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Drought Angels receives ‘oxygen mask’ so it can help farmers

Visits from the charity Drought Angel can make the difference between life or death for farmers who have fallen through the cracks.

One farmer who had lived alone on her property for 38 years looking after her animals, with no surviving family, had fallen on the floor and was unable to move for two days.

Luckily, staff from Drought Angels visited and found her. Directors Jenny and Natasha, took the farmer to hospital, out for a meal, and are now her advocates, linking her with other services.

“We've now rallied around her and we're her advocates now,” says Jenny. “Because what else do you do? Your kids are at home, they're happy and watching the TV, and what else do you do?”

Jenny Gailey is a director of Drought Angels, a charity founded in Chinchilla, Queensland 5.5 years ago “by two chicks, a ute and $300 to provide relief to one family from the drought”.

Australia is in the grip of the worst drought on record: 97 per cent of NSW and 70 per cent of Queensland is currently in drought. Recent bushfires have served as a bleak reminder of the dire situation.

The severity of the drought means the once-small charity Drought Angels has had to grow quickly. In 2018-19, Drought Angels looked after 4,000 farmers and raised $10 million from corporate sponsors and individual donors.

But this rapid growth has put pressure on systems, and details of each farmer can no longer just be stored in volunteers’ memories.

Now, a little like an oxygen mask on a carer, Drought Angels has the support of consultancy service Critical Input, which has chosen it as its charity of choice.

Critical Input’s staff will help improve efficiency, give expert advice, and provide mentorship.

Drought’s mental toll on farmers and locals

The length of the drought is taking a huge toll on the mental health of farmers and people in affected communities.

“There are places out there that have been in drought for eight years,” says Jenny.

“It’s now the worst drought on record. But I don't think that's hit home to the farmers that are contemplating walking away because they think, ‘But my granddad survived it.’

“It's another layer of pressure that they're feeling on their shoulders, that their grandfather survived the drought, so why can't they?

“It hasn’t sunk in that this is worse than what granddad went through.”

“We have multiple generational farmers out there that have to contemplate walking off the farm, shooting their stock and extinguishing breed lines.

“That helplessness means their pride’s taking a battering.

“It's taking a toll on the families. We've had the kids in the towns that are almost at 0 per cent water. They're going to school and filling up their water bottles to drink when they're at home because they have no water at home.

“We had one family that came in that were eating chickpeas and tomato sauce for dinner. The mother and daughter had to use rolled-up toilet paper for their sanitary items. this is not a third-world country. These are people that have worked so, so hard. They pay their taxes, they're good business people, but they have no control over mother nature.”

Support rural towns through tourism

Tourism in rural and regional areas supports towns, small businesses, farmers and jobs.

When visiting, Jenny suggests trying to spend locally by staying in local accommodation, eating out at restaurants and pubs, and buying local produce.

“We've found that $1 spent in a rural community goes around six to seven times. The ripple effect in the pond is a lot bigger in rural communities,” Jenny says.

It’s easy for everyday Australians to help, Jenny says. “Support farmers by changing three or four items in your shopping cart to Australian-made, and support local growers and co-ops.

“Come out west, visit the towns, put the money into the economy of the town, because those little townships are the ones that – with their netball clubs and their Country Women’s Associations and everything – they're the first people that farmers turn to. And if there's no money there, they can't help them either.”

Those who want to help can also donate here: www.droughtangels.org.au/donations.

Tim Griffiths, Managing Director of Critical Input, says he wanted to support a rural organisation that does frontline support.

  “Drought Angels offer community-based support: things like vet care for working dogs, community events, and frontline immediate relief,” Tim says.

 “Aside from cash donations, Critical Input will be providing project management support for events, and process, systems and documentation for the organisation itself.

“My wife and I own several hundred acres in rural Queensland in the Darling Downs where we plan to begin a goat farm. I firmly believe the next economic boom for Australia lies in sustainable agriculture.”

About Drought Angels

Drought Angels help farming families affected by natural disasters around Australia. The registered charity provides support including, food hampers, care packs, financial support via discreet pre-paid visas and local produce vouchers from within communities, moral support through personal face-to-face or phone contact, referrals to other support networks, and “Rural Days Off”: a day of food and entertainment for up to 50 farming families. www.droughtangels.org.au.

About Critical Input

Founded in 2005, Critical Input is a consultancy service that works with businesses to improve their business capability, offering process improvement and supply chain and project-management activities. Critical Input works in sectors from water and energy, to mining and heavy industry.

www.criticalinput.com.au

For 24/7 crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 131114 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp.