Children in rural communities are being forced to “grow up prematurely” as their families grapple with the ongoing drought, but regional schools are working hard to keep their lives as normal as possible.
The mental health and wellbeing of all farmers has taken a hit as the drought continues, but studies also show children are not immune to the negative impacts.
School leaders are working hard to shield students, even if it’s something as simple as a garden.
Hermidale Public School, between Nyngan and Cobar in western NSW, stands out as a green oasis amid hundreds of kilometres of dry red earth.
Principal Skye Dedman and her staff have carefully watered one small front yard to keep it green for the 12 students in Kindergarten to Year 6 who attend the school. The school has become a hub for community events like local Anzac services, barbecues and will soon host a scone making competition.
“The children have a right to be able to play safely outside and they shouldn’t have to face a dusty empty yard every day,” she said.
“It’s important the children, and the community have something nice like this to remind them of better times … some of the younger kids here can’t even really remember a time before the drought.”
Ms Dedman, who lives on a farm, said a small patch of green can make all of the difference to a person’s mental health.
“If you’re out on a farm all day working in dry dusty conditions the last thing you want to come home to is more of that,” she said.
A UNICEF report into the drought’s impact on Australian children found kids were not receiving help they need for the “significant pressures” they face.
“The longer the drought progresses, the more diminished their coping reserves will become,” the report said.
“In response to the demands of the drought, these children and young people have often been forced to grow up prematurely.
“(They) are not only experiencing the effects of the drought, they are each a vital part of a family and a community’s ability to survive it.”
PhD researcher at the Centre for Water, Climate and Land at the University of Newcastle Emma Austin recently studied the psychological impact of drought on rural communities. Ms Austin said while drought related stress had the same symptoms as general psychological stress, including sleep issues and anxiety, the two types of stress had different factors.
She found adult farmers under 30 were more likely to be affected by drought related stress.
“They may not have been through a drought before, may have just entered into farming, bought the family farm … and didn’t have the cash flow to support and buffer those impacts,” she said.
The report found farmers who lived and worked on their property were more vulnerable to drought stress.
The number of lives lost to suicide in NSW was 880 in 2017 — more than double the state’s road toll, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The rate of suicide in rural and regional Australia is twice that of metro areas. It is the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44.
Hermidale resident Joan Jeffery this year retired from driving the local school bus after 48 years and said she has seen multiple generations battle and survive droughts.
“The town has got smaller but those of us still here all support each other and the kids really love coming to school here.”
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SELFLESS STUDENTS SHOWING THEY CARE
Schoolchildren are throwing their support behind our drought-stricken farmers, writing letters urging them to “keep believing”.
Dozens of students at St Joseph’s Primary School in Warrnambool in Victoria have penned notes of support as part of The Daily Telegraph’s Adopt A Farmer campaign.
Sophie Jellie said she would love to help farmers “and learn about this tough time”. Nicholas Russell thought about farmers’ experiences compared to his own. “As a student, I am privileged,” he said. And Hannah van de Camp wrote a heartfelt note urging farmers to “keep believing”.
Students in NSW, Victoria and Queensland are being urged to raise money for farmers with a mufti day next Wednesday, to learn about drought and share stories by writing letters to those in affected communities.
Qantas will fly five students and their teacher to a farming community as part of the campaign. For a chance at making the trip, students can submit 25 words on why they want to visit farmers in drought. Pupils can also write letters to farmers, to share stories and tell them why they want to lend a helping hand.
Donations will be distributed to farmers in need by charity partner Rural Aid. Submit entries and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
– By Ashley Argoon
HOW THE COOKBOOK WAS DEVOURED
The first request for a NSW school’s inspirational drought fundraiser cookbook arrived at 5.20am and they flooded in all day.
The Daily Telegraph purchased 75 of Tottenham Central School’s ‘Best cookbook ever. Probably’ for the first readers to request a copy.
Student Harry Chase, who designed the cover, was featured with his classmates in The Telegraph yesterday.
Yvonne Coutis was among readers who will be posted a copy of the cookbook and she passed on a well done message to the students.
“Proud to see you doing such a great job. Gives an old Aussie like me hope for our country’s future to see you doing your bit for our farmers,” she said.
SPIRIT OF AUSTRALIA A LIFELINE FOR PETS
Working dogs owned by farming families crippled by drought have received more than half a tonne of donated pet food transported free as cargo on a chartered Qantas flight.
The Qantas 737 landed at Tamworth late last year with more than 650kg of pet food collected by employees for farming families’ animals.
Staff decided to donate after hearing reports of farmers having to surrender their working dogs due to financial hardship caused by the drought, and less work available for dogs as more farms sell stock.
It is among a raft of help offered by the airline, including flying its engineers to the bush to volunteer to help fix broken farm equipment.
Captain Gary McKenzie volunteered his time to pilot the dog food fundraising flight to support farmers.
Qantas has jumped on board to support The Daily Telegraph’s Adopt A Farmer campaign, helping kids in the city learn about the tough conditions those in drought-affected areas are facing.
The airline will pay for five children and a teacher to travel to a rural area from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to meet farmers they have helped through a gold coin mufti day on May 8.
Students can enter to win the trip by writing to email@example.com and telling us in 25 words or less why their school should be selected.
QantasLink chief executive John Gissing said the company joined the rest of Australia to stand “side-by-side with farm families” as they continue to battle through the drought.
“I was born and raised in Tamworth, I’ve seen first-hand how resilient and proud country people are but this extended drought is truly crippling,” he said.
“It’s not just about helping financially, it’s about showing regional communities, not just in Tamworth but all-round Australia, that we are both aware and we care.”
|The article’s credit is for the source: Perth Now|