Australian students team up to lead relief efforts for wildfires’ aftermath

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Photo: Associated Press
By Jenny Hudak

Fire burns in the grass near Bumbalong, south of the Australian capital, Canberra, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Photo: Associated Press

Australian students team up to lead relief efforts for wildfires’ aftermath

By Jenny Hudak
University of Miami students will gather on the Lakeside Patio to seek donations for those affected by the wildfires in Australia.

In November 2019, dozens of fires erupted through parts of southern Australia. For days, social media was flooded with photos of the devastation, followed by an outpouring of support for the country. For Kathleen Hanson, the devastation struck close to home.

“Not being able to go back to Australia to actually help has been really difficult for me and difficult for any Australian student in my position,” she said.

Hanson, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is a junior majoring in accounting. While her home was not directly impacted by the fires, Hanson’s family has been suffering from a series of smoke inhalation related respiratory illnesses due to the fires. Despite not having to evacuate their home, Hanson’s family is no stranger to the devastation of these rapidly intensifying wildfires. Prior to this bush fire season, they were forced to evacuate their home during Black Saturday in 2009.

“I’m one of five kids. We were all told to pack a milk crate, load the animals, get in the car and drive away,” Hanson recalled.

She has spent the past three months advocating for support from her peers and classmates for those who lost their homes and lives in the fires. In February, Hanson connected with fellow Australian student Anisha Kore, and began coordinating efforts on campus to bring more attention to the aftermath of the devastation in their homeland.

Kore, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering, is also a native of Melbourne, Australia. When the fires began to spread, Kore knew she needed to do something to help those affected.

"We realized that we really needed to do something. If I were back home, in Melbourne, I'd go donate, or I could go help the shelters. Since I'm not there, I wanted to do something from Miami," Kore said.

Hanson and Kore reached out to various University student groups to bring more awareness to the continued devastation in Australia. Isabella Vaccaro, a junior majoring in journalism and editor-in-chief of Distraction magazine, was approached by Hanson and Kore about hosting an event to get aid for Australia.

“Kathleen came and spoke at one of our Distraction meetings, and we were so moved. Areas of land as large as multiple American states are being obliterated by fires. I was like, ‘We need to do more than just an article,’” Vaccaro said.

“When you think about the magnitude of these fires, it is incredibly scary. We do want to make sure that people are informed about this,” Hanson noted.

Australian officials announced on Friday that the last brushfire was extinguished in New South Wales, the Australian state most affected by these massive wildfires. While the fires may be temporarily halted, Hanson pointed out that relief efforts are needed now more than ever as the climate continues to shift and wildfires continue to frequent the country.

“The best thing I can do is talk to everyone I know and say, ‘This is why it’s so important.’ Just because it’s not on your Instagram, or on the news in the morning, ‘this is why it is so important.’ [These fires] will not stop, and the ramifications from this event will not stop when the fires are put out. This will be decades of recovery for Australia,” she declared.

The event to muster aid for Australia will be at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4, at the Lakeside Patio. Australian students will be sharing testimonials and honoring the lives lost in the fires. The event will also feature musical performances, accompanied by speakers who will address the implications of these wildfires on the environment and climate. Food and T-shirts will be available for sale, with 100% of the profits being donated directly to three charities: the Australian Red Cross, WWF of Australia, or the Australian Country Fire Authority benefiting the families of first responders.