Floods and wildfires: Meet the Greek Australian helping communities recover from natural disasters

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She doesn’t know when and where she will be deployed next but Head of Government Relations for Disaster Relief Australia (DRA), Anastasia Bougesis, says that assisting communities impacted by natural disasters gives her purpose.

“There’s a lot of houses that are still flooded. And that has been going on for quite some time,” she says about the recovery efforts in Shepparton, Victoria where she was recently deployed as DRA’s operational reconnaissance team leader.

“Community members are resilient but they are becoming frayed and frustrated with not being able to get back into their houses and start the clean-up.”

A South Australian trained nurse and paramedic who has led relief operations in response to Hurricane Irma in the US and Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, Bougesis says that embarking on operations is rewarding and fulfilling. 

“Even though I technically don’t sit in an operational role, it’s worthwhile that we get that experience and understand what happens on the ground and how it happens, which has taught me quite a bit,” she says.

And Bougesis knows first-hand how much a natural disaster can impact one’s life.

Three years ago, in December 2019, after a wedding ceremony at her family’s Adelaide Hills vineyard she returned from her honeymoon to find much of their property destroyed by bushfire. But this incident only motivated her to assist by embarking in more disaster relief missions.

“My husband is very understanding of my role as our family was affected by the bushfires,” says the Greek-Australian when asked how she decompresses after each mission.

“By the time I get home and my family, I feel just like it’s such a blessing. I do take a bit of downtime. I love to hike. I love going bushwalking. I do that whenever I can,” she says also referring to the importance of peer support.

“I’ve got a great group of friends as well, a lot of us are medics. Together we get together and have dinners and lunches and just that that peer support, I think is something very important.”

With a Dutch heritage from her mother and Greek from her father, Bougesis says her family always pushed her and her siblings to be independent and to do what makes them happy. 

“I think they’re just incredibly proud. Some of the extended family probably looks at me and thinks, what is she doing? But it makes me happy and I think I’m doing something really worthwhile. So, I just keep pushing on,” she says.

And what does the future hold for her?

“I did go and get my chainsaw license. It was interesting. I’m doing things I never thought I’d see myself doing,” she says explaining that she is now pursuing an MBA at Adelaide University.

We ask what influences she has from her father’s side and she talks passionately about the strength and courage of Greek women.

“They are some of the strongest women I know. They are traditional, but because of this they’re just so steadfast. They’re just rock solid. They value family, above everything else. And they’re just always there for you,” she says.

Her message to the young women in the community is solid like her responses during this interview.

“It’s something that I heard in a speech from a woman. She said: ‘if you can see it, you can be it. And if you can’t see it, you are it.’

“In those hard moments that I am not sure I’ll pull out of a situation; I think back to that.”

“I’ve got to keep going for everyone. For everyone else who’s watching.”

*Click here to find out more about volunteering opportunities with Disaster Relief Australia

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