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Coming together to support communities

17 January 2020

Hi everyone,

We started this week with “the world’s worst air quality” in Victoria with many parts of Australia experiencing poor or hazardous levels. There are many extreme events happening around the world at this time as well. From floods in Jakarta and Rwanda, extreme winter in Mongolia, volcano activity in the Philippines, and a tropical cyclone approaching Fiji, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement faces challenges around the world. At these challenging times our thoughts are also with our colleagues and the communities they assist, as they have sent their thoughts and support to us.

Wherever you are, assisting people in evacuation centres, helping out on the ground or working behind the scenes, please take care of your health and remind one another to be mindful of your safety and wellbeing.

To-date, kind-hearted Australians and people all over the world have responded to the bushfires with incredible generosity, donating more than $60 million to Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery, with more donations to be counted. We are using funds to help people meet their immediate needs through emergency grants, together with longer-term recovery support for people and communities, and responding to fires and other disasters still to come.

Since July 2019, we have responded to more than 20 bushfires and supported people in 103 relief and evacuation centres. We’ve registered over 49,000 people through our Register.Find.Reunite service. A huge thank you to some 1,500 Red Cross people, mostly volunteers, who have powered this relief effort. This can only happen when all of us - volunteers, members and staff (with our amazing supporters!) - come together. Thank you.

Conditions are volatile and fast-moving and it’s estimated that fires in parts of Victoria and New South Wales will continue to burn until March 2020. The impact on 60 thousand-year-old living museums of First Nations peoples is unknown. Songlines and creation tracks, sacred sites, totems, art and artefacts and more, still to be assessed.

We know that recovery takes time and it’s important to keep this spirit going even in the hardest hour. I encourage you to read this article by Kate Brady (National Recovery Adviser) who’s penned her thoughts on the subtle art of being patient during disaster recovery. Thank you Kate.

And like Kate, many of you are doing your bit to help in every way possible. The work that you do, even if is not often visible to the public, means a lot. Please know that we appreciate every thing that you’re contributing towards helping people affected by the bushfires.

There are so many stories that I’ve heard and encountered personally, that reflect the true spirit of Red Cross people. Here are a few:

Moving horses, potting plants

Waddi Waddi / Yorta Yorta woman Colina Meadows works as Community Programs Officer in Wagga Wagga. Recently she spent her off days relocating horses and cattle belonging to friends from around the evacuation areas.

“I have spent some time in Tumut making our mob aware of the Red Cross grants, this is just something I felt was needed, not necessarily as a Red Cross worker but as a community person,” said Colina.

On Friday last week, in the midst of 43-degree weather, Colina was at home potting plants for friends who have lost their gardens, with concerns for the safety of those in the line of the bushfires.

Colina shared that disasters like this truly don’t hit home until it affects friends and family and you fully realise the total devastation the impacts have on their lives not just today, but for the weeks and months ahead.

“During the fires, I have friends who have lost homes and animals. Being a mad horse-obsessed person I couldn’t contemplate losing my horse - my passport to sanity (my children reckon she rates above them in my affection). It is amazing how people have pulled together donating feed, gear, a place to stay for animals and people along with money, food etc . I hope this genuine concern lasts into the oncoming weeks and months that it will take for some families to re-establish their lives.”‚Äč - Colina Meadows

More than numbers

Thi-Thai-Chau Nguyen (Transaction Processing Officer) going through boxes of paper donations. 

With the Disaster Relief and Recovery fund gaining much traction both locally and internationally, our Finance team is fully absorbed in supporting people affected by the bushfires.

This includes getting approved payments out quickly to people who have lost their houses due to bushfires. Over 384 grants have already been successfully made and paid out since last week. We’ve been calling on our ex-interns and volunteers to support emergency services in the processing of grant applications. Thank you!

A huge thank you to the team for working on multiple levels and across the organisation to enable systems and processes to run smoothly – our enabling ‘engine room’.

From phone calls to socials

The Customer Care team led by Tim McMinn have been amazing responding to enquiries on the Disaster Relief and Recovery fund. We’ve been getting round the clock enquiries and the team has done a brilliant job at managing them, with support from other teams.

Our social media has been inundated with well wishes and support, from individuals around the world, businesses and celebrities.

A big thank you to Emma Kennedy (Digital Marketing Manager), Muthu Nathan (Social Media Specialist), along with Nathan Bell (Customer Care Specialist), Peter Gibson (Senior Digital Technical Lead) and Lei Liang (Senior Digital Product Manager) and many from the various teams who helped respond and manage our social channels as well as spending many consecutive nights fixing any technical issues and ensuring our supporters remain connected. Thanks also to Paul Hayes (Website Specialist) and Shannon Nguyen (Website Executive) who have been supporting our website ensuring key information is updated and managing the large volumes coming to our site.  

The power of social media

Social media has also enabled help to reach people in remote communities in many forms. Janelle Cazaubon (Regional Manager, Northern, Community Programs) received a call from a minister in Bellbrook who informed her that there was a couple who lived 30 kilometres out of town who had lost their home in the fires, and were living in a small tent on the property.

Janelle provided details of the Australian bushfires emergency grant and other assistance available, and in less than an hour, she received a call from the Gosford office about a man in Lake Macquarie offering a Blue Tongue Camper Trailer and generator for donation.  

“This would be perfect for the couple’s immediate needs, but the logistics of getting it here was beyond me, as none of our vehicles have towbars,” said Janelle. 

Janelle then resorted to social media and found the Lake Macquarie Locals Facebook page.

I found a guy who had posted a couple of community minded posts and messaged him, asking if he could post a request asking if there was anyone travelling from Lake Macquarie up the coast, who could tow the camper trailer for us. I had a response within five minutes of his post and another kind person agreed to drive it up to us. He refused to take any petrol money and, as far as I could tell, just drove up and back to make this delivery.

~ Colina Meadows

The camper was delivered to the couple this morning, less than 48 hours from when Janelle heard of their plight. They were so grateful. The wife cried when they realised there was a generator and gas BBQ, to go with the camper and the husband cried when we handed over the rego papers. He couldn’t believe someone would give it to him (worth at least $5,000).

He advised that he will be paying it forward and donating the camper trailer and generator to someone else in need when he no longer requires it to live in. Just fantastic.  

Arham and his heart of gold

You may have also read this beautiful story from our social media. It’s about 11-year-old Arham who donated his year-long savings to our Disaster Relief and Recovery fund. Arham visited our Melbourne office to pass the donation, and had a tour of the emergency centre to understand better the work that we do. Thank you Arham for your big heart and beautiful gesture. You can also learn what Red Cross is doing to support communities affected, messages of support we’ve been receiving and how your donations are helping on our website. It’s amazing people like Arham that spur us on to continue doing our work.

26 January 

Before I end this blog, I want to acknowledge that 26 January is viewed in many different ways. It is variously referred to as Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day and Aboriginal Sovereignty Day.

As staff and volunteers of an organisation committed to reconciliation, it's vital that we reflect on what this date means for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and be mindful that it will bring mixed emotions for some colleagues.

This is an opportunity to build our understanding of this nation's painful history, how it continues to impact First Nations peoples and how we can promote truth telling, support healing and build better relationships. There are many events taking place in the Aboriginal communities across the country. It's a great opportunity for all of us to volunteer and be part of these events to learn more.

Staff who wish to, can work on the Australia Day public holiday on Monday 27 January and take another day in lieu within the following two weeks. Some of you may choose to observe the public holiday and some will also use this day as a day of reflection or attendance at various events around the nation. Please remember to talk to your manager or your local HR team to make arrangements.

That’s all for this week. Thank you all for your amazing work and stories that lifted our spirits in times like this. From the tireless work that our Emergency Services team is doing, to the support we receive from volunteers going out of their way, picking up new skills and adapting to the kinds of support we need, I continue to be amazed by your work. I’ve written my thoughts on the extraordinary responses we’ve been receiving during these extraordinary times. As we continue to reach out and help those in need, please remember to look out for one another and take care of yourselves. 

Talk to you next week,
Judy