7 January 2020
Looking at the devastation left behind by bushfires nationwide, columnist Scott Pape shares a moment where he, too, needed community support. Losing everything to fire was the reason why he became a financial counsellor.
“It’s over … isn’t it Dad?”
His lip began to quiver.
“Yes … I’m afraid so mate,” I said, putting my arm around him.
This happened just last Monday. We had the car packed, ready to head to the remote enclave of Cape Conran, East Gippsland, for a family camping trip.
For the last few days Liz and I had been nervously watching the Victorian Emergency app.
The tragedy of people losing their lives.
The animals burnt alive.
The livestock that has to be put down.
It’s all just … too much.
Each night I sit in my living room watching the news; the media chases down victims, wanting to capture the heartbreaking moment when they return, only to find they’ve lost everything they own.
“How do you feel?” the reporter asks, sticking a microphone in their face. I’ll tell you how I felt when it happened to me.
Yet what the cameras don’t show is what happens next.
Often one of the first people they’ll turn to is a not-for-profit financial counsellor.
That’s what happened to me back in 2014, when my own home burned to the ground:
I walked into my local library, which had been transformed into a makeshift emergency centre for fire victims. I stunk of smoke, and sweat — and looking back on it now — I was simmering with anger.
Yes, we’d lost our home — and everything in it — but I resented the idea of being a victim. The only reason I was there that day was to get a special pass so I could get through the roadblocks and visit my farm.
The woman I spoke to was a not-for-profit community-based financial counsellor.
“Look, you’ve got a young family — a little baby — and you’ve just lost everything. That’s a big hit, so let’s take a few moments to talk about how you’ll cope financially,” she said firmly.
“Just give me my pass”, I snarled.
She leant in, gently put her hand on mine, and whispered: “Honey, I know it will be difficult for you, but you’re going to need to let people help you over the next 12 months.”
I needed that.
And so do the people who are going through the same thing right now.
I’ll tell you … it’s times like this that inspired me to devote 2019 to becoming a financial counsellor.
And so, now that I’m qualified, I’ve put my hand up to be deployed with the disaster relief effort.
It’s a privilege. An honour. And something that gives meaning to what I went through six years ago.
I know I can fight their insurers, stand up for them with their bank, and generally make sure that money issues don’t compound their grief and loss. Yet what I also want to give them is some perspective, and some hope.
You see, six years ago our farm was declared a disaster zone. Practically everything on it burned to the ground.
We felt like things would never, ever get back to ‘normal’ again.
Yet slowly, it did.
Fast forward to today.
We did end up going camping this week … on our own farm.
Right now the Australian Red Cross is supporting communities affected by fires, and you can go here to donate.
Empty out the Give Jar.