The bushfire season of 2019-20 is already one of the worst ever experienced, with close to 1 million hectares of Victoria burnt, and weeks of hot weather yet to go.
This is a major disaster, and YACVic is already starting to speak to government, local councils and youth services about how we can best support the community recovery and rebuilding. We believe that young people in bushfire affected communities should be empowered and resourced to make an active, meaningful contribution to relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts.
In the meantime, if you live in a bushfire affected community, have loved ones affected by bushfires, or are feeling anxious and stressful from afar, these are some important self-care tips to look after yourself and your community.
If you have a disability, please read this dedicated blog post on bushfire resources compiled by the YDAS team.
Stay up to date on the latest information
As we write this, there are at least 30 fires still burning, and several isolated communities under threat.
Make sure you are regularly checking VicEmergency’s website for the latest advice and are tuned into into your ABC/Local Emergency Radio provider. You can also download the VicEmergency app on Android or Apple devices.
Make sure you know where your nearest relief centre is if there is a watch and act warning in your community.
Apply for an Emergency Relief Grant
Have you lost your home, your car or your general belongings due to fire? There are several financial assistance and recovery programs available to apply for needed funds to support recovery including:
- Personal Hardship Assistance Program
- Victorian Bushfire Disaster Recovery Allowance
- Small Business recovery/replacement Grants
- Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment
These require Australian citizenship to access funding, but there are alternatives listed within these links.
It’s okay to not be okay
Surviving and witnessing one of Australia’s worst ever bushfires is a traumatic and stressful event. You and/or people close to you may be feeling shocked, scared, sad, helpless, angry or a mix of feelings. It is completely normal and okay to feel that way.
Even if you are not directly affected by the fires, you may be struggling with all the media coverage, or frustration at not being able to help out as much as you would like.
To help you process this event, you could try to:
- Accept your feelings
- Re-establish your routine with structure
- Keep your mind occupied with reading, movies, cooking, rather than dedicating all your attention to the fire coverage
- Get moving through exercise and mindfulness
- Volunteer and connect with others in the community
- Reach out to others
Be mindful of your media consumption
While it is important to remain informed about what is happening, it may be making you feel even more anxious and stressful. Make sure you aren’t checking social media just before bed, and consider reading print news rather than watching videos.
Also remember to find good news stories. It may feel all doom and gloom right now, but it is important to recognise the community spirit, generosity and courage which are keeping families and regions intact.
Reach out to your friends and support networks
You are not alone in this experience. If you have friends or family who may also be directly affected, make sure you check-in with them. It could be as simple as a short text, a phone call or via social media if internet is available.
Being able to connect with others who have been through the same or similar experiences will help you take care.
It is also important to check-in with yourself and reach out to your support network. If you are not feeling alright, make sure you have people around you who can be there for you, and that you share with them how you are feeling.
Speak to your local youth services provider and workers
You can connect with your local youth service and workers to maintain contact with a trusted adult, as well as other young people in the community. Youth workers play a key role in engaging young people to other support services, as well as empowering you to take meaningful action in your community.
As of 7 January, these services in bushfire affected areas are open and available for further support and information:
- Brophy Family and Youth Services in Warrnambool are running free programs in addition to being open
- Mansfield Youth Centre
- Anglicare Victoria Morwell office (Bairnsdale is closed)
- Headspace Bairnsdale
If you do not live in a bushfire affected community, you can also reach out to your local youth services provider. If a local service hasn’t been listed, but should be, please contact us directly and we will include it here.
Channel your energy into helping
If you are not in a bushfire affected area and want to help, there are so many ways you can contribute, and not all of them involve donating money. You could:
- Donate to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal
- Write to your local MP about your concerns on climate change and protecting the environment. Here’s our guide to doing that, and a letter template being circulated by the community
- Use your crafting skills to make a pouch for possums, wallabies and joeys
- Attend a fundraising gig by your favourite musicians and artists
- Donate blood or plasma
- Join a protest and find like-minded people who want action
Do you work with young people?
Here are some resources that might be helpful:
- Emergency Minds Community Trauma Toolkit
- How to Strengthen Young People Against Anxiety After News of a World Trauma
- Helpguide’s tips for dealing with Traumatic Stress
Stay safe. Stay connected to your loved ones and communities. This will end.
Our deepest thanks go to the firefighters, community workers and other frontline services working around the clock to keep everyone safe. And our thoughts and hearts are with everyone affected.
If you have ideas on how YACVic can best assist the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the longer term, you can contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on (03) 9267 3700 between 8.45am – 5.00pm, Monday to Friday.