Issue 1
Monday, 04 March 2019
Charles Darwin University
CDU Humanitarian and Community Studies student Gunveer Mann (seated centre) gained invaluable experience working with the Red Cross following the Townsville floods
CDU Humanitarian and Community Studies student Gunveer Mann (seated centre) gained invaluable experience working with the Red Cross following the Townsville floods

CDU students assist Red Cross response to floods

Two students from Charles Darwin University (CDU) have gained first-hand disaster recovery experience working with the Australian Red Cross response teams assisting people affected by the North Queensland flood crisis.

Final year Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies students Cecilia Naatsaari who has recently completed a practice placement with the Red Cross in Darwin, and Gunveer Mann who has just started his placement at the Red Cross in Darwin, were deployed to Queensland by the Red Cross to gain real-life experience and help people recover from a major natural disaster.

Both students are aiming for a career in disaster management and international humanitarian assistance. 

Humanitarian and Community Studies course coordinator, Adriana Stibral said the two students gained first-hand practical experience with the Red Cross in the field of emergency management that would complement their classroom-based learning and was essential for their career development.

“Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief can be hard fields to break into, as organisations look for staff and volunteers with experience and specialised knowledge. Often the work is carried out in stressful and challenging environments that require team work, coordination, management and problem-solving skills,” Ms Stibral said.

Cecilia, who worked with Red Cross outreach teams in Townsville, said she could see from media coverage that she was heading into a major disaster.

“It’s one thing to see images in the media, but having someone sitting across from you in real life explaining how they’ve lost everything can be distressing,” she said.

Cecilia worked in several locations across the flood devasted city ensuring people were connected with support and services that could assist them.

“The experience highlighted to me the career options that exist in Australia. I previously imagined I would end up working overseas in this field. But after the experience in Townsville I think there might be more opportunities to use my skills in Australia than I first thought,” she said. 

Gunveer worked at a Recovery Hub ensuring that flood-affected residents could connect with financial, housing and counselling assistance.

“I knew before I left that the aspects of what I was heading into would be challenging, but I was ready to go,” Gunveer said.

“The experience highlighted to me the importance of flexibility and teamwork in being able to successfully operate in a disaster recovery environment.

“On a human level, I also now have a greater appreciation for how even small efforts can make a difference to someone in distress. Just saying ‘hello’ to someone who is trying to come to grips with what they have experienced and lost can make a real difference,” he said.  

The completion of a 400-hour professional practice placement in the field of community development, emergency services or international humanitarian assistance and development aid is an essential component of CDU’s Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies. 

Ms Stibral said the type of experience Cecilia and Gunveer gained could not be replicated in a classroom-based learning environment.

“One of the strengths of CDU’s course includes placement opportunities in Northern Australia and the Asia-Pacific region with key industry partners. Obtaining practical, real-world experience through practice placements is an invaluable experience to gain industry-relevant skills and enhance one’s work readiness and employability upon course graduation,” Ms Stibral said.

Paul Mitchell, Red Cross Emergencies Manager in the Northern Territory said: “Thousands of people in North Queensland are recovering from the worst ever floods in recorded history so it’s invaluable experience for Cecilia and Gunveer to be part of one of our biggest emergency responses in years.”

“Cecilia and Gunveer played significant roles alongside scores of Red Cross volunteers, providing psychological first aid and other relief to support people’s wellbeing.

"We see the best of people when disasters strike. It’s wonderful that Cecilia and Gunveer experienced people’s strength, courage and generosity in the face of one of the biggest disasters ever faced in Northern Australia,” Mr Mitchell said.