All I want for Christmas is rain
All I want for Christmas is rain
18 December 2019
Salvation Army Major Yolande Soper shares about what Christmas will be like in her double disaster-hit town in Northern New South Wales.
I live in a rural country town called Tenterfield. Until significant bushfires hit us recently, I had to explain to almost everyone where we lived!
In the recent bushfires, Tenterfield Salvation Army was activated to provide meals to evacuees and front-line responders. This meant weeks of 6am starts and after-midnight finishes. We were also called upon to provide clothing and household goods to evacuees, and we also sat with the firefighters and, in particular, our local responders to hear their stories and let them debrief.
I had one lady, a farmer, come into the evacuation centre. She had been struggling with the drought and had just had a serious life-threatening operation. To top things off, she was told to evacuate from her home and that firefighters were not sure if they could save it. I walked over to her and said, “Are you ok?” She broke down in my arms and wouldn’t let me go for what seemed like hours, but in fact, was only minutes.
We had firefighters share with us stories of their narrow escapes from the flames. One brigade told us that when the wind changed, they had to dive for cover under their truck and put the sprinklers on as a fireball blew over them. Another told us they were in the truck cabin when a tree fell and just missed them, but destroyed their truck. And then there were the devastating stories of farmers having to shoot their animals that had been burnt after fighting so hard to keep them alive.
The power of The Salvation Army’s ‘presence’ during these fires has meant so much, on so many levels.
People don’t realise that the fires have escalated drought conditions. Whatever little bit of feed farmers had on the ground was burnt; whatever small bit of hope people had tucked away in their hearts went up in flames as they ran for their lives.
Drought has been an ongoing disaster in our area for nearly three years. Don’t get me wrong, the fires have been horrific and an absolute tragedy, but I think sometimes that we forget that our farmers and their families have been living in emergency conditions day-in, day-out. If homes in regional or city areas had no running water for more than a few days, that would be an emergency. Our farmers and their families have been living with this crisis for many, many months.
I have sat with a farmer who told me his family would be better off if he ended his life. No one should ever have to experience this deep despair. It was heart-wrenching. Farmers have had to give their dogs away because they can no longer afford to keep them. This shows just how tough things are because not only are these pets emotional support (especially for male farmers), losing them creates a huge added burden and workload. Without a dog to herd cattle and round sheep, a farmer’s job is so much harder.
Our farmers are strong, resilient people. I’ve had them cry when we have given them water because there is no water coming out of their taps at home. Just stop and think about that for a minute. When these farming families walk to their kitchen tap and turn it on, no water comes out. They survive on tank water, so when there’s no rain, there’s no water in the tank. And there’s little money to buy water when all of it is being spent on feed to keep their animals alive.
Having no water impacts on the life of a family in so many ways. Clothes don’t get washed. Kids go to school in unwashed uniforms, leading to low self-esteem and bullying. Earlier this year, we [The Salvation Army] partnered with the local school to provide clothing and whatever the school required to help in this situation. Also, through the generous support of Australians who give to The Salvation Army, we were able to deliver big tankers of water to farmers. The water tanker delivered from early morning till late at night for months, giving life and hope back to these families.
The power of hope
It is heartbreaking to see people struggling so much. Farmers hate asking for help, but lately, we have had them contact us for assistance. Having to ask adds to their heartache, and it is devastating for both them and us to have that interaction.
In the 1950s, a researcher in the United States conducted a famous experiment to see the effect hope had on hardship. Two sets of laboratory rats were placed in separate tubs of water. The researches left one set in the water and found that within an hour they had all drowned. The other rats were periodically lifted out of the water and then returned. What happened? The second set of rats swam for over 24 hours. Why? Not because they were given a rest, but because they had hope of rescue.
Hope holds limitless power. That’s why it’s so important for The Salvation Army to be able to be a presence in the lives of rural Australians.
Season of struggle
Christmas is going to be tough for people in our area. People already affected by drought have now lost stock and fencing in the bushfires. There’s not a lot of money around and a lot of shops in town are feeling it too. We are expecting to assist many more people this Christmas season as a result of this.
For many people, Christmas is about the exchange of gifts and brightening up their children’s lives with presents. But this year, for our people here in the bush, it will be about the necessities of providing food for their children and a roof over their heads. About how to find the money to pay the bills and what will happen if we don’t get rain soon. I have never seen our society struggling with the basic needs of life so much as I have this year.
If you are a supporter of The Salvation Army, I can tell you categorically that for a little rural town in Northern NSW you have saved lives. You have empowered people struggling with life to be survivors.
“Alone we can do so little but together we can do so much” – Helen Keller