Community capacity building a critical path forward

Community capacity building a critical path forward

Bushfire Emergency: Regional update, Canberra and South Coast

Delia Quigley has had a few lives. She spent 31 years in the Australian Federal Police. She has spent time out of the country on UN missions and has done everything from teaching capacity building in developing communities to media liaison during crises while on international missions.

Delia has been co-chair of the Canberra (and South Coast) region for the Uniting Church. During the current bushfire crisis, she has been sharing the duties holding the fort for communities across the region, an expanse that covers Bateman’s Bay and down to Merimbula on the south coast, to the Snowy Mountains in the West, up to Canberra and Yass and north to Crookwell. Without fancy infographics, it’s not hard to imagine how that could be bigger than some countries. It’s even easier to imagine how few of those would have faced the type of devastation and terror seen in the region in the past week.  

I asked Delia how the region is fairing under such an unprecedented crisis, with power cuts, telecommunications outages and road closures restricting volunteers from reaching communities.

“A lot of the communities have power back today which is a big plus. Being able to communicate with communities cut off just to hear they are safe and give them the support they need has been a relief. There is still a sense of helplessness, so in the meantime, we have a prayer vigil which has helped people feel connected and hopeful.”

Delia is also a Lifeline Crisis Supporter and Post Disaster Volunteer with Volunteering ACT.  No surprise she was ACT Senior Volunteer of the Year in 2018. She intimately understands the challenges of building resilience in the face of community devastation. She worries for the chaplains under pressure supporting anxious and grieving community members who’ve lost homes, businesses and livestock.

Physically reaching communities has been the second wave of the challenge, she says. “Today, Dr John Williams, Delia’s co-chair, bought a generator, pharmaceutical supplies and smoke masks for the Eden and Bega communities. Delivering those will be Rev’s Ian Diamond and Karyl Davison, deputised chaplains from the Disaster Recovery Chaplaincy, who are heading to the coastal towns to relieve two chaplains who have been working for days.”

There is an upside to the stories Canberra region is sharing on Facebook, posted by the community when power and internet connection allowed. Di White in Narooma reported that volunteers rolled up their sleeves when regular volunteers were unavailable. It’s not an uncommon story. Isolation and the magnitude of the disaster has prevented regular volunteers from being present.

“This disaster also makes you realise that the spirit in the community is alive and well. In Eden, the church hall was used to feed the community, and in the church, pews were moved to create space for people to sleep on the floor,” she said.

When asked what more the church can do, Delia was supportive of the role of the church in building capacity and resilience in the community now and for the future.

“There is another role we can play to support resilience in the community. When emergency services are stretched and volunteers are unavailable, we need to ensure the community has the resources, reserves and training to handle whatever needs to be done. We’ve seen many meet the challenge this week”, she said. “We can use that to build and expand so that when other communities are faced with life-threatening circumstances and catastrophic disaster, they survive having benefitted from this experience.”

The Uniting Church NSW/ACT is once again appealing for community support for the bushfire devastated communities in NSW and ACT. So far,  The Moderator’s Bushfire Appeal has raised over $100K to help those in urgent need. 

The Moderator of the Uniting Church NSW/ACT, Rev. Simon Hansford, said, for now, communities should be listening and acting on RFS and emergency services instructions without delay.

“We want people to ask for support. It’s a first step on the path to recovery,” said the Moderator. “Disaster Relief has been a part of what we do for decades. We will still be here during the recovery in coming weeks, months and years because we are part of these communities.”

Click here to find all the current evacuation and recovery centres and assistance numbers. There are chaplains available for our community in all these centres except Narooma, where we haven’t been able to get through.

Steph O’Connell

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