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SchoolAid borne from ‘Stuart Diver effect’

SchoolAid borne from ‘Stuart Diver effect’

Photo by: Dominika Lis

Photo by: Dominika Lis

SchoolAid borne from ‘Stuart Diver effect’

MORE than 22 years after the Thredbo landslide, Sean Gordon continues to be motivated by the “Stuart Diver effect” to make a difference, particularly in the lives of children.

The Clontarf resident was awarded an OAM earlier this year for his work on SchoolAid during the past 20 years.

The charity mobilises school students to raise money and do good in their communities in a bid to not only help those affected by disasters, but to also help children feel good about themselves and the future.

It all started two years after Sean, the then Bega Valley SES controller, was involved in the rescue mission at Thredbo following a devastating landslide that claimed 18 lives.

Sean and his team arrived onsite about 9pm — the night before rescuers heard lone survivor Stuart Diver’s voice from beneath the rubble.

“My role was to lead that crew (of 70 SES volunteers) and communicate with the police, fire and ambulance onsite,” Sean explains.

“It was very dangerous, very scary and I thought this thing’s going to fall again — more people could be killed.

“It was about 5am, (rescue firefighter) Hirst called out and we heard his voice come through the rubble to say he (Stuart Diver) was there, his missus was there and she was dead. That was a bit tough.

“Then we got on with it. We did another three hours until about 9am. I took my team (off site), we all had to swap over.” The exhausted crew was sleeping when Stuart was eventually pulled out at 5.15pm.

Thredbo landslide disaster survivor Stuart Diver being lifted from rubble after his rescue. Pic: from ambulance PR. /Landslides/Australia

Sean says the experience and previous roles as a road and flood rescue volunteer, changed the way he thought about life’s ups and downs.

“It helped me enormously to get a sense of perspective about the scale of my issues in the world,” he says.

The former school principal says a conversation with a Year 5 pupil, who thought humanity would be wiped out before he turned 25, forced him to act.

“I turned to my teachers a couple of days later and said, ‘what’s the point of teaching these kids maths and English if they don’t have hope’,” Sean recalls.

After the Turkey earthquake in 1999, Sean decided to mobilise other school principals around the country so children could help.

“If you get kids involved in giving and they help someone else, I know they like that,” he explains.

“It’s about hope and optimism and well-adjusted young kids who became well-adjusted, contributing young adults.”

They raised about $40,000 and SchoolAid was born. Since then, they’ve built schools in East Timor and Banda Aceh, and helped countless community projects. Closer to home, students have raised money for cyclone victims and supported the homeless — just to name a couple. Sean says 60 per cent of schools in Australia have been involved in SchoolAid at some point.

He wants more schools to create social action teams, using resources on the SchoolAid website and its crowd-funding platform. And he’s hoping schools will take part it its national accreditation program.

“We get out of their way and let them go. Kids have a heart to do great stuff, they’re naturally inclined to do it,” he says.

Redcliffe KAT students at their term board meeting.

Redcliffe KAT students at their term board meeting.

This article was written by Kylie Knight. The article was originally published in Moreton Life a print magazine by Quest News for the people living in the Moreton Bay Region. View this article here.

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