The government has just turned its back on Australian Aid workers who need our help.

Listen to the Australian radio interview on this article here.


Living amongst us in our communities are thousands of
current and former aid workers who, in the course of their work, have seen and
experienced horrific things. War, conflict, murder, death from natural
disaster, disease and famine. These hardy young men and women are great
representatives of our country and often make us proud in the work that they
do.

Many of the world’s aid workers are Australian and hardly a
night goes by without the evening news showing some event involving aid staff
somewhere in the world. Great travellers and brave workers, at some point these
Australians have to come home. When they do return their adjustment can be
tough, yet just before the election was called our government quietly pulled
the funding that helps in their re-adjustment to Australian life.

While it is right and good that we think of the horrors seen
by our servicemen and women in war, and while it is proper that we demand from
our government that return care is given to those service personnel, what of
the returning aid worker? Who helps them?

When preparing for a conflict or natural disaster, one can
prepare for the psychological and physical dangers. One also has a support
group of peers in those hostile environments to lend support when one is there.

But when an aid worker comes home they face the same
isolation and loneliness that many ex-service personnel feel.

Returning aid workers are often in conflict zones longer
than service personnel and often have a deeper and more personal connection
with the innocent victims of natural and man-made calamities than service
personnel. As a result many can be as susceptible, or more so, to long lasting
psychological injury. They need help too.

I know this, because I was one of them.

Family and friends can help a little, but only people who
have seen and experienced similar events know what it feels like to see that
which has been seen. It is good and proper that organisations like the Returned
Services League exist for service men and women to find solace and comfort in
friends who have experienced similar horrors, but there is nothing similar for
aid workers.

I still fight my demons. The crying face of a Bosnian
refugee child named Maria is still embedded in my shoulder. The scent of a
church full of dead in Rwanda remains in my nostrils. The seemingly
insurmountable challenge of 3.5 million being made homeless by Pakistan’s
earthquake and the deadly Himalayan winter they survived through, still lives
with me every day.

On coming home from Rwanda I remember a child in an Albert
Park shop complaining about the wrong brand of potato chips. I slumped to the
shop floor and cried, not for him, but for the children I had just left behind
who would not dare to dream of potato chips.

Only in camaraderie can you find real empathy and help. But
there is no RSL for the many thousands of aid workers who have come home. This
is why coming home can be tough and for many aid workers it is much tougher
than going in the first place.

Few organisations give support to aid workers. One that
does, the Mandala Foundation based in Melbourne, has just had its promised
funding of only half a million a year over three years, cut by the Australian
government’s aid arm, AusAID.

The Mandala Foundation was started a few years ago by some
brave psychologists who saw this gap and they have tried to fill it. They
helped me and they help others and in the process help themselves too.

The Foundation is currently run by Christoph Hensch. If you
don’t know his name, perhaps you should. A softly spoken man, he was the only
survivor when unknown forces in Chechnya attacked a Red Cross hospital and
murdered six of our colleagues. The killers shot him, leaving him for dead as
the masked assassins professionally murdered the others. He is a true hero in
our midst and he fights his demons by helping others fight theirs.

In 2010, when CEO of Committee for Melbourne I lobbied for
Mandala’s funding. I met with Kevin Rudd when Foreign Affairs Minister and he ensured
funding. Now that he is PM the funding has been cut.

Liberal front bencher Andrew Robb, who has had his own well
publicised battles with depression, not only supported the idea of funding but
helped me personally in my post aid work return to Melbourne in 2010. Yet Liberal
policy so far is silent on the issue of aid worker rehabilitation.

Perhaps then, if you are one of the many Australians who are
yet to decide how to vote, perhaps make this one of your deciding issues?
Perhaps, when thinking on how to vote, ask your local politician to lobby for
the funding to be restored?

In this election season where we see hundreds of millions of
dollars being thrown at all sorts of projects, the half a million a year needed
by Mandala to look after the health of some of the bravest Australians, really
seems like chicken feed in dollars, but great value in impact, doesn’t it?

Andrew MacLeod is the
former CEO of Committee for Melbourne, Board member of Mandala and aid worker
for both the Red Cross and the UN. He is author of ‘A Life Half Lived’ by New
Holland Press and can be followed on twitter @andrewmmacleod. 



Mandala
foundation is at
http://www.mandalafoundation.org.au/

Listen to the Australian radio interview on this article here.


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3 Replies to “The government has just turned its back on Australian Aid workers who need our help.”

  1. Australia has a nasty habit of not supporting those who serve our community both at home and abroad. Emergency services, nurses, teachers, aid workers, community services, social workers – I don't know any who don't bare the scars of service. The miniature disasters and minor traumas of life in our suburbs and towns take their toll. The child who drank it's parents medicine and died I still remember his smile and my frustrations trying to report my concerns. The smell of death and burnt flesh I will never forget. We need to care for those who care where ever they are because we as a community need them.

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  2. ANONYMOUS When you say Australia do you mean Government. As we in the Country are rite behind our Services and raise funds and support for them all.

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  3. Met a pretty messed up ex soldier that was deployed in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I asked how can we help to support our soldiers more, he said don't vote Labor!! As a nation we don't seem to help our aid workers or care givers sufficently, why, because it doesn't pull votes!!! These people are selfless and are silently working away as an Australian representative making a difference for everyone!!! How about we save on the political campaign money and support organisations and real people that need assistance, now!

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