Australian districts provide relief to victims of wildfires
Members of the Rotary clubs of Hawthorn and Boroondara, Victoria, Australia, are transforming an unused nursing home into a temporary shelter for residents left homeless by the wildfires. Photo courtesy of the Rotary Club of Hawthorn
Rotary districts in Victoria, Australia, are bringing relief to families victimized by a series of devastating wildfires that swept across the state this month, killing more than 200 people and leaving thousands homeless.
As the scale of the disaster becomes clearer, Rotary clubs in districts 9780, 9790, 9800, 9810, and 9820 are excavating debris and providing food, clothes, tools, and short-term shelter to those affected by the blaze.
District 9800 has also established an emergency fund for medium- to long-term assistance for rebuilding.
"Victorian clubs are doing a tremendous job at rallying to help those in need, both in donations and relief projects," says District Governor Jim Studebaker. "Rotary will be there when the fire is out and the dust settles. It's clear that many communities are going to need long-term help rebuilding."
The process of rebuilding is unlikely to begin for months, and it will take many years to replace homes lost in the fire, says Joan Janka, president of the Rotary Club of Hawthorn, near Melbourne.
Just days after the fire started, her club partnered with members of the Rotary Club of Boroondara to turn a vacant nursing home into a temporary shelter for up to 60 displaced residents.
"Volunteers worked very hard and extremely fast to transform an unusable residence into a clean, fully functional living facility," says Janka. "It's a huge effort put forth by Rotarians."
Members donated and purchased furniture, bedding, and kitchen supplies. They also cleaned, painted, and repaired 30 bedrooms, dining areas, and six common areas, which are furnished with couches, tables, and TVs.
Rotarians are working with the Boroondara City Council to identify the families with the most need to occupy the facility. All units should be completed within the next week, says Janka.
One big family
Norman Kenyon, an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Eaglehawk, was helping a friend clean up when he learned that the fire had spread to his part of town. When he returned later that day, he found his home had burned to the ground.
Club members gave Kenyon clothes and bought most of his meals.
"Rotarians helped me immensely. Literally every member of Eaglehawk offered their home for me to stay," says Kenyon. "I can see the benefits to being a Rotarian. They are like one big family. Rotary has been remarkable, not only to me but to other fire victims."
Philip Archer, director of marketing and membership for District 9800, is helping coordinate efforts among the five districts. Eaglehawk's response is just one of many throughout Victoria.
In addition to hands-on relief initiatives, clubs are also funneling resources and funds to the Rotary International District 9800 Bushfire Recovery Fund.
"We're doing a good, old-fashioned Rotary assault on affected areas," says Archer. "Rotary will be there helping extensively in the rebuilding and recovery of communities affected."
For more information on the ongoing relief efforts and ways to donate, visit District 9800's Web site.