SYDNEY, Australia — With the fires continuing to burn in Australia, one Belfast native living there is tapping into her Midcoast roots to raise money for those affected by the fires.
Callie Cook, a 20-year-old living in Australia to study the art of wine-making after learning the trade in European countries, is not herself in the direct path of fires, at this time, as she is living in Sydney.
But the city is feeling the effects of fires thousands of miles away, according to Cook, and she is compelled to help those who are suffering.
“For the past couple of months, bouts of a thick smog have covered the sky in toxic ash and smoke,” she wrote, in an email. “At it’s worst, Sydney’s air quality index reached levels 10 [times] higher than hazardous.”
Cook, who spent her high school years at Islesboro Central School and Tilton School in New Hampshire, noted a moderate air quality index (AQI) is 70 and anything above 200 is considered hazardous.
Recently, levels in Sydney have reached over 2,000, she said.
“At it’s worst the smog became so suffocating that schools shut down, ferries were canceled, and smoke alarms started going off inside of buildings,” she said.
Australia, she said, is experiencing a public healthy crisis, which sometimes feels apocalyptic.
“For days the sun didn’t shine through the smog but created an ominous orange hue covering the city as people walked around in masks through the falling ash,” she said.
After doing her best to stay informed on what is happening with the fires, Cook said she has finally decided to take action and is using her connections in the Midcoast to raise money for BlazeAid, a nonprofit that helps rebuild communities after natural disasters, especially assisting farmers.
“Growing up in rural Belfast in an agriculturally dependent community (farming, lobstering industry, etc.) I am sympathetic towards the folks in the Bush who are receiving minimal support,” she said. “BlazeAid not only helps rebuild structures but they provide long lasting support to revitalize the areas they’re working in.”
The organization spends months in the communities they work with, Cook noted, to implement long term revitalization strategies and bring the spirit of life back into those communities.
“Their altruism shows people who’ve lost everything that there is still hope in humanity,” she said.
In her fundraising efforts, she said she was unsure what to set for a fundraising goal.
Initially, she settled on aiming to raise $1,000 with $875 rapidly being raised in a matter of hours after launching the fundraiser through Facebook.
“I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to even raise $250 total but I ended up raising $300 within the first 30 minutes of creating the fundraiser,” she said, while also noting she raised over $600 in the first eight hours.
Cook, who attended Captain Albert Stevens School and Troy Howard Middle School, has since increased her goal to $5,000.
“It is my mission to spread awareness of the catastrophe occurring in Australia right now and rally support from my hometown to help,” she stated. “I think it’s important to raise money to say thank you to the emergency rescuers, firefighters, medical support, and everyday citizens who are saving lives and protecting the land. It has shown the best of humanity and highlighted that this is not a political issue but an effort to preserve the human race and planet earth.”
Though not in the direct path of the fires now, she has been affected by the fires as she has been forced to alter her travel plans.
Due to the fires, it would be quite dangerous to travel up the east coast of the country to see the Great Barrier Reef, as she had planned to do, or go toward Melbourne, closer to the unpredictable and dangerous fires.
Since she is in the country to study viticulture and enology and apprenticing at different vineyards and wineries, some opportunities have become unavailable to her because of the fires.
“I was planning on going to Adelaide which is a famous wine-producing region but am considering going elsewhere now that a third of the vineyards there have been burned, impacting more than 60 vineyards,” she said. “All of my plans are on hold until the conditions improve.”
For the time being, she plans on remaining in Sydney for the next couple of months until it becomes safer to explore other parts of the country.
While waiting, she hopes the Midcoast community will help her raise funds to support those being impacted by the devastating fires.
To donate to Callie’s fundraiser, click here.
Reach George Harvey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.