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‘I have run out of tears’, a light on homelessness + Red Cross Calling

19 March 2019

Hi everyone,

“I have run out of tears”

I know many of us have spent the weekend showing solidarity with those communities in Australia impacted by the distressing events in Christchurch.  Melbourne City was holding an open mosque day which had been planned for months. I attended the open mosque day at the UMMA Centre.  It was wonderful. Many, many people came along – listening, learning from and showing solidarity with the Muslim community in Doncaster. I was also touched by a quote from Penny who went to the local Islamic centre in Brunswick – “One woman told me she ‘ran out of tears’ last night. It contrasted with children playing together on the bouncing castle and plates of watermelon being offered”. 

We’re supporting our colleagues in NZ Red Cross as they lead with tremendous professionalism and empathy. In their words: standing in solidarity and mobilising the power of humanity.

On Saturday evening our psychological first aid volunteers supported people at a vigil in Perth. Similarly-skilled volunteers attended vigils in Adelaide, Hobart and Launceston on Sunday evening and Melbourne on Monday evening. We’ve offered support to organisations in all states and territories over the coming days.

We know this is the beginning of a long process of healing and of recovery for many. We will be there for them.

Syria Crisis – 8 years in

Hala,1, her mother Reem and their family have fled to safety many times since the war started in Syria eight years ago. They have been supported by Red Cross with relief supplies including food on the outskirts of Damascus. Photo: Olav A. Saltbones /Norwegian Red Cross

The conflict in Syria has entered its ninth year and while fighting has reduced and families are starting to return home, six million people remain displaced.

In 2018, 1.6 million people were forced to flee their homes, for many this will be their third or fourth forced displacement. Over six million people have fled to neighbouring countries in search of safety, living in host communities and overcrowded refugee camps. Many rely on aid to survive. Hundreds of thousands have died and 73 Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been killed while delivering humanitarian aid.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has played a critical role over the eight years in supporting the communities impacted. You can read more about the work of the Syrian Red Crescent here. Equally, the work of the ICRC has also been important. They have worked together in very difficult circumstances supporting millions of Syrians to survive and rebuild their lives.

Respecting military law

Last week members of the IHL team in Melbourne attended a conference on respecting military law, hosted by the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law. The thought-provoking sessions covered issues like:

  • What human rights laws do and do not apply to members of the armed forces?
  • The role of empathy in military targeting decisions that involve harm to civilians and civilian objects
  • How emerging technology can be leveraged to enhance compliance with the laws of war
  • Accountability for violations of the laws of war when using autonomous weapons

The session on emerging technologies was fascinating; the first one we’ve heard that actually focussed on the positive opportunities presented by new technology. Namely, that it might make it easier for countries to comply with the laws of war and it might increase opportunities to monitor compliance and end impunity for violations of the laws of war.

In the evening, a leading thinker in international humanitarian law, Sir Adam Roberts KCMG FBA gave a rousing lecture highlighting the ‘myth’ of some of the forefathers of modern IHL, including our beloved Henry Dunant! He made the point that whilst the Red Cross Movement he established is strictly neutral, that Dunant himself was quite partisan when it came to the Battle of Solferino with a clear personal support for the Italians and French forces rather than the Austro-Hungarians.

It was great to see a number of our IHL Advisory Committee members across the country chairing or presenting in a range of different sessions including Carrie McDougall (discussing accountability and autonomous weapons systems), Rain Liivoja (presenting on human rights in military medical care), Chris Hanna (chairing a panel on technology), Dave Letts (chairing a session on peacekeeping) Rob McLaughlin (chairing a panel on combat immunity). You can view the full program and list of presenters here.

Overcoming loneliness

If you’re going to watch some TV tonight, I would recommend you to watch Insight at 8:30pm on SBS ONE. In this episode which focusses on overcoming loneliness, the program will feature our wonderful Red Cross Telecross volunteer, Henry Milner and client Peter Butler. The program looks at why loneliness is an increasing problem in Australia and hears what is – and isn’t – working to overcome it.

You can also join in the conversation on Twitter and take part in the discussion throughout the program - using the hashtag #insightSBS. If you’re unable to catch it tonight, you can watch the program any time after on SBS on Demand.

Shining the light on homelessness in Australia

Left: Lee Prouse speaking at PwC’s Bold Debate in Sydney. Right: (from left) Astrid, Lee, Amber and Jenny.

Earlier this month Astrid Mallard, Lee Prouse, Amber Mackinnon and Jenny Brown attended the PwC’s Bold Debate in Sydney. The event looks into the unacceptable and growing state of homelessness in Australia and was attended by over 100 people from diverse sectors. Lee was a speaker at the event, amplifying the need to work in partnership and alongside people with lived experience (not in front of them!).

This ties in closely with The Constellation Project, which will kick off its first design cycle of work running from 25 March – 28 June, bringing approximately 80 people together across states and sectors to focus on this question:

“By 2022, how do we make more than 100,000 homes available to people in Australia who need them the most?”

We’re really excited to be involved in designing solutions with people facing homelessness, and we look forward to sharing the outputs with you soon.

For more information on The Constellation Project, check out: TCP Yammer page or contact Amber Mackinnon.

Say hi to your neighbours

This year for the very first time, Australian Red Cross is partnering with the Victoria State Emergency Services (SES) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) to celebrate Neighbour Day on 31 March. As I mentioned in my blog a couple of weeks ago, I have really wonderful neighbours who made Pete and I a delicious bowl of ratatouille when we were both feeling under the weather.

The recent bushfires in Victoria remind us of the importance of having strong relationships with our neighbours. Check in on your neighbours from time to time or invite them over for a chat or a cuppa. It’s connections like this that form a great community and one that will come in really useful in times of emergencies. It also fits in with our S2020 goal of supporting 3 million Australians to be prepared for and recover from disasters

I’m thinking of baking some cookies for my neighbours to celebrate Neighbour Day. Don’t forget to share your celebrations on your socials. You’ll stand a chance to win a $200 Bunnings vouchers.

Red Cross Calling – I’m In! – Week 3

You’ll remember that for Red Cross Calling this year I am writing up a number of conversations for my social media challenge as a way of highlighting our work. Below, in italics, is what I’ll be posting this week. 

Supporting Communities through Trauma
All over Australia and the world, Red Cross teams are on the ground supporting communities through times of trauma – from public tragedies, like the Christchurch mosque shootings, to bushfires, cyclones and beyond.

In this, my third social media conversation, I am writing about our work in times of trauma from my perspective, what we do and why it is important. These conversations are part of my fundraising efforts for Red Cross Calling, our biggest community fundraiser of the year, which runs for the month of March. I hope after reading this you feel inspired to support the important work Red Cross does – you can support our work by donating to my Red Cross Calling fundraising page.

Principles guiding us
At the Red Cross, we are guided by our seven Fundamental Principles that inform all of our work. I rely on them every day in making decisions; particularly these two:

In times of community trauma, these principles drive the way we respond and support people.

Our core purpose is to ‘be there’ - for those impacted by traumatic events, those attending vigils and memorials, those wanting to show solidarity, those who want guidance on how to talk to children as well as many other supports in the immediate aftermath.

We do this with professionalism and empathy backed by comprehensive research and programmatic guidelines – whether we’re facing natural disasters, community trauma or acts of terrorism. Our work is made possible by skilled staff and a network of fully trained Red Cross volunteers and members who drop everything to help out wherever they are needed.

Beyond the immediate trauma we continue to provide support to those who need it, working alongside them as they recover – in some cases for years.

A few examples:

Left: Trauma Teddies provided much-needed comfort in the wake of the Bourke Street Mall tragedy. Right: With just a couple of hours’ notice, our SA volunteers provided psychological first aid at a well-attended community vigil in Adelaide.


  • Remembering Bourke Street – Amanda Lamond, one of our volunteers, speaking at the memorial. She spoke of a day that changed the lives of so many, while bringing out the very best of humanity.
  • The Sea of Flowers Phenomenon – An article by Shona Whitton, our Emergency Services National Coordinator, on our international research on psychosocial guidelines for temporary memorial management. 
  • Community HealingYou Belong - Community Spirit in Cairns. Red Cross ‘being there’ for the community, families and traditional owners to help everyone rebuild following the deaths of eight children in Murray Street, Cairns. The first article is about the launch of Songs of Murray Street CD.
  • Trauma Teddies – One of the most special things about how we help people through trauma are our Trauma Teddies. Across Australia tens of thousands of Trauma Teddies are given out each year to help reduce the suffering of people – mostly children – affected by fire, floods or other disasters. Our teddies provide comfort and help take people's minds off what they are going through. Trauma Teddies are lovingly hand-crafted – knitted, stuffed, sewn together and labelled by Red Cross members and volunteers all over the country.
  • Standing with Muslim communities – And just last weekend, our amazing teams supported communities across Australia in vigils and gatherings to recognise the terrible tragedy in Christchurch.You can also find out more about how to reach out to your local Muslim community.

My song for the week ‘So much more than this’ by Grace VanderWaal.

That’s all for this week.