RETURNING home to Newcastle can be quite jarring for aid worker and construction engineer Celeste Swain.
Quenching our thirst is as easy as twisting a tap, and we have easy access to fresh food, community health clinics, and sewage disposal.
But through Ms Swain’s work with the Australian Red Cross in the Phillipines and Timor Leste, she has witnessed just how important these seemingly simple things can be to a region.
“I’ve seen the difference something like a community water storage tank can mean for a community,” she said via email from Timor-Leste.
“It means women no longer have to walk for hours a day with heavy water containers. Instead they can earn a living for their family. It means children don’t get sick so they can go to school.”
Ms Swain, of Charlestown, said she was introduced to the work of the Red Cross while volunteering to help replace buildings in the Philipines following the super typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the country in 2013. With the Red Cross, she has also been helping non-typhoon affected areas in remote locations to establish water and sanitation projects.
“I worked with a team of Filipino engineers on the assessment, design, and construction management of health clinics, schools and housing, as well as water and sanitation infrastructure like toilets and water supply pipelines,” she said.
“I love knowing that many more people now have access to basic facilities, like community health clinics, safe classrooms and toilets – facilities that we in Australia take for granted. “I’ve recently started working in Timor-Leste with the Timorese Red Cross as a water, sanitation and hygiene aid worker.”
Ms Swain said most of the challenges were logistical. Such as working out how to access areas when the road conditions are poor, or the roads are not yet built.
“I’ve hiked to some communities for several hours so that we can make plans for water projects and school reconstruction and repair.”
Ms Swain said most diarrhoeal deaths – about 88 per cent – were caused by unsafe water, sanitation, or hygiene, which was why the work they were doing was so important.
“Things we take for granted can make such a huge difference for people in the Philippines or Timor Leste.
“I’ll always remember the smile on the face of a woman in a remote village after a ramp was installed to her house. She had a walking impairment and hadn’t been able to interact with anyone.
“The best way people can help is by giving. A little donation can make an enormous difference – more than most of us can imagine. If you’d like to give or find out more go to redcross.org.au.”