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Bushfire recovery donation from Papua New Guinea

Photograph of Youth of Lae City doing fundraising to help fight fire in Australia by Helen Taylor.

Youth of Lae City fundraising to help fight fire in Australia by Helen Taylor

30 July 2020

Bega Valley Mayor, Sharon Tapscott has thanked the community of Lae City in Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea for its generous $61,000 donation to the region and the Rotary Club of Merimbula for transferring $50,000 of the donation to the Bega Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund.

“We sincerely thank the Lae City community for their thoughtfulness and kindness, and will put these funds to good use,” Cr Tapscott said.

“There is an amazing story behind this donation, to which we are incredibly grateful; particularly so when you understand how little these people have themselves.”

The fundraising began with the Youth of Lae City, who pushed wheelbarrows around the streets, collecting bushfire relief donations for Australia.

A young woman from the Youth of Lae City explained that people realised they themselves benefited from Australian-built health centres and hospitals, so this was their turn to reciprocate ‘from the heart’.

An Australian resident of Lae, Helen Taylor, told the ABC this unique sight brought tears to her eyes. People with so little were handing over precious notes and coins in a show of solidarity for their Australian ‘cousins’. For context, she explained this is a country where the minimum wage is 3.5 kina (one Australian dollar) per hour.

With additional support of the Lae Rotary Club, the fundraising reached an amazing $61,000.

The President of the Rotary Club of Lae Huon Gulf wrote to District 9600, a group of clubs located in Queensland (with an association with the Rotary Clubs in the PNG, Solomon Islands and Nauru), looking for a bushfire recovery contact in the Eden-Monaro region.

They in turn wrote to Past District Governor of Rotary International, Phil Armstrong who was recently recognised for his leadership of the combined Districts' Bushfire Recovery Committee.

Former President of the Rotary Club of Merimbula, Andy Thorp, followed up that correspondence and was introduced to the Chairperson of the Bushfire Appeal Committee and President of the Morobe Chapter of the PNG Australia Alumni Association, Sheila Harou.

He explained how much of the Bega Valley had been destroyed by the summer bushfires and described the recovery work being carried out by the Rotary Club of Merimbula to help rebuild the Shire’s devastated communities.

Upon receipt of such a sizeable donation, the Club consulted Mayor Tapscott and Chair of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast and Co-chair of the Bega Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund, Mick Brosnan.

“We all felt the $50,000 would best support the Valley’s bushfire relief if it were reallocated to the Fund,” Mr Brosnan said.

“So with Ms Harou’s blessing, the funds were transferred and will be used to support our bushfire impacted communities.

“Our recent successful funding trial in Cobargo provided the basis for future fund allocation so we can provide households with the everyday items they are asking for, along with meeting general living expenses.”

The Rotary Club of Merimbula has used the balance of the donation to buy two trailers, which will initially be used by the BlazeAid camps in Bemboka and Towamba. When the camps close, the trailers will be repurposed for firefighting and provided to the Rural Fire Service.

The Bega Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund is a perpetual fund, focusing on unmet needs and aims not to duplicate the provisions being met by other agencies and charities.

Jointly managed by Council and the Social Justice Advocates, the Fund also seeks to address everyday health and wellbeing issues to meet critical and acute needs like, but not limited to fuel, firewood, household appliances, clothing and more.

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