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At Bruthen, February 2020, BlazeAid Camp – launch of the Inkind Post and Wire help. Kevin and Rhonda Butler with a local farmer who lost his home in the East Gippsland fires. Credit: BlaizeAid

Retired school teacher now full-time sheep farmer, Kevin Butler started BlazeAid after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

“Why did we start? Well, we knew people who had lost their lives [in the 2019 fires],” Kevin said. 

“So, when you have extraordinary circumstances like that, everyone just gives, and it just kept on evolving into this big, well-oiled machine.”

Kevin is passionate about helping people recover from a natural disaster.

“You may think that one-size-fits-all in disaster recovery, but that’s just nonsense. Disaster recovery is very much a people’s business. It is getting into the hearts and the minds and the souls of the people,” he said.

After running BlazeAid for 11 years, Kevin has some ideas on what recovery looks like.

“The number one thing about recovery is there must be an overt effort to stay in the game for the long run. And you must have a relationship with the local community, and it doesn’t happen overnight."

The organisation locates to a town and can stay for up to a year to help the community recover.

Kevin also said it was important to be transparent with donations. “You’ve got to be really good with governance and absolutely scrupulous on the distribution of money,” he said.

“The catchphrase is, and I teach this to coordinators: ‘are we distributing the money as the donor intended?’”

Kevin believes local councils are in the best position to be at the forefront of disaster recovery, but they need to build the relationships before tragedy strikes. “Councils have to ‘dig the well’ before they need the water,” says Kevin.

And finally, it’s no surprise that the founder of a volunteer-based organisation is committed to building volunteerism. “Volunteers really are the oxygen of Australia, and volunteers need to be held up as the incredible people they are.”