In Saturday Morning Musings - Operation Padang Assist I reported on the Australian operations to assist Indonesians devastated by the Sumatra earthquake. A comment from Harry Nizam reminded me of the need to remember the human suffering at the other end of assistance.
No Australian assistance can possibly undo the human tragedies resulting from an event like the Padang earthquake. All we can do is to help the survivors.
This photo shows an Australian Army nurse, Captain Jane Currie, at work helping an elderly patient at the Australian Defence Force Primary Health Care Facility in the village of Sungai Gerringging. I would guess that the bloke on the left is the patient's son.
A small country like Australia cannot solve the world's problems, nor ease every disaster. Care spread too thinly is no care at all. What we can do is to focus our efforts on our neighbours where our help can have an impact. This does not mean that we should not help more broadly in tragedies like Darfur, simply that our first focus should be local.
Anybody who reads this blog will know that I think of myself as a country person even though I now live in Sydney. To my mind, the essence of country is helping one's neighbours. If a neighbour is sick you may not be able to solve the sickness, but you can bring food. At one point when Mum was ill, our family was fed on meals brought by neighbours.
In disaster, sometimes the most important thing is just to know that people care in simple, practical ways. This does not stop the pain, but it does make it easier to cope.
I was in Montreal when my mother died. I came back to find things organised. At the afternoon tea after the burial, the food, the alcohol, the urns, even the plates and cups, were provided by people from the district. This made it much easier for me to manage.
Reciprocity is central. As a local example, we help Indonesia, Indonesia helps us.
This photo shows an Indonesian team arriving in Melbourne to help in the Victorian fires. I have no idea how useful they were. That's not the point. The help was there when we needed it most.
There is, I think, a weariness in Australia about helping international disasters. There are so many. Yet if we lose our compassion we have little left.
In trying to argue, as I am at present, for Australia to continue to play an active role in regional relief, to help coordinate regional responses, I am not saying anything new. This is official Australian policy. Simply, I am trying ensure that we Australians continue to support regional disaster support.
I am also trying to promote the idea, not new, of proactive regional cooperation.
Just at present, Australian politics is dominated by the latest asylum seeker story. I am sorry to say this, but in terms of importance this is very much a tenth order issue, From an Australian national perspective, it really does not matter.
What is more important: the arrival, in this case non-arrival, of a few hundred boat people or the building of mutual support networks that may help millions?
Don't get me wrong: who harms one, harms many. Yet the size of the response to the illegal immigration issue as compared to the Padang disaster is deeply and profoundly out of kilter.
As a mere blogger, my influence on Australian opinion is very limited. Still, blogging does at least give me a chance to put on the public record views that others may, at least, read.
Finishing on a purely personal note, my interaction with Indonesian bloggers has been very important in refining my views. They put a personal face on issue that would be otherwise abstract.