It’s hard to believe that the Black Summer bushfires is how we began 2020. Yet a drive through many a regional town and the scars are still very fresh. The destruction and devastation to our land, our people and our wildlife, was matched only by the enormity of generosity of spirit, all in the name of help. As fires raged in five states, communities faced evacuations and the loss of everything they held dear. Amidst the pain, more than 3000 Red Cross volunteers turned out to help, with an unprecedented emergency response. All up, volunteers clocked up over 45 thousand hours of help and supported communities at over 100 relief and recovery centres. Canberra local, Natasha was one such volunteer.
Q: What made you join the Australian Red Cross?
“Both my parents are very selfless people, and so I think from a young age, I understood those values of putting others before yourself. My family is also Sikh, which is a minority religion in India that's heavily based around community service, and the community really mobilises together and is very focused on service for other people. So, I see myself as someone who cares about the state of the world and who thinks that there's lots to be done and that we all have a role to play. I believe our own lives should be bigger than just ourselves. I started with the Australia Red Cross in 2013 as a youth governance volunteer, more recently, I became involved in the emergency services work – the bushfires were a big part of that.”
Q What is it about helping others that makes you put yourself in emergency situations?
“In terms of helping people, I gravitated towards the Australia Red Cross because of their mantra, which is assisting people in times of vulnerability, and I really appreciate that motto because I think it's not about a particular type of person needing to help another particular type of person. We all experience vulnerability, whether it's during disaster or poor mental health or just life in general, and I think that whole ethos of just being there for one another and that anyone can need assistance and anyone can assist, takes away the power dynamic and it humanizes and equalizes everyone.”
Q: Tell us about your experience this Summer?
“The whole period was quite dystopian. The smoke and the extent of the fires was just so huge. My role during the fires included helping in the evacuation centres that were set up in Canberra in January and February. I think over the recent bushfire season, the most difficult thing was when people initially came in, they would say, ‘Oh, I've lost my home, but it's okay. I've still got my car and I can access my bank account and it's all fine. There's someone who needs help much more than me.’ It always took a bit of time to reassure people that you don't have to have lost everything to be here and to get some help and just to have a safe space to sit for a while, and if you have lost something or even if you haven't, or if you've just seen something or you've heard something, that's enough. Anyone was welcome to come to the evacuation centre. It was a real community space. I think we are a very proud nation, so it’s hard for people to let go and let us take the wheel for a couple hours.”
Q: When you’re called to an emergency, what goes through your mind?
“I think just to remember to express solidarity and empathy, and whether that's through words or actions or something else, I think it's just that experience of assuring people that they're not alone. I think I'm a person who really thrives off really experiencing life to the full, and a big part of that is connections with people and different types of people who've had different types of experience. And I think when you're connecting with someone who's been through a traumatic experience or a different experience to you, there's a lot of personal growth and empathy that you can get out of it. So, it may sound like I'm an altruistic person, but I actually think I'm very selfish because I feed off that energy and that experience, and I'm always seeking it out.”
Q: What can we all do better to help the helpers?
“You can become one. Anyone can become a volunteer with Australia Red Cross. Volunteering expands your life skills and is such a rewarding way to stay active and engaged with the community. It's also a way for you to give back to the community and help people who need a hand. Before a crisis or emergency takes hold, be as prepared as you can. Have a plan and don’t take unnecessary risks as you may not just put yourself in danger but first responders too. “
For all the days we felt we couldn’t help them, Now there’s a day we can. Let’s dedicate the First Saturday of every month to protecting first responders by doing one task to make our homes safer.
It’s not a chore. It’s Help.
To find our more visit www.nrma.com.au/firstsaturday.