The fires and the sad devastation they have brought are on the forefront of many of our minds – and so they should be!
I previously worked coordinating disaster welfare and before that spent 17 years with Fire and Rescue.
Many of us love to think about how we can contribute to the relief effort and do all sorts of good stuff, some of which may actually be helpful.
Just as it is not appropriate nor helpful and not appreciated to send a donation of your 30-year-old pots and pans or second-hand clothing (send the $$ instead), there are also many other things that either help, hinder or just become a waste of time and money.
Here are my top tips for effective relief and recovery:
- Know that extensive plans, organisations and volunteers were already in place before these fires. Check out https://www.emergency.nsw.gov.au/Documents/publications/Emergency-Management-Arrangements-For-NSW.pdf#page=5&zoom=100,92,465 and https://www.emergency.nsw.gov.au/Documents/publications/National-Strategy-for-Disaster-Resilience-Community-Engagement-Framework.pdf.
Yes, there is an Emergency arm of the NSW government that coordinates this – including disaster welfare. Some NFPs and community orgs are already embedded in this plan (Red Cross, Salvos, ADRA, Anglicare) and already out there alongside DCJ officers. Others have mobilised already and are very happy to work with volunteers.
- It’s very important for the communities themselves to feel listened to and empowered towards their own recovery. Yes, they need assistance but they need their own community to drive it.
Lots of organisations breezing in for a few weeks, bringing things they had not asked for or providing advice that is well-meaning but also not asked-for can be very infuriating to communities trying to recover.
Practical assistance that comes alongside a community that has been engaged with the NFP rather than dumped at their doorstep is received so much better. Try to link with and support local communities that may have been, or at least feel forgotten.
If you make a commitment to come alongside, don’t promise the world and then breeze out in a few weeks. Recovery lasts years and sometimes it is impossible to ever recover what has been lost.
Rather than bringing assistance in from outside the community, is it possible to help the community by mobilising their own resources/businesses/volunteers first?
Or, something that brings the community together – eg a community kitchen kept going in Maryborough for 3 years after Black Saturday – first daily, then weekly, finally monthly so locals could get together and support each other (outsiders were not invited) – empowering communities to do things like that can be very healing for them.
- Always make sure you coordinate with other agencies, especially with the ones that may have already been tasked and perhaps funded to do the thing you are thinking you may want to do.
They may actually appreciate someone who can come and assist them, especially when such a wide geographical area has been hit. But please don’t upset other agencies by seeming to come in on their turf, so to speak.
Finally, in some places, recovery will actually never happen. There will be a new reality but it will be very different, often forever different, from what was before. So please do not give trite sayings such as “time heals” and “you’ll get over it eventually”. Often this trauma can stick for a lifetime and sometimes it is more about getting used to a new life, one that people didn’t ask for, so please be gentle in your conversations.