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Reaching out to fire-affected communities: our volunteers go home to home

Red Cross volunteer Kacey Lam gives this first-hand account of outreach visits to people recovering after the fires.

Outreach volunteers are on the road right now, going home to home in fire-affected communities.

They do what no one else does, sometimes the first people to knock on the door of families isolated since fires started. Other times a quiet listener or helpful hand as people apply for grants.

During the second week of January, long-time volunteer Kacey Lam left her home and holidays to reach out to people in the devastated Bega Valley of NSW.

By Kacey Lam

No two stories are the same. People have been materially impacted by the bushfires in different ways.

Some have experienced minor property damage but seek our support in explaining to their children why they were evacuated.

Others have saved their homes but lost sheds which contained loved possessions, irreplaceable heirlooms, and tools necessary to commence the clean-up process.

Some have lost their home and contents in full, and walked away from the bushfires with just the clothes on their back.

For those who have lost or cannot live in their homes, we walk them through the grants process, so even if they’re not ready to apply for the grant on-the-spot, they are confident in applying at a later date.

We listen to people.
We wait for them to tell us what they want in their own time. We don’t judge.
There’s a lot of noise out there. We offer quiet time.
It’s what people want.

 

At Cobargo Showground I met a lady who had three young boys, a single mother, who had lost her home and was staying with her mum. We could advise her what documents she needed. We were able to show her on the mobile right there how to apply.

One man we met was worried he didn’t have his documents and wouldn’t be able to apply until next week. He’d heard that there were lots of scammers and was worried he’d miss out on a grant. We were able to assure him he had time and we would make sure the wrong people didn’t get money, so there would be money for him.

Many have insurance and that’s what they’ll use to rebuild their homes. But the grants tide them over until there’s a little bit of normality in their lives.  It replaces clothes, is an income for a few weeks, allows people to not have to go back to work straight away so they can get their life back on track.

Our team spoke to hundreds of people in evacuation, recovery and relief centres, and visited people in their homes once roads reopened. 

Lots of people are still coming to terms with what has happened.

As volunteers, we provide support for trauma to people impacted by the bushfires. We provide information on how to deal with trauma, and how to support their children.

We listen to people.

We wait for them to tell us what they want in their own time. We don’t judge.

There’s a lot of noise out there. We offer quiet time. It’s what people want.

In one small community we met a man whose a neighbour was seriously injured and had been flown to hospital. The man's own house was intact but his neighbour, who lived just 500 metres away, had lost everything.

The man who wasn’t harmed was very quiet. Just being able to be there for him helped him realise it’s okay to feel the way he does.

It has been an incredible privilege to hear the deeply personal stories of the local residents, stories of loss and fear. But also stories of strong resilience and selflessness.

I am inspired and strengthened by the resilience of the people living in the communities that we have visited.

It is only with a strong emergency services volunteer base can the Australian Red Cross continue to perform outreach, as we transition to supporting recovery for individuals and communities.

Kacey Lam is a Canberra-based Australian Red Cross Emergency Services volunteer, who was activated to the NSW South Coast in January 2020.