My connection started on the first night when my partner Liz was called out in her capacity as a Red Cross Emergency Response Volunteer to the Healesville Rescue Centre. I made the decision to go with her and help out on an all-night shift.
That night we heard many stories of tragedy, of homes, friends and whole towns being lost, but were totally inspired by one common thing - every single person, no matter how tired, no matter the depth of their loss - all showed gratitude for what they still had rather than what had gone.
Since then, like hundreds of others, I have been involved in the massive recovery process. In my case as a business coach/mentor helping some of the almost 7000 small businesses destroyed or impacted by those fires. Some because they had been burnt out, others due to loss of trade because their towns were closed during the danger period. Many of these latter businesses lost 70% of their trade for five consecutive weeks (but not their expenses), most had no insurances to cover loss of trade and there were no grants to help them through. Many still struggle both financially and emotionally.
As I write this, eight months down the track, many of these businesses are yet to re-start. Some because owners are too overwhelmed with all the areas of their lives to rebuild, others because they are genuinely gripped with the affects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and still more because their communities are so decimated there is no population to support them. These brave individuals ask for little whilst fighting the current financial slowdown and drought plus the huge additional burden of disaster recovery. Unfortunately, they are also facing another major potential setback that could close their businesses and possibly, financially and emotionally, destroy many forever. If media and government predictions about the coming fire season manifest, there is a strong chance we may yet again be forced to stay away from such communities.
But we can do something to help! Help me let these wonderful people know they are not forgotten. Let’s give them the best chance of economic recovery possible by shopping in their communities before Christmas.
Sure, buying a meal or a coffee helps some – but let’s think and act bigger. Join me in buying your Christmas gifts from the many artists, gift shops and specialty stores or by buying gift vouchers to day spas or events planned in those areas. And while you are there, how about picking up groceries from the local supermarket, magazines from the local newsagent, petrol from the local petrol station. You could even hire a ‘tradie’ from those areas to help around your home.
As stated earlier, I feel truly honoured and blessed to be part of this recovery process - these people have given me a lesson in courage, values and humanity that is far, far more than I can ever repay and one for which I am eternally grateful.