Passing strangers step in to help out victims
WHEN young Canadian backpacker Matthew Madden arrived in Australia nine months ago to find his "spirit animal" he had no idea his life would change forever the moment the ferocious Bundaberg floods hit.
Like many people across Australia, Mr Madden was transfixed by the unfolding dramas played out on the television sets, the airwaves and the daily newspapers regarding the worst floods the Bundaberg region had ever seen.
And like many other volunteers who have lent a helping hand during the recovery process, the 20-year-old felt compelled to do something about it.
"It was very sad to see what people had lost," he said.
So Mr Madden got in contact with Samaritan's Purse, an organisation that has been responding to large- and small-scale disasters across the world since 1970, and volunteered his services.
He spoke with Russell Wright, a Samaritan's Purse Disaster Relief Deployment co-ordinator who was heading the recovery team, who told him he was welcome to join.
"I was in Gympie and not doing much at the time," Mr Madden said. "The rest is history."
Six weeks on, Mr Madden has done everything from putting up fences to throwing out tonnes of debris to sanitising mould-affected homes. He said it was one of the most positive experiences of his life.
"People really appreciate your efforts," he said.
"You work real hard, but the reward is great."
It is that reward of knowing you have helped others less fortunate which has kept Mr Wright, who has 15 years disaster relief experience from around the world, still relishing the challenge to help people.
Mr Wright heads the site management team comprised of men and women deployed to the disaster-affected area of Bundaberg to help.
"We work hand-in-hand in with locals," he said.
While skilled workers were of course welcome, Mr Wright said all that was really required was a sturdy pair of hands and a generous heart.
"We provide food and basic accommodation," he said.
"The YMCA in Bundaberg has been great in providing us with that accommodation."
Mr Wright said more than 200 volunteers had stepped up to the challenge to help flood-affected victims.
Victims such as semi-retired cabinetmaker Rex O'Leary, who saw his North Bundaberg home of 25 years torn apart by the raging torrent and was
plucked to safety by a helicopter at the height of the floods.
"I was that scared going up the helicopter," he said.
North Bundaberg couple Emil and Banie Barkovic were grateful for the help Samaritan's Purse had provided, clearing out mud that was waist deep.
"We wouldn't have been able to this without them," Mr Barkovic said, who then tightly embraced Mr Wright.
Mr Wright said these proud residents did not think of themselves as victims and had been reluctant to ask for help, which added to the challenges face by the organisation.
"Every person tells you their neighbour has had it worse," he said.
As for young Matthew Madden, the experience has changed his life.
While his journey to discover his "spirit animal" continues, he has learnt a lot about himself in recent weeks.
To volunteer or to request assistance to clean up your home (no costs involved) call Samaritan's Purse on 0439 543 601.