We need to be patient

Another blog turn over, this time to Lauren Kerr (another disaster recovery specialist on maternity leave, and one of The Laurens..we had four at one stage in the team), who has some importance reminiscences about her time after the Margaret River fires in WA back in 2011. Over to you, Lauren…

I’m disheartened to see so much in the media about charities withholding money from people affected by bushfires. For anyone who has donated money to Red Cross or other appeals, I want to share my experience from the Margaret River Bushfires.

In the first week after the fire, some organizations had cash vouchers to distribute. These were given to anyone who came in to ask for them. Very little information was required.

These vouchers were given to anyone who asked, and the majority I am sure went to people who were genuine. But I know that some families came in multiple times, and some people were not genuine at all. Very quickly, these funds were gone.

The saddest part was in the days and weeks later when other people came in asking for the cash vouchers they had heard about. And had to be told it was all gone.

These were people who hadn’t wanted to put their hands out at first. Some were too proud, some didn’t want to take money from people they felt were more deserving. Some just couldn’t face coming into the evacuation centre. Others had evacuated to family and friends hours away and had only just made their way back to town.

People affected by these fires will feel the impacts for the weeks, months and years to come. Their needs will change over time. Organisations that are experienced in working in disasters understand this and plan accordingly.

It might surprise people to know that after losing homes in a bushfire, a lot of families feel rushed into making decisions about rebuilding, worried that they will miss out if they don’t make the deadline to claim funds.

So during the most stressful time in their lives, they are forced to makes big decisions when they aren’t thinking clearly. Our brains don’t work properly under severe stress and yet people are having to deal with complicated claim forms and insurance companies. In many cases, decisions made during this time are regretted down the track.

Twelve months after the fires I was still working in Margaret River. Many people spoke about how they felt the rest of the world had forgotten about them, yet they were right in the thick of it. Money had dried up, and their needs had changed. One couple I spoke to talked about how amazing it would be just to be able to go out for a nice dinner one night and leave the kids with a baby sitter, given how much strain the disaster had put on their relationship, but this was seen as a luxury they couldn’t afford. Others were struggling to afford the basics like items for the new school year.

By then, most charities had distributed all their funds within the year to keep donors happy and be able to answer the question “where did my money go!”

Generous Australians have donated their money wanting to help people when they need it most, and it’s vital charities be transparent with how this is being allocated, and that it gets to people who need it in the short, medium AND long term.

Many people will be needing money right now, and the process should be made as easy as possible. Many others will need TIME as they come to terms with what has happened to them, and where they go from here. To truly support those affected, we need to be patient, as well as generous.

To all my old Red Cross colleagues and friends, our country needs you more than ever. Keep calm, carry on and know that your work is of the utmost value

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