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Aussie generosity saves rural lives

9 September 2015

Aussie generosity saves rural lives

Caption: Rural chaplains Captains Jeff and Sharilyn Bush are taking practical, emotional and spiritual care to struggling farmers and communities. (Photo by Hannah Soole, courtesy of Daily Liberal, Dubbo)

The drought appeals have literally saved lives. The support has provided a spark of hope, in situations that may have otherwise seemed overwhelmingly hopeless. Often some of the pressure of the immediate financial strain has to be relieved before people are in a place to open up about the deeper emotional struggles. – Captain Sharilyn Bush, Rural Chaplain, Dubbo

Over the past few years, Australians have opened their hearts and wallets to assist farming families struggling through crippling drought.

Funds raised through a range of appeals and financial gifts, including The Salvation Army's Rural Appeal, have been making their way into communities hit hard.

However, Dubbo-based Salvation Army rural chaplain Captain Sharilyn Bush says ongoing support and donations in the form of vouchers and grants are still desperately needed.

“There are farming families in parts of our chaplaincy area that have not had a normal income, or a normal season since before 2010. It has been a horrible swing between equally devastating floods and now long-term drought,” she says.

Even those in areas that have had winter rain and some grass growth face a long battle to recovery, according to Captain Sharilyn. “It’s important to realise that some winter rain does not mean all is better,” she says. “Generally, even if good rain continued, the effects of the drought would go on for some time. For people who have destocked, it will take a number of years to be able to rebuild the stock levels and debt levels are such that it will take many years for recovery.”

Captain Sharilyn says that farmers involved in cropping describe it as “an ongoing gamble” as they plant on the basis of having received some rain, but then must “play the waiting game” for the follow-up rain to come. Plus, there are still many areas where there has been no rain.

“There, the depth of depression and despair can be enormous – facing dry, parched fields, little or no water in the dam, farm mortgages and overdrafts that still have to be paid, children that still have to be fed, school expenses that still have to be met and stock that still have to be fed,” she says.

In all these situations, Captain Sharilyn says “emotional and spiritual support is critical” and has saved lives and helped to hold some families together. “For people to know that they are not alone, that there are people who will be there for them, to hear their stories, the value of that care is immeasurable.”

Ideally, she says there could be many more chaplains (who are spread thinly over vast distances) on the ground. However, no matter how stretched, the chaplaincy is greatly needed.

One outback family recently wrote to Captain Sharilyn, stating: “Our family has had a long association with The Salvation Army starting way back when our first three children were christened by the local Salvos in a very memorable bush christening. When we lost one of those beautiful children 17 years later, who should run to our side but the same Salvos. They lifted and carried us and we are ever grateful there are angels on earth.

“(In the current drought) whether it’s a drop-in chat at our remote station in the outback, or monetary help in the form of helping us out with our power bill, it’s so comforting to know that there is someone out there you can turn to and who will listen. Thank you, for all you have done for us.” 


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Hope where it's needed most