Registering and reuniting people fleeing bushfires, running evacuation and relief centres, connecting people to emergency grants and reaching out to those who experienced the horrors of the 19/20 bushfires – this was an intense start to the year for our volunteers. Hot on the heels of the fires came COVID19, a crisis affecting the whole nation. Suddenly, whole communities were facing lockdown, fear and anxiety, and for many, the isolation that results from being unable to tap into usual community and social networks.
Not to be deterred by the complexity of these cumulative crises, our volunteers put their tabards and tees back on, and found new ways to help. From crucial food deliveries to people in quarantine, to calling thousands who needed to know they weren’t alone, volunteers have been helping us get through this crisis. 2000 people joined us this year alone, training in psychological first aid to help deliver COVID19 outreach services.
While the pandemic and news about other environmental and societal crises can cause people to feel overwhelmed, volunteers – through giving their time and effort with compassion and courage – deliver hope.
Today, International Volunteer Day, we thank each and every one of our volunteers.
“I am so impressed by the breadth of work our volunteers are doing, helping hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life,” Red Cross interim CEO Kym Pfitzner said. “And that so many of our volunteers supported their communities while personally affected by the threat of bushfires, or unable to see their loved ones due to COVID19.”
The theme for this year’s International Volunteer Day is ‘together we can, through volunteering’ and it rings true for Red Cross. Beyond helping in emergencies, volunteers are the mainstay of Red Cross community programs, including our shops, mentoring learner drivers, teaching children about preparedness, assisting refugees and migrants, and helping young people in detention centres. An often unseen but mighty team of volunteers have also, over the past 30 years, brought comfort to more than a million children by knitting our Trauma Teddies.
Our 17,734 volunteers are the core of Red Cross here in Australia, and part of an international movement, comprising millions of volunteers and members across 190 countries. Each is playing their part in helping humanity, according to International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies secretary-general Jagan Chapagain.
“I am optimistic that we will come out of these concurrent crises a united front, strengthened by our successes, our volunteers, and the potential to create a much larger movement for change,” he said. “Thank you for your partnership, for your humanity and for the hope you continue to inspire in these challenging times.”
Watch Jagan Chapagain’s encouraging message to volunteers.
So how might you mark International Volunteer Day? Perhaps there is a volunteer helping in your life, or in the life of your community, that you could acknowledge and thank today. Perhaps you are a volunteer, in which case, we thank you!
Or perhaps you have considered volunteering. If that’s you, please don’t stop there – turn those thoughts into action. Have a look at your skills, strengths and interests, the needs in your community or region and where they might match. There is a huge range of volunteer opportunities across Australia, including with Red Cross.
To join the movement, visit our Volunteering page »
Aruna first volunteered with Red Cross in her home country of Sri Lanka, after a cyclone in 1978. She moved to Australia in 1985 and two years ago, decided to once again volunteer with Red Cross. Now part of our emergency services team, she has assisted communities all over Queensland, including in evacuation centres. “I've helped care for people that have suffered from bad fires and floods, giving support for their basic human needs,” Aruna says, adding that her Red Cross training in Psychological First Aid has proven helpful each time. In recent months, she has joined many of our volunteers in helping people in COVID19 quarantine. She is part of a team reaching out with daily wellbeing checks and providing essential support over the phone. “I love my work for Red Cross, and Red Cross people have become my true friends,” Aruna says.
This has been a particularly unusual year, with the COVID-19 pandemic dictating much change and straining the livelihoods of families around the country. These unprecedented circumstances have also made it difficult for families to access food during isolation. One of our generous Victorian volunteers, Amelia, has gone the extra mile by delivering food packages to those who would otherwise struggle to feed themselves. Amelia is part of a dedicated team of volunteers who have been on call throughout the pandemic, ensuring families in isolation get crucial food packages the very day they request them. 6200 food packages have been delivered to people in need, when needed, because of volunteers like Amelia. She says it was satisfying to be part of a movement helping her own community, and others across Melbourne. “The fact that they’re waving to me through the window with happy faces… I know that I’ve made a difference to that person.”
Kay Gamble is one of our Tasmanian champions and started volunteering with Red Cross way back in 1986. She initially helped in one of our shops, then moved on to client transport and meal delivery. Now 81 years old, she volunteers with Red Cross two days per week. Not content to leave it at that, she also volunteers with Launceston Volunteers Families & Communities Services and – up until COVID19 hit – in the canteen at Launceston General Hospital, an impressive contribution of time and effort. “Kay is always happy and doesn’t have time off,” client transport regional coordinator Tania Davis said. “I couldn’t think of a time that she has been absent from her volunteering, apart from the recent pandemic, and that wasn’t by choice.”
Kevin Finn has been a volunteer driver with Red Cross since 2017. It is a good fit, as he likes chatting with people and has always enjoyed driving. And after more than 30 years driving coaches, his mantra is simple: “Have a happy and friendly demeanour, and welcome people in a positive way.” Now semi-retired, he balances his volunteering with part-time work as a tour guide and keeping fit by walking and swimming. He refuses to let the pandemic get him down, choosing instead to focus on helping people in whatever way he can. His advice? “If there’s a job to be done, just do it!” Back in 2017, Kevin had been looking into different volunteer opportunities, but knew he’d found the right one when he contacted Red Cross. Transport coordinator Guru Maity said he greatly appreciates having Kevin in his team. “Kevin is one of the best people to be around, very friendly and always includes everyone,” he said.
Back in 2010, Yvonne was looking for a way to volunteer in her community but knew she didn’t want to be locked into a weekly or monthly roster. After the Brisbane 2011 floods, she saw an advertisement calling for people to become Emergency Services volunteers with Red Cross. She knew this was the opportunity she had been waiting for and jumped at the chance to apply. Yvonne explained that the idea of not having a fixed roster, but instead the flexibility of being called upon when emergencies arose, really suited her lifestyle. After undergoing Red Cross training for the role, including in Psychological First Aid, her first activation was supporting people at an emergency evacuation centre. Since then, she has supported people affected by Cyclone Debbie, floods, a bushfire, destructive tornado and the Dreamworld disaster. Yvonne has also helped raise community awareness of emergency preparedness, and most recently, joined many Red Cross volunteers reaching out over the phone to people affected by COVID19. “Red Cross has given me a wonderful opportunity to work alongside a diverse range of people from all parts of the globe,” Yvonne said.