2020 has been a particularly rough time for many in our community - first with the bushfires, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We know that as a result of both situations, many people have lost their jobs or their income, they’ve lost homes, lost loved ones, and now in a time when social connection and a sense of community is most needed, we are being forced apart by the physical distancing measures we must maintain for our own safety.
But this doesn’t mean that we must socially isolate ourselves, too.
With the digital world at our fingertips, we can maintain a level of social connectedness and support for one another through the use of our digital devices. And this is what we are now doing at CatholicCare to maintain as many of our services as possible.
Those who were victims of the East Gippsland Bushfires are now suffering more than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet they still have such a long road to recovery from the devastation and trauma of the bushfires.
Speaking with the East Gippsland community
Thérèse Kearney, Senior Practitioner working in CatholicCare’s Bushfire Community Recovery Service, has spent the last month liaising with families, communities and individuals who have been affected by the East Gippsland bushfires.
Through her discussions with these communities, Thérèse said that the main challenge for those affected by the bushfires is the fatigue and anxiety stemming from the prolonged trauma.
“Some people cannot face talking at the present time. We have to wait until they are ready,” said Thérèse. “Those who have had ongoing unresolved issues prior to the fires are finding those issues are now exacerbated.”
Thérèse's work in East Gippsland
Thérèse has experience and qualifications in counselling and human relations, mediation, relationships and teaching, and provided support to families and communities as part of CatholicCare’s Black Saturday Bushfire Recovery Program.
We are thrilled to have Thérèse back on board to support those suffering as a result of the East Gippsland bushfires. Over the past four weeks, Thérèse has made great progress with our recovery services by:
- Meeting with school principals to outline the purpose of CatholicCare’s presence in East Gippsland and discuss supports available.
- Providing Primary and Secondary School staff and students with information on the effects of excess adrenalin in our bodies, and how to eliminate the over-abundance of adrenalin accumulated as a result of the anxiety and trauma of the Black Summer Bushfires.
- Meeting weekly with a group of retired farmers - whose properties were damaged or destroyed by the fires.
- Facilitating counselling sessions for parents, staff and students.
Through her discussions with schools, Thérèse noted that neither the school staff nor the students have had a real summer holiday and have been ‘quite tired and flat as the school year commenced’.
So what can we do to continue supporting affected families and communities?
“Be there! Be there! Be there! Do not walk away, and do not abandon them! Keep in touch, and let them dictate the time,” says Thérèse.
While there have been changes to CatholicCare’s service provision due to COVID-19, we are still providing services via phone and video conferencing.
This includes Thérèse's work and that of all our other practitioners supporting families and communities affected by the East Gippsland bushfires.
We thank everyone who has kindly donated so far to enable this invaluable support for the East Gippsland community. If you would like to help families and communities access the mental health support they need to recover from the bushfires, please donate today.
Liz Gellel, Communications Coordinator