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.” - 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.