross Pinney mentioned in his International Youth Day Message: Red Cross really values youth voices and is committed to ensuring youth voice at all levels. Thank you for your commitment, passion, and time - keep being the inspiring advocates that you are!”

Hope doesn’t cost anything, but it is priceless

Lastly, I want to share this piece ‘Hope doesn’t cost anything, but it is priceless’ by John Richardson (National Resilience Adviser) and Shona Whitton (National Coordinator – Recovery and Psychosocial Support). In it they talk about hope as a powerful tool to get us through this pandemic.

“Resilience can be seen as an overused word. Let’s simply see it as our inner strength to deal with adversity, our resourcefulness to solve problems, our capacity to find a way out of the dark. Some of these capacities are innate, others we can unlock and build upon. Having hope is a protective factor. That hope can be as simple as knowing there will be an end. The Spanish Influenza pandemic ended, the SARS virus ended, the Ebola outbreak was contained. By thinking we are in the middle of something, it suggests there is an end.”

Just beautiful.

That’s all for this week. Chat to you soon.